An Unappetizing Bill of Fare

Sen. Mitch McConnell stands by the president.
Sen. Mitch McConnell stands by the president. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Capitol police set up roadblocks and swarmed the corridors yesterday when President Bush stopped in for lunch with Senate Republicans, but the show of force seemed to miss the point: The biggest threat to the president's well-being probably came from his lunch partners.

Of the 48 members of the Senate GOP caucus, only seven voted to take up the immigration legislation that the Bush administration negotiated. Adding insult to injury, seven members of the caucus broke with Bush on Monday to join a Democratic effort to condemn Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Bush donned a cheerful face as he addressed the cameras after spending an hour cajoling his fellow partisans into supporting his immigration compromise. "We've got to convince the American people that this bill is the best way to enforce our border," he said.

He may want to start with convincing his dining companions.

"Nothing was said to change my fundamental concerns about the bill," Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) told reporters after Bush left.

"I think there weren't a lot of minds changed," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) agreed in a television interview.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the minority leader, endeavored to explain the failure to resolve the Republicans' intramural impasse. "We didn't expect anybody to stand up and holler that they had an epiphany," he asserted.

While Senate Republicans disrespected Bush on immigration and Gonzales, House Republicans were preparing to deliver a similar rebuke by passing the homeland security spending bill despite a presidential veto threat.

The White House released a "statement of administration policy" yesterday morning announcing that Bush "strongly opposes" the bill because "it includes an irresponsible and excessive level of spending and includes other objectionable provisions." The measure exceeds Bush's spending request by 6 percent and the current year's spending by 14 percent.

Conservative Republicans joined in the White House's cause, proposing an endless series of amendments designed to embarrass Democrats. Among them: provisions that would block FEMA from funding puppet shows and yoga classes and prevent the Department of Homeland Security from buying Louis Vuitton handbags and paying for "adult entertainment."

But that effort obscured the awkward fact that the spending bill sailed through the Appropriations Committee without a single dissenting vote. Rep. Harold Rogers (Ky.), the ranking Republican on the homeland security subcommittee, took to the floor to praise "the chairman's continuation of this subcommittee's bipartisan tradition."

Neither Democrats nor Republicans disputed that, before the end of the week, a large bipartisan majority would defy Bush's veto threat and pass the bill.

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