Deadlock Over Immigration | An Erstwhile Democrat | The Michigan Court Decision

Fields of Nativism—As the nation was consumed by terror threats and by war in the Middle East, conservative Republicans were talking about . . . illegal immigration. House Republicans used the August congressional recess to hold 21 field hearings in 13 states, 15 of which just happened to be in battleground districts for the ’06 midterms. Politicians discussed such fair and balanced topics as “The Current Risks of Terrorists, Narcotic Smugglers and Human Traffickers Infiltrating the United States”; “The Criminal Consequences of Illegal Immigration”; “Illegal Immigrants’ Impact [on] the Costs of Health Care, Local Education and Other Social Services”; and “How to Prevent Illegal Immigrants from Voting.”

From New York to Iowa to Arizona, the hearings were orchestrated to rally the Republican Party’s nativist base, rather than to advance a practical piece of legislation. For months Congress has been deadlocked over how to reconcile a Senate plan providing a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants with House legislation rigidly rejecting “amnesty” and calling for a massive fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. The White House initially backed the Senate’s concept, but has been inching toward a compromise proposal—written by Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX)—that forswears a guest-worker program until the border has been secured. Once, or if, that occurs, illegal immigrants will “self-deport” to privately run and government supervised “Ellis Island” centers in Mexico to apply for temporary U.S. visas.

Such a compromise has been called “difficult to implement” and “unworkable” by both Republican and Democratic senators, who rejected portions of the plan in May. But the Bush administration recently dispatched Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff to tour the Texas-Mexico border with Pence and Hutchinson, a not so subtle endorsement. The White House used to be able to dictate orders to Congressional Republicans. Now it’s the other way around.

Republicans for Joe—The independent “Connecticut for Lieberman” campaign is looking more and more like “Republicans for Joe.” Lieberman’s pollster, staunchest defenders and key supporters are all Republicans. In the latest polling, he draws over 60 percent of the Nutmeg State’s Republican vote—putting him slightly ahead of Democratic nominee Ned Lamont. The state and national Republican Party have taken the unprecedented step of virtually endorsing Lieberman over fringe GOP candidate Alan Schlesinger. Connecticut’s three Republican House members, all of whom face tight re-election battles, have also thrown their weight behind Lieberman. Vice President Dick Cheney went as far as to suggest that a Lamont victory would embolden “Al Qaeda types.”

Also in Lieberman’s corner are the newly formed Vets for Freedom, the rightful heirs to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who in 2004 attacked John Kerry’s Vietnam service. They are planning an aggressive defense of Lieberman’s support for the war in Iraq. The group ran an ad following Lamont’s victory, thanking Lieberman for his “integrity, leadership and unwavering commitment to America’s Troops.” Vets for Freedom was founded by two Iraq War veterans, and their advisers include Dan Senor, former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq; Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard; and Taylor Gross, a former White House official. Gross ironically worked against Lieberman during the 2000 recount in Florida. But these days, the erstwhile Democrat will take whatever help he can get.

Tapping vs. Terror—A few days after the British announced that they had foiled an alleged terror plot involving liquid explosives aboard airplanes headed toward the U.S., CBS News polled Americans about their attitudes toward terrorism. “Which concerns you more right now,” the poll asked, “that the government will fail to enact strong anti-terrorism laws, or that the government will enact new anti-terrorism laws which excessively restrict the average person’s civil liberties?” Civil liberties topped terror alarms, 46 to 39 percent.

A week later a federal District Court judge in Michigan found the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program to be unconstitutional. “Dems Rejoice,” the RNC wrote in a press release minutes after the verdict. But the public’s reaction was more like a yawn. Fifty-six percent of voters in Michigan, a moderate swing state, agreed with the decision. Although terrorism remains a top concern, it’s the war in Iraq, not the ACLU, that is keeping fearful Americans awake at night.