In a rare prime-time address from the Oval Office, Bush sought to build momentum behind a broad overhaul of immigration laws now before Congress. His proposals to tighten border security were aimed at winning support from conservative lawmakers who say the nation's top concern must be to stop illegal border crossings. But Bush said that legislation must also "meet the needs of our economy" for immigrant labor by including a temporary worker program, and that it must include a path to citizenship for many of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country. He said this path should be open to illegal immigrants who had "deep roots" in the U.S. and who were willing to learn English, pay back taxes and pay a penalty for having entered the country illegally. He called these conditions "a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to citizenship for every illegal immigrant, and a program of mass deportation…. What I have just described is not amnesty. It is a way for those who have broken the law to pay their debt to society and demonstrate the character that makes a good citizen." The 17-minute address, coming after weeks of nationwide protests by immigrants and their advocates, was the president's clearest statement of his position on immigration. Bush also made a passionate plea for greater recognition of the contributions that immigrants make to American society, even as he acknowledged the burdens that illegal immigration imposes on local communities." Immigration puts pressure on public schools and hospitals, strains state and local budgets, and brings crime to our communities," he said. " These are real problems, yet we must remember that the vast majority of illegal immigrants are decent people who work hard, support their families, practice their faith and lead responsible lives."A second Los Angeles Times article on the front page analyzed the impact of the reform proposal on the national guard. Here's part of the introduction:
President Bush on Monday infused his proposal for using the National Guard to combat illegal immigration with all the drama of an Oval Office address, but the military and civilian officials who will carry out the plan have deep misgivings about a real show of military force on the border. As a result, the president's big initiative is heavy on symbolism but will be small in scale — and largely invisible on the ground. Though about 6,000 guardsmen at a time will be assigned to the southern U.S. border in two-week stints, they will be limited to supporting roles behind the scenes.Finally, correspondent Peter Wallsten's analysis of the effect the speech might have on the GOP's immigration rift is here. Bush is obviously worried about the conservative and restrictionist base of the party:
The main goal of Bush's address was to win back these voters by emphasizing his proposals to beef up border security. Although he echoed his long-held support for a "comprehensive" revamping of immigration laws, Bush admitted that the government "has not been in complete control of its borders." He devoted the bulk of his speech — his first on a domestic policy issue delivered from the Oval Office — to discuss using National Guard troops to help secure the border, erecting "high-tech fences" in certain areas and enacting other tough-sounding solutions. The address was only one example Monday of the White House's recognition that it must court conservatives with just six months to go before voters decide who will control Congress. Just hours before Bush spoke, Karl Rove, his senior political advisor, made a rare public appearance to assure listeners at a conservative think tank that the administration was remaining true to their ideology — despite sharp criticism from the right that Bush has allowed government spending to spiral out of control." They're missing the facts," Rove said of conservative critics during his appearance at the American Enterprise Institute. He argued that by issuing about 39 veto threats, Bush had been able to cut the growth of spending. But that may be a tough case to make, with the federal budget having gone from a surplus when Bush took office to a deficit of $319 billion in the 2005 fiscal year.And the immigration debate — much like the surprise challenge to the president earlier this year over the deal to let a Dubai firm manage operations at some U.S. ports — has some conservatives questioning whether Bush has lost touch with the base that once swooned over him. One of Bush's most impressive political feats in his 2004 reelection campaign was that he managed to maintain his strong support among conservatives and receive about 44% of the Latino vote — a far better showing than usual for a Republican candidate. The dispute over rewriting immigration laws, however, clearly has disrupted that balancing act.For some analysis of the speech, check out this National Review immigration reform symposium, which includes some remarks from Victor Davis Hanson.