Media continue to ignore Bush's reported support for House immigration bill's punitive provisions

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

Media outlets have continued to ignore President Bush's previous praise of a controversial immigration bill that passed the House of Representatives in December and his reported advocacy of some of its most controversial provisions. These media have instead uncritically reported Bush's opposition to the House bill.

In their coverage of the immigration debate, various media outlets have continued to ignore President Bush's previous praise of a controversial immigration bill that passed the House of Representatives in December and his reported advocacy of some of its most controversial provisions, including one making it a criminal offense to be an illegal resident of the United States. These media have instead uncritically reported Bush's opposition to the House bill.

As Media Matters has previously noted, Bush praised the House immigration bill when it passed that body on December 16, 2005. In a statement issued that day, Bush applauded the House "for passing a strong immigration reform bill" and urged "the Senate to take action on immigration reform so that I can sign a good bill into law." In a December 16, 2005, statement on the House floor, bill sponsor F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI) noted that the administration supported an amendment to the House bill to facilitate criminal prosecutions by lowering the first-time offense of unlawful presence from a felony to a misdemeanor. Sensenbrenner explained that with felony prosecutions, defendants have certain due process protections, which might deter the government from undertaking such prosecutions. The Associated Press reported on May 17 that Sensenbrenner has since accused Bush of "turn[ing] his back on provisions of the House-passed bill, a lot of which we were requested to put in the bill by the White House." According to the AP, Sensenbrenner said that "[w]e worked very closely with White House in the fall in putting together the border security bill that the House passed," and added that "it was the White House that had requested two controversial felony provisions in the bill the House passed last winter."

Nevertheless, many media outlets have continued to ignore Bush's reported role in shaping the controversial House bill:

  • An article in the May 29 edition of Newsweek claimed that, for Bush, "immigration is not just a matter of politics or policy, it's personal." The article then highlighted the Latina housekeeper the Bush family had when the president was a boy and other ties that Bush and his family have to Hispanics. The article asserted that "Bush has always been drawn to stories of Latino immigrants who came up by their bootstraps" and touted "the president's willingness to help illegal immigrants on the path to citizenship," which, the article said, "sets him apart from many vocal conservatives in the GOP." But although the story mentioned the House bill and its criminal provisions, it ignored Bush's praise of the bill and his reported support for those provisions.
  • A May 21 Washington Post article described the Bush administration's strategy for getting an immigration bill passed as 'thread[ing] the needle" by first "pushing the Senate to back enough get-tough measures to placate deeply skeptical conservatives in the House," and then "shift[ing] their attention" to conservatives in the House who "want to lock down the borders and deny illegal immigrants a path to citizenship." But the article ignored Bush's prior praise for the work of House legislators on the immigration issue.
  • A May 22 Los Angeles Times article said that Bush "favors overhauling immigration laws largely along the lines of what the Senate is considering"; the article contrasted that bill with "[l]egislation passed by the House late last year [that] would make illegal immigrants felons while offering no prospects for gaining temporary work permits or citizenship." But the Times failed to mention Bush's reported previous involvement with the House bill.
  • Media Matters has noted a May 16 Washington Post editorial's claim that Bush "responded weakly" to the House bill, which it labeled "draconian."

From a May 29 Newsweek article by Richard Wolffe, Holly Bailey, and Evan Thomas, headlined "Bush's Spanish Lessons":

President George W. Bush seemed unusually heartfelt when he addressed the nation last week on immigration reform. For the president, immigration is not just a matter of politics or policy, it's personal. Bush has always been drawn to stories of Latino immigrants who came up by their bootstraps. In an interview with Hispanic Magazine in 2004, he described Paula Rendón, "who came up from Mexico to work in our house" when Bush was a boy growing up in Midland, Texas. "She loved me. She chewed me out. She tried to shape me up," said Bush. "And I have grown to love her like a second mom." Bush recalled Rendón's pride in seeing "her grandkids go to college for the first time."

Bush has another inspiring example close to home. For more than a decade, Maria Galvan, 53, has worked for Bush, looked after his daughters, befriended his wife and won the affection of the First Family for her loyalty, decency and hard work. As governor of Texas, Bush encouraged his housekeeper to become a U.S. citizen. Bush's own brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, married a Latino, and Jeb's eldest son, George P. Bush, is seen as a candidate to go into the family business.

Bush has a history of promoting Latinos, most notably Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who recently told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that "it's unclear" whether his grandparents emigrated legally from Mexico. Bush has always spoken emotionally about Gonzales, the son of hard-working but uneducated migrant workers. Bush recognized early on that inspiring Latino family stories could be a boon to the Republican Party. "He appreciates how close Latino families are with each other," says Israel Hernandez, an early campaign aide whom Bush hired after hearing his family story. "For a long time, he's talked about how these are the qualities he thinks the party represents. He has always talked about immigration in a very compassionate way." But the president's willingness to help illegal immigrants on the path to citizenship sets him apart from many vocal conservatives in the GOP. The divide could paralyze the effort to bring much-needed reform to the nation's immigration laws. The issue has become, in a way, too personal: a source of more heat than light in the body politic.

[...]

Though the needs of Latinos have always been part of Bush's portfolio as a self-proclaimed "compassionate conservative," immigration reform took a back seat to education and national security during the first five years of the Bush presidency. Meanwhile, as illegal immigrants overwhelmed social services and drove up crime, not just in border states but across the country, a backlash was setting in. Last winter the House of Representatives passed a bill to make illegal immigration a felony, though how the House proposed to arrest and deport 12 million people was left unclear.

At the time, the Bush administration apparently figured that the Senate would "fix" any immigration bill by adding pro-visions for guest workers and a plan to allow illegals to become citizens after paying their dues. But public anger at illegals is peaking. Radio-show host Rush Limbaugh is saying he has never seen his followers so riled up. And when Bush's political adviser Karl Rove met privately with House Republicans after the president's speech, the lawmakers were still in a rebellious mood. On two major occasions-the No Child Left Behind education law in 2002 and Medicare reform in 2003-Bush pressed the House to work with Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. Never again, says GOP Rep. Ric Keller of Florida, who pungently told Rove: "If you get into bed with Ted Kennedy, you're going to get more than sleep."

From the May 22 Los Angeles Times article headlined "Immigration Deal Is Likely":

The Senate is debating a bill that combines tighter border controls with a guest worker program and a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.

Legislation passed by the House late last year would make illegal immigrants felons while offering no prospects for gaining temporary work permits or citizenship.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.), one of the strongest backers of the House bill, acknowledged that a "good guest worker program" was needed, though he appeared to draw the line at any path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States.

A bill containing a citizenship provision "will not come out of conference," he said. "The House Republicans will not let that happen."

But if the House Republicans take such action, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on the same program, there would be political repercussions.

"If we walk away from the table, the American voter is going to walk away from us," said Graham, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "We're in charge of the House, we're in charge of the Senate, we're in charge of the White House. We got nobody else to blame."

President Bush, who favors overhauling immigration laws largely along the lines of what the Senate is considering, has urged senators to finish their work this month.

In effect, that means by Friday, because Congress will be taking a one-week recess starting next weekend to mark the Memorial Day holiday.

From a May 21 Washington Post article by Jonathan Weisman and Jim VandeHei, headlined "Debate on How to Reshape Law Has Divided Republicans":

Congress, like the public, is deeply divided over the fairest and safest way to crack down on illegal immigration while dealing with the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States with no plans to leave.

The sharpest divide is the one cleaving Bush's party. On one side are Republicans such as Hagel who support a solution that tightens the borders, toughens enforcement of current laws and provides millions of illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship. On the other is a large group of conservatives, such as powerful House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), who want to lock down the borders and deny illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.

Bush is trying to thread the needle by pushing the Senate to back enough get-tough measures to placate deeply skeptical conservatives in the House, aides said. The strategy is predicated on first getting the Senate to pass with the widest possible margin a bipartisan bill that would tighten border security and would provide millions of illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship. Then the president and his aides plan to shift their attention to the House.

Network/Outlet
The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek
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