Talk Shows Influence Immigration Debate

By CHARLES BABINGTON
The Associated Press
Saturday, June 23, 2007; 10:19 PM

WASHINGTON -- Immigration has supplanted Iraq as the leading issue on television and radio talk shows, complicating the prospects of a Senate bill desperately wanted by President Bush.

Conservative talk radio's impact on the immigration debate reached new heights last week, with one host effectively writing an amendment for when the Senate returns to the imperiled bill this week.

National talk show hosts have spent months denouncing the bill as providing amnesty for illegal immigrants. Some top Republicans who support the legislation have defied the broadcast pundits. Others GOP lawmakers have tried to placate them, even to the point of accepting their ideas for amendments.

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., the key conservative negotiator behind the compromise bill, told reporters Friday that California-based radio host Hugh Hewitt "had several ideas" that "we are trying to include" in amendments to be offered in an upcoming series of crucial votes.

Hewitt, a conservative who has criticized many aspects of the bill, had Kyl as a guest on Thursday and asked: "Does the bill provide for any separate treatment of aliens, illegal aliens from countries of special concern?"

Kyl replied: "It's going to, as a result of your lobbying efforts to me."

People seeking entry the U.S. from countries that the U.S. has designated as state sponsors of terrorism will get a higher level of scrutiny, Kyl said Friday.

Other Bush allies have tried more confrontational approaches to the talk hosts, sometimes with bruising results.

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., told reporters last week, "Talk radio is running America. We have to deal with that problem." Some hosts, he added, do not know what is in the lengthy bill.

The comments incensed conservative talk show hosts who generally had supported Lott over the years.

Lott is "upset that the American people got right into the middle of the conversation over the problem with illegal aliens and it didn't turn out all that well for the pro-amnesty forces," Atlanta-based talk show host Neal Boortz wrote on his Web site.

"If Trent Lott and his other buddies up on the Hill aren't listening to 'talk,' then what are they listening to? The answer is either their wallet or their legacy."


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