TOPICS > Politics

Immigration Threaten to Splinters GOP

March 31, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

David, where does the immigration reform issue stand tonight?

DAVID BROOKS: Progress. Last week, I was fearing that we would dive off a cliff into nativism and sort of a hysteria. But earlier in the week, the Senate Judiciary, under the leadership of Arlen Specter, had a very productive hearing.

I was watching on C-SPAN. You actually saw legislators actually legislating in public, talking about different amendments and provisions, and they knew what they were talk about. It was quite a high-level discussion.

They passed out a bill, which was based on the McCain-Kennedy bill, which I personally think is a very good bill, went to the floor, and they had a very good debate. I went down and watched it.

And, you know, whatever side you were on, there was no hysteria. There was no bashing one side or the other. It was concrete provisions of people debating backwards and forwards.

And things went so well, I went to — Tom Tancredo, who is one of the anti-immigration guys in the House, had to hold a press conference with a bunch of blithering idiots, frankly, in a panic because they’re nervous because there’s so much progress towards some sort of realistic bill.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, progress toward a realistic bill?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I don’t. I mean, I think what David described was certainly that. I mean, there was — the context of it was…

JIM LEHRER: The idiot’s part or the progress part?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I’ll give him eighty percent.

DAVID BROOKS: That was objective that was not editorializing. (laughter)

MARK SHIELDS: No, it wasn’t. No, it wasn’t.

JIM LEHRER: All right, sorry.

MARK SHIELDS: Bill Frist, the Republican Senate leader, saw a little opening here for his beleaguered and flagging presidential ambitions, so he put the hammer to Arlen Specter and tried to get daylight between himself and John McCain on this issue, by saying: You better come out, or we’re going to have a tough bill, sort of a modified House bill.

JIM LEHRER: We ought to stop here and make sure that people understand their terminology here.


JIM LEHRER: When we’re talking about — there are two separate approaches, and then there’s a joint approach, which is in the Senate thing, which is really toughen up on border security, et cetera, but also have a guest-worker program, something to help the people stay here that are already here, the 11 million or so. It’s not either/or; it’s both.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. That’s right. The House bill…

JIM LEHRER: Is just one. It’s just the enforcement side, tough enforcement.

MARK SHIELDS: OK. So what happens is Arlen Specter actually does — they turn out a bill.

JIM LEHRER: Which has both.

MARK SHIELDS: Which has both, when is the Kennedy-McCain, McCain-Kennedy, depending on your perspective.

And will it go anywhere? Republicans right now are praying that nothing is done between now and the election, because it would split the Republican Party. I don’t have any question it would. Conservatives are truly exercised. The base of the Republican Party is angered. This is…

JIM LEHRER: They still support, you think, the House bill?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, enough of them that, if they didn’t turn out in November, it would all but guarantee a Democratic victory.

And you have Democrats like J.D. Hayworth, Congressman in Arizona, John McCain’s state, saying this is nothing but corporate welfare for business, so they can have cheap labor. That’s what the Kennedy-McCain bill does.

In any great political fight, you’ll find people on your side, and you wished devoutly they were on the other side. So now you’ve got Ted Kennedy and the Chamber of Commerce on the same side on this. You’ve got John McCain and Janet Napolitano, the Democratic governor of Arizona.

JIM LEHRER: And you got the president on the side of Kennedy and down the road.

MARK SHIELDS: And the president on the side with Kennedy and McCain.

MARK SHIELDS: And this is the president’s signature issue.

Finally, I’ll just say this, that the president — it’s an indication, a reflection of his own difficult political position. The idea that conservatives, who had been his strongest supporters, would take him on, on his signature issue, because I think the House passed a bill, Jim, that they did not ever expect to become law. They saw it as a campaign document. You felonize 11 million people, and everybody helps them.

JIM LEHRER: Do you read the split in the party the same way?

DAVID BROOKS: Not quite. I mean, there is a split. And there’s a split between the business side and the law-and-order side. But there’s also social conservatives, like Sam Brownback, who are on the McCain-Kennedy side, because they believe in being good Samaritans, and for other reasons.

And I’m not sure how serious a blow it would be if they passed something like McCain-Kennedy. I think it’s no accident that every major national Republican over the past 20 years has basically been where Bush is now — Reagan, Bush, McCain, who’s got national ambitions, the big state governors, the senators who have to run in the states.

If you look at the hard-core anti-immigrant House members, they come from districts where the Republicans win 80, 90 percent, all-white districts, safe districts. So they aren’t — I don’t trust that they’re good judges of the party, or of where the country is, or even where the party is.

I think the party wants — they want the tough border security. There’s no question about that. But if you also ask them: We’ve got 11 million here. Do you want to kick them out? No, they don’t want to do that. Do you want them to live underground lives? No, they don’t want that, either.

JIM LEHRER: What would you add to Mark’s analysis of what Bill Frist was up to this week?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it’s — I don’t understand Bill Frist anymore. I thought I did because I did a lot of research and reporting about what he was like in Tennessee. The guy he has been all his life in Tennessee has no relation to the guy who now exists in the Senate. I have to assume it has to do with presidential politics.

JIM LEHRER: Is it going to help or hurt him?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think he’s beyond help.

JIM LEHRER: Oh, is that right?

DAVID BROOKS: If there’s a vehicle, it will be somebody else. I don’t think it will be Bill Frist.

JIM LEHRER: Do you think this will hurt him, he shot himself in the foot again, as they say?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it all began with his televised diagnosis of Mrs. Schiavo.

JIM LEHRER: Terri Schiavo. But do you think this has hurt him…

MARK SHIELDS: I think it’s all — I think it’s been downhill.

JIM LEHRER: So it doesn’t help him even with his own…

MARK SHIELDS: It just proves that nobody who wants to run for president should ever be a leader of a party, especially in a contentious situation. I mean, it’s just not — I mean, you want a party leader who isn’t thinking about in those terms. And Bill Frist proves that it’s sheer folly to have somebody…

DAVID BROOKS: And people are looking for character. They want you to be yourself. If you’re pandering, and even if you’re pandering on their side, it doesn’t help.

JIM LEHRER: Andy Card, Josh Bolten in for Andy Card. How do you read that?

MARK SHIELDS: I like Andy Card. I should say that right up front. I mean, Andy Card — I remember when Lyndon Johnson was rhapsodizing about the brilliance of Jack Kennedy’s cabinet, with George Bundy, and Bob McNamara, after his first cabinet meeting, to Sam Rayburn, who had been his mentor, the speaker of the House.

And Sam Rayburn said, “Lyndon, I just wish one of these guys had ever run for sheriff,” you know, that they’d had some political experience. Well, Andy Card had run for sheriff. He had been a state representative, a Republican in Massachusetts, had run for governor.

He had the respect of people with both sides of the aisle, and he didn’t demonize. I mean, Washington’s full of demonizing now. If you disagree, you’re not wrong or uninformed, you’re evil. And Andy Card was not that.

JIM LEHRER: I never heard him say anything bad about anything.


DAVID BROOKS: And I think that was a malevolent point of view that Mark — no. I like Josh Bolten, the guy who’s coming in.

JIM LEHRER: I was going to ask you about that.

DAVID BROOKS: Let me — first, on Card, I think he was — everyone respected him as a nice person. I think the reason he left eventually was the president thought he wasn’t getting information in time, that it was going up the chain and stopping with Card and coming to him, and that has to do with Katrina, the ports, a bunch of issues.

JIM LEHRER: So you think he deserved to go over the side?

DAVID BROOKS: No, well, I think he was in the job an incredibly long time, I mean, almost a record. But he was very well-respected within the White House; it has to be said. People thought he was a straight-shooter, fair guy.

Just as for Josh Bolten, the one thing I’d say — he was head of the budget, which means he knows the entire government very well. That’s useful. And if you divide the Bush White House into the automatons on the one side and the people with whom it’s possible to have normal conversation, Bolten can have a normal conversation. That’s a good thing.

MARK SHIELDS: I’d just say this, Jim. If you look at what’s gone wrong with the Bush presidency, the Iraq policy. That wasn’t Andy Card; that was Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. He can’t fire either of them.

You know, you look at Katrina. That was Joe Allbaugh and the dismantling of FEMA and leaving it with no leadership and no clout at the White House. Harriet Miers was the president. You know, the Dubai ports was not Andy Card.

I mean, I just think, at some point, somebody has got to ask, what Karl Rove, the genius in all of this? I mean, and a tin ear political…

DAVID BROOKS: Two things. First of all, it’s not going to change the administration.


JIM LEHRER: That’s what I was going to ask.

DAVID BROOKS: The essential problem with the administration, as Rich Lowry, who sometimes sits here, wrote today, it’s brain dead. They have no ideas. So that’s not Andy Card’s responsibility.

And the second, broader issue is: What should the chief of staff do? Andy Card was a very recessive or nonassertive chief of staff. Others, like John Sununu — and, really, Bush II is all about overreacting to the problems of Bush I, and they overreacted to John Sununu, to have a very nonassertive chief of staff. And somehow finding a balance for a future president will be an important thing.

MARK SHIELDS: I think that’s a good point. I think there’s a reaction you can almost trace — I mean, whether it’s Iraq, and we’re going to go into Baghdad, and we’re going to do it with fewer troops or whatever.

But I think the chief of staff thinks — a perfect example — there was a sense, I think, on this president’s part, that his father’s chiefs of staff, both Jim Baker and John Sununu had agendas beyond just serving loyally. I mean, Andy Card is that rare Washington type who truly had a passion for anonymity. I mean, you didn’t see him tooting Andy Card’s horn.

JIM LEHRER: Well, do you expect — either of you expect any major change as a result of this?

DAVID BROOKS: I really don’t. And, again, this goes deeper, and it goes to who’s sparkling with ideas. I think Condi Rice is. I think the president is enthusiastic. I just don’t feel that enthusiasm from too many other parts of the administration.

JIM LEHRER: Are there going to be any other changes? Have you all heard anything — there’s a lot of stuff now about John Snow, that Bolten wants Snow out of there. Is that even worth talking about?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, they’re talking about…

JIM LEHRER: He’s secretary of the treasury.

MARK SHIELDS: … congressional relations. I mean, in this administration — let’s be very blunt about it — congressional relations is an oxymoron. I mean, this president and the White House has contempt for Congress, and they’ve just kind of accepted them and go along.

I mean, the woman who runs congressional relations, a woman named Candida Wolff, you know, most people couldn’t — in Washington, on Capitol Hill — could not pick out of a police lineup. I mean, you know, if you put somebody else in there, even a Bill Paxon, it doesn’t make any difference if the White House’s attitude is still one of scorn and disdain.

JIM LEHRER: You have tremendous sources within this White House, David. Anybody else going to go?

DAVID BROOKS: This is one thing they don’t talk about.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, is that right?

DAVID BROOKS: So I can’t say I know for a fact. I don’t get a sense of a lot of movement, frankly, or a lot of vibrancy.

JIM LEHRER: Or any desire to do it or any realization that there’s even a need to do it?

DAVID BROOKS: You know, there was gossip that, you know, they were looking for some good news, and then they feel they can go without making it seem like they’re jumping from a sinking ship.

But I think what’s going to have to happen for this administration, the White House just doesn’t have the big ideas. Social Security was a big idea. Immigration is a big idea; they’re doing that very well. But beyond that, the next thing down the road, the agenda for the ’06 election, I just don’t see anything on the cupboard.

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t. I think, Jim, every White House is inevitably and ultimately a mirror reflection of the candidate and the president at the top.

JIM LEHRER: The president.

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, Richard Nixon’s criminality and paranoia affected his White House, Jimmy Carter’s insularity. And I think this president’s own hunkering down.

JIM LEHRER: I just have a minute left. Former aide to Tom DeLay pleaded guilty today. What happened to lobbying reform?

DAVID BROOKS: It’s there. It was not — and I follow people like Barack Obama and John McCain, who have been most aggressive. They were disappointed. They thought what’s happened is — in the Senate — is weak, and so we’re not going to see a lot of it, it seems like.

JIM LEHRER: Not a lot of it?

MARK SHIELDS: Certainly not. I think there has to be a nexus, a connection made between a corrupt act and public policy, I mean, a bridge that collapses or a medicine that’s approved where that has happened.

I think you have to say, in Tom DeLay’s case, that either he is the most naive and trustful employer in the country and has been duped by all of these scoundrels or, you know, perhaps there was a climate in that office, as well.

JIM LEHRER: It gives us all something to think about. See you all next week. Thank you.