Washington Post columnist David Broder asserted that President Bush finds the "resistance in the House to a permissive immigration bill" to be an "alien sentiment," for the "simple reason" that Bush is a Texan. But Broder ignored the fact that Bush's White House reportedly pushed for some of the harshest provisions in the immigration bill the House passed in December, including a provision that would make illegal presence in the country a felony.
In his June 25 column, Washington Post columnist David Broder uncritically contrasted President Bush's "Texas" approach to immigration issues with the stricter, more punitive approach of a bill passed by the House of Representatives. Broder asserted that Bush finds the "resistance in the House to a permissive immigration bill" to be an "alien sentiment," for the "simple reason" that Bush is a Texan. Texas, Broder argued, is unlike the rest of the country because "[h]istorically and culturally, it has been part of Mexico," and is used to the presence of many Mexican-Americans who were "not always treated well but never excluded." However, contrary to Broder's suggestion, Bush has apparently not always found the House approach "alien": His White House reportedly pushed for some of the harshest provisions in the bill, including a provision that would make illegal presence in the country a felony and another that would make it a felony to provide aid to illegal immigrants. The White House reportedly then pushed for reducing illegal presence to a misdemeanor, but not to make the bill less harsh; rather, the White House reportedly sought the change to facilitate criminal prosecutions.
Broder also failed to square his suggestion that Bush's Texas background made him more open to Mexican-Americans with the fact that six House members from Texas co-sponsored the House immigration bill, while 20 (out of 31 members of the Texas delegation) voted for the bill's final passage.
As Media Matters for America previously noted, Bush praised House Judiciary Committee chairman F. James Sensenbrenner's (R-WI) bill when it passed the House 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, Sensenbrenner noted that the administration supported an amendment to the House bill that would facilitate criminal prosecutions. As Media Matters has noted, a May 17 Associated Press article reported that Sensenbrenner, responding to Bush's May 15 nationally televised immigration speech, accused the president of "turn[ing] his back on provisions of the House-passed bill," after advocating for some of the more controversial ones.
From Broder's June 25 column, titled "A Texas-Sized Disconnect On Borders":
On Tuesday morning House Republican leaders met with Speaker Dennis Hastert to assess the prospects for immigration reform. Widely different bills had passed in the House and Senate, and the normal procedure would be to appoint conferees to negotiate a possible compromise.
But in the leadership meeting, the view that emerged was that the House GOP membership would tolerate no deviation from the original House position -- close the border with Mexico now and only later consider a guest worker program or possible citizenship for some of the estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants to be living in this country.
The Senate approach -- linking all those steps in a single package -- was a nonstarter, the House leaders decided. So instead of naming conferees, they ordered up a new round of regional hearings -- a time-killing stall that may well doom the chances of any action this year on Bush's No. 1 domestic policy proposal.
All of this [stalling of large parts of Bush's legislative agenda] dampened the mood of the White House. What few in that building want to acknowledge, however, is that their viewpoint is several degrees off from that of many of their most loyal congressional supporters.
The difference has been exposed by the debate over immigration, which at bottom is a struggle over America's demographic and cultural future. If you talk to members of Congress of both parties, as I have been doing, what you hear over and over is that their constituents have been rattled by the appearance in their communities -- especially in small towns and rural and suburban areas -- of newcomers speaking a different language (Spanish) and living in separate enclaves. The newcomers are changing job markets and, particularly, the makeup of school classes -- a disconcerting development for many of the residents already there.
That is why you have the resistance in the House to a permissive immigration bill and why the "English only" ballot provision attracted support.
For Bush and others such as Karl Rove, this is an alien sentiment -- for a simple reason. They are Texans, and Texas is different. Historically and culturally, it has been part of Mexico. Though it fought to free itself of Mexican rule, it has never regarded Mexicans as strangers. Mexican Americans have been part of the makeup of Texas, not always treated well but never excluded. They have held elective office for years and increasingly have been wooed by both parties.
When he was governor and running for president, Bush's response to the language issue was "English-Plus," suggesting a reciprocal obligation for immigrants to learn English and Americans to learn a second language.
Bush's approach to immigration and voting rights legislation has been rooted in his own experience in Texas. And Rove's vision of a Republican future built on increasing the party's share of the growing Hispanic vote has the same origin.
But, as they are learning, the Texas perspective is not that widely shared in the modern GOP.