A sorry set of excuses

A SORRY SET OF EXCUSES…. In his speech on immigration reform this week, President Obama not only made the case for a comprehensive solution, he called out Republicans who used to support the same policy, but who balk now.

In 2007, Obama noted, a bipartisan package was in place, but came up short. “And now, under the pressures of partisanship and election-year politics, many of the 11 Republican senators who voted for reform in the past have now backed away from their previous support,” the president said. He added, “I’m ready to move forward; the majority of Democrats are ready to move forward; and I believe the majority of Americans are ready to move forward. But the fact is, without bipartisan support, as we had just a few years ago, we cannot solve this problem.”

The Washington Post followed up with many of those Republicans to see why they supported the comprehensive plan then, but refuse to consider a largely identical proposal now.

Laena Fallon, a spokeswoman for Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.), said the senator is interested in fixing the immigration system. But she added that he had made it clear he “does not support any initiative promoting comprehensive reform until the president and this administration get serious about controlling our borders.”

Andy Fisher, a spokesman for Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), said the senator thinks it is simply the wrong moment for reform. “There really is not the political landscape to proceed with it at this time,” he said.

Other minor legislation, designed to legalize those who came to the United States as children and then enrolled in U.S. colleges, “could potentially be doable this year,” the spokesman said.

Sen. Robert F. Bennett (Utah) also said further border enforcement had to come first. “The president needs to work with Congress on a step-by-step approach, focusing first on securing our borders and then establishing a temporary worker program,” he said.

Other Republicans sympathetic to the cause now have other priorities. Sen. John McCain, a past supporter, faces a tough battle in his Arizona primary. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), who had been working with Democrats on a draft reform bill earlier in the year, has now said that Congress should prioritize other issues such as Wall Street reform.

Bennett’s excuse is common, but misguided — many on the right were saying the same thing in 2007, and he knew better at the time. As Tom Barry, director of the Transborder Project at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C., recently explained, this border-first tack is a sham used to kill necessary legislation. “No matter how much enforcement you have, there will always be people coming through” the border, he said. “Since that is true, opponents to immigration reform will always be able to say the border is still not secure … and therefore we cannot pass immigration reform.”

But Graham’s excuse is especially amusing. We can’t work on immigration because we have to work on Wall Street reform? Well, the Wall Street reform bill is done, and Graham is fighting to prevent the Senate from even voting on the legislation. What kind of rationalization is that?

The true Republican response — they don’t want to upset the GOP base, and they refuse to give Obama another legislative victory — is impolitic, but I’d still rather hear honesty than this sorry set of excuses.