Kennedy Tactics on Immigration Vex Democrats
By CARL HULSE
Published: April 12, 2006
WASHINGTON, April 11 — To Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the complex issue of immigration policy is simple enough.
"We are the land of opportunity," he said. "Our streets may not be paved with gold, but they are paved with the promise that men and women who live here — even strangers and newcomers — can rise as fast, as far as their skills will allow."
While those words could have been part of his speech Monday to those rallying on the Mall in Washington, they were delivered more than 40 years ago on the Senate floor as Mr. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, managed his first major piece of legislation — an immigration bill. [Look what a disaster that was.]
Decades later, Mr. Kennedy, the liberal leader and descendant of Irish immigrants, is back in the thick of another immigration fight, pushing strongly for a bipartisan compromise that would toughen border security while providing a route to legal status for millions of illegal residents. And some of the fight is with his own Democratic colleagues.
Mr. Kennedy's drive to strike a deal with Republicans is making some in his party nervous. They worry that the senator, in his desire to bring about changes in immigration law, will cede too much to Republicans and that the end product will fall short on the guest worker and citizenship provisions favored by most Democrats. They believe Mr. Kennedy made similar miscalculations when he cut initial deals with Republicans on Medicare drug coverage and education policy.
"Just about everyone in the caucus is worried that without safeguards that this is headed into an unfair, unbalanced bill," said one Democratic senator, who would talk about internal party criticism only on the condition of anonymity.
Republicans acknowledge that Mr. Kennedy served as a valuable ally last week when he broke with the Democratic leadership in its efforts to blame Republican recalcitrance for the collapse of the immigration legislation. Mr. Kennedy, in a split with Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, said he was sympathetic to the Republican demand to offer amendments — a sticking point with Democrats.
"He certainly helped, by our lights, to make it a more truthful understanding of what happened, and that leaves the door open for us when we come back," said Eric Ueland, chief of staff to Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader.
In an effort to improve their prospects, Mr. Frist and Speaker J. Dennis Hastert announced Tuesday that they would drop one of the most contentious provisions from an immigration bill passed by the House, a proposal to make unlawful presence in the United States a felony.
The subject of immigration runs deep in Kennedy family lore. According to a biography by Adam Clymer that focused on Mr. Kennedy's legislative accomplishments, the senator used to regale his staff with how his maternal grandfather, John F. Fitzgerald, who was known as Honey Fitz, had opposed a literacy requirement on new immigrants while serving in the House in 1897.
As a senator, John F. Kennedy opposed quotas on immigrants from outside Western Europe, a cause Edward Kennedy and another brother, Robert, pursued as members of the Senate. They took on Southern lawmakers who objected to giving Africans the same opportunity to immigrate as those from Britain.
"This is one of his core issues, one of the things he has been concerned about the longest," said Mr. Clymer, a former reporter for The New York Times, whose book recounted Mr. Kennedy's 1965 floor speech.
As public outrage over increasing illegal immigration soared in recent years, Mr. Kennedy joined with Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, to find a solution that went beyond border controls to making accommodations for some of the millions of working illegal immigrants.
The two veteran lawmakers managed to bring other influential senators on board and presented a comprehensive plan that provided part of the framework for legislation approved by the Judiciary Committee. Though that plan met resistance from Senate Republicans who viewed it as amnesty for those who had entered the country illegally, the Senate announced a tentative agreement that embraced a version of the Kennedy-McCain approach. But it lasted only hours. Mr. Frist, confronted by angry members of his party, insisted on the opportunity to allow consideration of some amendments. Democrats balked.
In a meeting Thursday evening in Mr. Reid's office, Mr. Kennedy argued for moving ahead with the bill, confident that the votes were there to beat back objectionable changes and that the debate could build momentum for the measure. Mr. Reid and his leadership team countered that the amendments were meant to derail the bill. They feared that without some assurances by Mr. Frist on negotiations with the House, the bill could be hijacked by Republicans. Mr. Kennedy lost.
A top aide to Mr. Reid said Tuesday that he was still determined to get a bill and disputed assertions that he had made a political calculation to block it.
"Senator Reid is doing what is right for both his caucus and real immigration reform," said Susan McCue, his chief of staff.
Mr. Kennedy said Tuesday that he believed the setback was temporary. "I think the momentum in our caucus is strongly in favor of immigration; there is a difference on tactics," said Mr. Kennedy, noting that the situation is far different for Republicans, who are split over the idea of allowing illegal residents a chance to qualify for citizenship.
As he took in Monday's immigration rally here, Mr. Kennedy said he heard the echoes of the civil rights movement and concluded that change was inevitable.
"There is too much velocity to deny it," he said. "This is an extraordinary grass-roots movement, and I think it is really one that we will have to answer." [The fignt is not over Mr. Kennedy. Not by a mile.]
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Kennedy Tactics on Immigration Vex Democrats