Analysis: Immigration Tips Bush Legacy

The Associated Press
Friday, June 8, 2007; 8:47 PM

WASHINGTON -- Derailment of President Bush's immigration overhaul plan could be the death knell for his second-term domestic legacy.

With the president's bids to revamp Social Security, rewrite the tax code and extend expiring tax cuts apparently doomed, the White House sees the immigration bill as the last, best hope for a major domestic victory.

Bush will try to get the measure back on track when he meets with Republican senators at the Capitol next week after returning from a weeklong trip to Europe. Many in his own party say the odds against him are daunting.

The president's influence is diminished by his low approval ratings and the shadow cast over his presidency by the war in Iraq. And while neither Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney is on the ballot in November 2008, most members of Congress are.

"People have strong feelings on this issue. I believe we can express our feelings, disagree on certain elements and still come together on a solution," Bush said Friday. "In the heat of the debate, critics and supporters can sometimes talk past each other. So I want to speak to members about some of the concerns I heard."

Bush's comments were in his weekly radio address, which he taped on Friday for broadcast on Saturday. The White House put the text out early, signifying the high-stakes nature of the issue for the president.

Still, even if the president and his congressional allies somehow manage to salvage the legislation in the Senate, prospects remain bleak of getting it through the House, where opposition remains strong among core Republican members.

"You would have to guess, as of today, it's more likely not to happen than to happen," said veteran Republican consultant Charles Black, who is close to the White House. Black said Bush's efforts were complicated by the divisiveness of the immigration issue and reluctance of Democrats who now run Congress to hand him a victory even on an issue on which they agree.

"I also think that Iraq used up so much of his political capital that it made it difficult to get things done on the Hill," said Black, now an adviser to Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, who joined Bush in supporting the immigration bill.

The measure has stirred deep passions on both sides. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., put the bill _ which he supports _ aside on Thursday after the Senate twice refused Democratic efforts to cut off debate. However, Reid and other supporters said they hoped to get back to it later this year.

The fragile package promises a path of legalization for millions of undocumented workers in the United States while tightening borders and offering employers more temporary workers.

James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, said the immigration bill "split both parties down the middle" and its collapse shows "there is no central core of authority in Washington right now. It's not with the president. It's not with (House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi, it's not with Reid."

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