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|Posted Wednesday, June 21, 2006|
|House Plans National Hearings Before Changes to Immigration|
By CARL HULSE
WASHINGTON, June 20 In a decision that puts an overhaul of immigration laws in serious doubt, House Republican leaders said Tuesday that they would hold summer hearings around the nation on the politically volatile subject before trying to compromise with the Senate on a chief domestic priority of President Bush.
"We are going to listen to the American people, and we are going to get a bill that is right," said Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, who said he had informed Mr. Bush of the plan.
The unusual decision to set a new round of hearings on legislation already passed by the House and the Senate places a serious roadblock in the way of Mr. Bush's drive for major changes in immigration policy.
The timing means that formal Congressional negotiations will not begin until September, just as Congressional campaigns are entering their crucial final weeks, when lawmakers typically shy away from difficult issues.
"I don't know how likely that is," Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, the House Republican whip, said about reaching an agreement before November.
Mr. Blunt suggested that final consideration might have to wait for a lame-duck session after the election. "We clearly are going to be here later in the year," he said.
But advancing significant legislation in lame-duck sessions has proved difficult. If Congress does not act this year, the House and the Senate will have to begin anew in 2007 should lawmakers want to pursue immigration changes.
A White House spokeswoman said Mr. Bush would press for legislation. "The president is undeterred in his efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill," said the spokeswoman, Dana Perino, who said the White House was "committed to working with members to see if we can reach a consensus on a bill that will help solve our nation's immigration problems."
The leadership decision reflected the deep resistance among House Republicans to the bipartisan approach approved in May by the Senate and generally endorsed by Mr. Bush. That bill combined new border enforcement with a program for temporary guest workers and the ability of illegal immigrants to qualify for citizenship by meeting a series of requirements.
House Republicans passed a party-line bill late last year that focused solely on border enforcement, and they said a majority of the public backed their approach. Many House Republicans consider the Senate bill amnesty for those who have entered the country illegally.
"Our No. 1 priority is to secure the border," Mr. Hastert said, "and right now I haven't heard a lot of pressure to have a path to citizenship."
In a swipe at the Senate version, Representative Deborah Pryce of Ohio, a senior member of the Republican leadership, labeled the legislation the "Kennedy bill" a dismissive reference to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, who helped write the measure in cooperation with Republicans including Senators Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and John McCain of Arizona.
Those lawmakers held out hope on Tuesday that a final bill could be completed this year and said they accepted the House position that more scrutiny of the issue was required. "I respect their views," Mr. McCain said, "and I hope that we can still continue discussions, and hopefully we can reach an agreement."
Another Republican proponent, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, warned that voters might punish Republicans if they were unable to come up with a solution to such a pressing national problem.
"The question is, Is it better to solve the issue before the election, or is it better to make people mad and do nothing?" Mr. Graham said. "I think it is hard to go to the electorate when you have the White House, the Senate and the House and say that you cannot at least go through the effort of trying to get a bill. That would to me be a sign of inability to govern."
Democrats were highly critical of House Republicans, with Mr. Kennedy accusing them of a "cynical effort to delay or kill a comprehensive immigration bill."
Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, said Republicans were stalling, and he called on Mr. Bush to prod members of his party. "He has complete domination over this Republican Congress," Mr. Reid said. "Let him tell us how much he really wants a bill."
The focus of the summer hearings and the schedule were uncertain Tuesday as Republicans suggested that they would be used both to explore the content of the Senate bill and to survey public opinion on the issue. But it was clear House Republicans intended to use the forums to try to expose what they saw as failings in the Senate bill and to build public opposition to that approach.
"The House bill is very different than the Senate bill, and I think we want to have a clear understanding of what is in that bill," said Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House majority leader.
The hearings could also help House Republicans rally conservative supporters in advance of the election, particularly given a recent special election in Southern California in which immigration emerged as a dominant issue. But Representative Thomas M. Reynolds of New York, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Tuesday that the topic's power varied from district to district.
"It is not, in my view, a situation that has the same resonance in each district," Mr. Reynolds said.
Official Opposes Border Wall
TUCSON, June 20 (AP) The new commissioner of Customs and Border Protection said Tuesday that he did not favor building a huge wall along the Mexican border.
"I don't support, I don't believe the administration supports a wall," the commissioner, W. Ralph Basham, said. "It doesn't make sense; it's not practical."
Fencing, including so-called smart fencing with sensors, vehicle barriers and lighting, will be part of the infrastructure improvements, Mr. Basham said. But a layered approach combining technology and air operations will be necessary, he said.
Mr. Basham, only two weeks on the job, is touring the Southwest border region to look at the challenges his agency is facing as National Guard troops arrive to begin assisting its efforts.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, National, of Wednesday, June 21, 2006.
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