President Bush, trying to head off the latest in a string of setbacks, blamed Democratic “blocking tactics” on Saturday for stalling an immigration overhaul and urged an end to the impasse.
Bush used his weekly radio address to point the finger at Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid for the breakdown on Friday of a Senate compromise plan to reform immigration law and give millions of illegal immigrants a chance for citizenship.
Failure to approve the bill, which would create a temporary worker program as proposed by Bush, could derail major changes in immigration laws for this year, dealing another blow to a president beset by his lowest public approval ratings since taking office.
Gridlock over the legislation, which would be the biggest immigration overhaul in two decades, touched off recriminations.
“Unfortunately, this compromise is being blocked by the Senate Democratic leader who has refused to allow senators to move forward and vote on amendments to this bill,” Bush said.
“I call on the Senate Minority Leader to end his blocking tactics and allow the Senate to do its work and pass a fair, effective immigration reform bill,” he added.
Reid: ‘Committed to comprehensive’ reform
Reid, a Nevada lawmaker, responded that Democrats were “committed to comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform,” and said that Bush was “flat out wrong about what happened to the immigration bill.”
“It was President Bush and Republicans in Congress who lacked the backbone to stand up to the extreme right-wing of their party” and vote for a bipartisan plan, Reid said in a statement.
“Sadly, President Bush and Republican leaders could not even get senators who supported and endorsed this bill to vote for it,” said Sen. Ken Salazar, Colorado Democrat, in a statement.
The immigration debate has been complicated by November’s congressional elections in which Democrats are threatening to seize control of both houses from Bush’s Republican Party.
Republicans are split. The party is nervous about losing Hispanic votes and some members back Bush’s call for both tighter border controls and a guest-worker program.
But many conservatives worry that allowing millions of undocumented, mostly Mexican immigrants to qualify for residency would lead to charges in the coming congressional campaign of having voted for amnesty.
Bush: No amnesty
Bush reiterated on Saturday that a guest-worker provision would not amount to amnesty but instead would “create a legal way to match willing foreign workers with willing American employers to fill jobs that no American is available to do.”
After Thursday’s failed test vote in the Senate, the bill’s main backers, Arizona Republican John McCain and Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy, vowed not to give up.
The bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives was much tougher. It has no guest-worker program, stresses border security and defines all of an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants as felons.
Hundreds of thousands of mostly Hispanic protesters have marched against it and more rallies are planned in 10 cities on Monday.