OBAMA’S IMMIGRATION FAKERY
In 2007, then-Sen. Obama helped derail an immigration bill he claimed to support. He’s no more serious about a bipartisan bill today.
Many of us in the press have had a field day noting Sen. John McCain’s (R., Ariz.) transformation from immigration maverick to the Wyatt Earp of border control. Fair enough.
Back when it counted, however, Mr. McCain was the only Republican presidential candidate to back the last real chance we had for passing a bipartisan immigration compromise. Meanwhile, a man who claims to favor immigration reform but helped derail that 2007 effort gets a free pass. Today this same man is at it again, calling for a new bipartisan effort even as he diminishes the likelihood of any such reform with his continued partisan snipes.
The man is Barack Obama.
Earlier this month President Obama gave us his speech on comprehensive immigration reform. Since then, observers have commented on its similarity to the Oval Office address given by George W. Bush four years earlier. As someone who had a hand in the Bush speech, let me point out two striking differences.
First, President Bush actually wanted an immigration bill, and indeed many of his conservative critics loathed him for it. Second, because he knew that such a bill required bipartisan support, he did not disparage members of the other party.
Wait a minute. Hasn’t Mr. Obama told us how he “reached across the aisle in the Senate to fight for comprehensive immigration reform”? Well, yes, those are his words. The back story, however, suggests another face to our president. For then-Sen. Obama also favored a series of amendments that were plainly recognized as bill-killersâ€”spurning not only Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain but the Democratic architect of that compromise, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.).
One such amendment was Mr. Obama’s own, which aimed to substitute family ties for education and skills when determining who gets green cards. That led to what the Associated Press called a “heated exchange” with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.). Mr. Graham accused Mr. Obama of undercutting Democrats and Republicans working for reformâ€”contrary to his lofty campaign rhetoric about Americans coming together.
“So when you are out on the campaign trail, my friend, tell them about why we can’t come together,” said Mr. Graham. “This is why.”
Mr. Obama’s mischief did not stop there. Though his own amendment failed, he supported another poison pill by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D., N.D.). Mr. Dorgan’s target was the guest-worker provision, another key to GOP and business buy-in.
His effort provoked a vigorous response from Mr. Kennedy about what getting rid of a guest-worker provision means. “It means,” said Mr. Kennedy, “you are going to have border guards who are going to be chasing after landscapers out in the middle of the desert and racing after people who might be working in gardens.”
“Who,” Mr. Kennedy asked, “is the senator from North Dakota trying to fool?”
That May, Mr. Dorgan’s bid to phase out the guest-worker program failed by one vote, with Mr. Obama absent. But the amendment came up again two weeks later. This time it passed, 49-48, with Mr. Obama and Mr. Kennedy on opposite sides. Without Mr. Obama’s “yea” vote, that amendment would not have passed.
Mr. Obama wasn’t the only one playing the game, of course. Sen. Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), normally no friend of union-label legislation, was frank about why he voted alongside Mr. Obama here. “If it hurts the bill,” he told the Washington Post, “I’m for it.”
The idea that these amendments were bill-killers was not just a GOP talking point. On ABC News the night after the Dorgan amendment passed, Charles Gibson noted the inherent fakery: “a lot of the senators who think and say most strongly that something has to be done to reform immigration are the ones voting for these killer amendments.”
Similarly, here’s the lead sentence in a Politico dispatch that May: “The biggest threats to an immigration bill spearheaded by Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy have come from within: Twice this week, senators from his own Democratic Party were poised to back amendments that could have killed the fragile compromise.”
Today history repeats itself. Again Mr. Obama preaches bipartisanshipâ€”while using his signature immigration speech to stigmatize Republicans. Again he calls for America to move forwardâ€”while the lawsuit filed against Arizona makes that all but impossible. And again too America finds itself polarized by a president whose whole claim to office was his ability to transcend the partisan divide.
Give the man credit. In 2007, Mr. Obama figured out how to get the support of Latinos (by speaking in favor of an immigration bill) while keeping the support of labor (by voting for amendments designed to ensure an immigration bill would never pass). In like manner, he now parades as a bipartisan reformer while his actions poison the chances for any bipartisan bill for years to come.
Guess what? It’s still working for him.
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