Bush blames Reid for impasse

But Senate Democratic leader says president, GOP caused immigration bill's collapse


WASHINGTON -- Engaging in partisan political warfare, President Bush and the Senate Democratic leader blamed each other yesterday for the Senate's failure to pass legislation to overhaul immigration laws.

Bush used his weekly radio address to thrust himself into the thick of the immigration battle, accusing Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada of obstructing the bipartisan compromise announced Thursday. Bush called on Reid to end his "blocking tactics" on the reform bill, which stalled Friday.

"We should ... conduct the debate on immigration reform in a manner worthy of our nation's best traditions," Bush said. "To keep the promise of America, we must remain a welcoming society and also enforce the laws that make our freedom possible."

Reid lashed back, accusing Bush of failing to provide the leadership necessary to overcome conservative Republicans' antipathy toward the Senate compromise.

"It was President Bush and Republicans in Congress who lacked the backbone to stand up to the extreme right wing of their party," Reid said in a statement.

The comments added to the increasingly partisan tone surrounding immigration reform, which has emerged as an important issue for both parties going into midterm elections this fall.

Immigration advocates now fear that both Republicans and Democrats will use the debate to score political points, rather than seek a comprehensive reform this year.

Senate Democrats and Republicans appeared together at a news conference Thursday to celebrate a deal that included provisions to toughen enforcement of immigration laws but would also create a path to citizenship for most of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.

Less than 24 hours later, the bipartisan agreement fell apart when Reid demanded that Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee limit amendments that other senators could offer on the Senate floor. Reid also insisted that Frist draw on Judiciary Committee members, who are thought to be more moderate than Senate Republicans as a whole, to work with the House on a compromise bill.

Frist refused, saying such conditions were an unwarranted imposition on the majority party's prerogatives.

Without such restrictions in place, Democrats said they feared that Republicans would scuttle the Senate compromise and produce a hard-line measure similar to the House-passed bill, which would authorize a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border and make it a crime to assist persons in this country illegally. House Republicans have opposed granting citizenship to illegal immigrants.

The legislative roller coaster alarmed immigrant advocates, who feared that the bitter, bruising fight might have doomed the possibility of a comprehensive reform package until after midterm elections.

Several activists agreed yesterday that Bush's leadership over the coming weeks could prove key to the bill's fortunes. The Senate is in recess for two weeks and mass demonstrations are expected across the country tomorrow.

Frank Sharry, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said Bush needed to apply the full weight of the White House to ensure the compromise measure's success.

Sharry said Bush's endorsement of the Senate's compromise could force House Republicans to toe the line and provide Senate Democrats with the assurances necessary to move the bill forward.

"The president is the key now," said Sharry, whose advocacy group supported the Senate compromise. "It's up to Bush to engage as strongly as the White House can to bring this thing across the finish line."

Tom Snyder, the national political director for Unite Here, a labor union representing many immigrants, said he worried that all sides were more interested in turning immigration into a political weapon than reaching a solution.

"This has been debated for so long, and we're so close. Now everybody is pointing the finger," Snyder said. "Millions and millions of people are depending on this. Enough is enough."

T. Christian Miller writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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