Immigration Bill Death A Big Blow To George Bush’s Political Clout? (UPDATED)

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In the wake of what some consider the stunning defeat of an immigration bipartisan immigration reform bill personally and actively championed by President George Bush, the question now becomes:

Is George Bush now a political lame duck — or a political dead duck?

Is that an overstatement? The kind of snap-judgement conclusion that will become outdated after a month or two? Or is there truly a new political reality after yesterday’s vote: will the immigration bill defeat be eventually be looked upon as the day that Bush’s political clout was largely depleted?

Beset by dropping job approval ratings, continuing controversy over and diminishing public support for the Iraq war, Congressional investigations, negative news stories about Vice President Dick Cheney, and other political crises, Bush is seems to be approaching Richard Nixon territory in becoming one of the most unpopular, sparsly supported, polarizing, partisan and controversial Presidents in American history.

Presidents usually draw “a line in the sand.” But yesterday his own party’s base drew a line in the sand.

Bush had turned the bill’s passage into a personal political cause, combining cajoling (calling Senators),pleading (in speeches and news conferences) and asserting (smugly saying “See you at the bill signing” — a statement that enfuriated conservative talk show hosts who opposed the bill….a statement played over and over on the shows by hosts to fire up angry listeners).

And, in the end, Bush put some of his sparse political capital on the line and wound up in chapter 13. The Washington Post:

The most dramatic overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws in a generation was crushed yesterday in the Senate, with the forces of the political right and left overwhelming a bipartisan compromise on one of the most difficult issues facing the country.

With 53 senators against moving on to a final vote and 46 in favor, supporters fell dramatically short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the delaying tactics and parliamentary maneuvers that have dogged the bill for weeks. With no way to cut off debate, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) pulled the bill from the Senate floor for the second time this month, and this time it is not likely to come up again before a new president comes to power.

The New York Times:

Rejecting the president’s last-minute pleas, it voted, 53 to 46, to turn back a motion to end debate and move toward final passage. Supporters fell 14 votes short of the 60 needed to close the debate.

Mr. Bush placed telephone calls to lawmakers throughout the morning. But members of his party abandoned him in droves, with just 12 of the 49 Senate Republicans sticking by him on the important procedural vote that determined the fate of the bill.

Nearly one-third of Senate Democrats voted, in effect, to block action on the bill.

A Washington Post analaysis painted an even grimmer picture for Mr. Bush’s future political prospects of regaining political muscle:

President Bush’s stinging recent setbacks raise fresh questions over whether he can accomplish much of anything in Congress in the remaining 1 1/2 years of his term.

The blows range from rejection of immigration overhaul to increasing erosion of Republican unity behind his Iraq policy….

And, in the “great minds think alike” department, the Post has this quote:

And on Sunday, Bush will lose the “fast track” authority for negotiating trade agreements that all recent presidents have had. Congress is showing little inclination to renew the power for him.

“It really shows the weakness of this president, institutionally and politically, in his last two years in office,” said Stephen J. Wayne, a presidential scholar at Georgetown University. “He’s not just a lame duck any more. He seems more like a dead duck.”

The BBC:
According to the BBC’s Washington correspondent, Justin Webb, Thursday’s vote

marks a stunning political defeat for the president.

He says the Senate vote could open the floodgates, heralding a series of defeats for the president’s other plans – including a potential troop surge in Iraq.

And it leaves unsolved the controversial and highly emotive issue of immigration, our correspondent says.

Can Bush turn it around?

Highly unlikely given his situation, the political calender, his political style and his personality:

(1) His stick to his guns attitude is now being seen by most Americans as a flaw — as stubborness. On a host of issues, Bush’s statements, decisions and books and articles about him weave a portrait of a leader who quickly makes up his mind and then tries to implement. His mind is made up — early. And he’ll brush aside advice he doesn’t agree with (as he did with James Baker’s Iraq Study Group proposal — which could wind up be adapted anyway after September).

(2) Traditional conservatives and other members of the GOP base have distrusted Bush and this battle — which he chose to wage twice, enraging the bill’s foes by his characterization of opponents on this issue — confirms it to many. Rather than the Bush party, run by Bush and associates, the GOP is now likely be subject to an internal tug of war between the elites in charge and the party’s base.

(3) Presidents whose poll ratings are so low don’t usually have much political clout.

(4) He is preoccupied with defensive actions: Iraq, the controversy over Cheney, demands from Congress for documents, the rejection of demands for Congress and the likely litigation between Congress and the administration which could be in the court for years. Major lawsuits don’t breed bosom buddies.

(5)The polarizing style of the administration has left it with few friends among Democrats. Most of the bridges were burnt long ago.

(6) The long awaited-military report on the “surge” in September, even if it simply calls for allowing more time and is not hugely negative or positive, will likely trigger a massive distancing of Republicans who value their political careers from the Bush White House.
Any Republican presidential wannabie who gives the impression that his administration would be Bush III is likely going to be out. With the immigration bill’s defeat, Arizona Senator John McCain’s presidential prospects now seem doomed.

Indeed, the vote showed one prominent GOPer already sprinting to put some yards between himself and the White House: Senator Mitch McConnell helped defeat the bill:

Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, said the leader’s split with a president of his own party is unusual and may reflect McConnell’s reluctance to spend political capital on behalf of Bush, who is increasingly unpopular.

“It’s a question of self-preservation,” Baker said. “It’s safer now to get into the lifeboats.”

The key problem that suggests Bush’s era of being not just The Decider but The Influencer with Congress may now be over is that he has NOT shown the political dexterity to aggravate interests. Rather, he is a president who more often aggravates interests and has governed by sheer power: if his side has more votes, he gets his policy. If loopholes can be used in a law to expand the executive branch, even if it sparks a firestorm in the legislative branch, he does it. Consensus seems to be perceived by him and his associates as a weakness.

Even on this bill, Bush’s efforts to promote it among his own base seemed tepid, even though he did talk about the issue extensively. He could not be confused with an LBJ gushing about the potential of The Great Society, or pushing for civil rights legislation with passion. He could not even be confused with a Lady Bird Johnson talking about the need to beautify America.

There was no massive effort to convince and change minds — but that has not been the style of this administration. It’s style has been to declare, assert talking points repeatedly, and then impose.

And the GOP?

The tendency would be to say that the GOP has now effectively sliced itself out of the political running due to the defeat of this bill. NewsMax.com:

Thursday’s defeat of the immigration bill will boost the chances of a Democratic victory in 2008, giving Hillary Clinton – the probable Democratic candidate – a strong advantage, according to political strategist Dick Morris.

“Hispanic voters will undoubtedly blame the Republicans for the failure of the bill,” says Morris, co-author with Eileen McGann of the new book “Outrage: How Illegal Immigration, the United Nations, Congressional Ripoffs, Student Loan Overcharges, Tobacco Companies, Trade Protection, and Drug Companies Are Ripping Us Off . . . and What to Do About It.”

But will it be that simple?

Polls have shown a overwhelming lack of support for the overall bill. And it was in fact defeated by bipartisan votes.

Much blame (or credit) centers on the massive mobilization against the bill organized by individual talk radio hosts.

Yet, talk radio would NEVER have been able to do motivate such large numbers of listeners if Bush had been successful before hand in a)creating consensus, b)convincing people who were doubtful or opposed it, c)networking out to key groups in his base to aggressively communicate why he felt the bill was vital and why critics were wrong.

But that wasn’t his style. Instead, he said “see you at the bill signing” when the bill seemingly died a few weeks ago — almost defying his critics to try and stop him from getting it passed.

The irony: his biggest, angriest and most determined critics who in the end thwarted his and Karl Rove’s dream of a GOP reaching out to Hispanic voters and increasing its margin proved to be within his own party.

It’s hard to see how a President could pull himself back from that. And even if there was another awful event in the U.S., or a huge foreign crisis, Bush is unlikely to ever recoup the trust and support he had right after 911.

The reason: he’s burned too many bridges among Democrats.

And even among many in his own party.

UPDATE:
–Be sure to read U.S. News’ roundup titled Bush Sinking Along With Immigration Bill
–After the bill failed, Bush looked truly defeated. VIDEO HERE.
The New York Posts’ John Podhoretz bluntly declares “Dubya’s End: Border Bill The Last Blow”. Here’s the final few paragraphs of his article:

On those previous occasions when President Bush was saved from his own counterproductive impulses by a revolt within his own party, his defeat was actually a benefit to him. The Miers withdrawal led to the brilliant appointment of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. And an American company now owns and manages American ports.

But the parlous decision to revive the dead immigration bill and fight for it, only to see it go down to defeat again, was an act of political suicide from which this White House will not recover. On the domestic side, Bush will now only govern until the end of his term in an entirely defensive manner – through the veto and not by being a party to the passage of legislation.

In his first term, Bush had been a party leader and vote-getter so gifted that he single-handedly improved the GOP’s standing in the House and Senate in two successive elections and received 21 percent more votes in his re-election bid than he had in his maiden effort.

The failure to secure victory in Iraq is the key to understanding the administration’s second-term woes, but that isn’t the whole story. Something got broken on Election Night 2004.

The National Review has a piece titled “Do Idiots Run Washington?” Our answer: Does Monday follow Sunday? But be SURE to click on the link and look at THAT PHOTO. It is proof of an incredible political ineptness, bordering on stupidity. It’s like loading a rifle on a hunting trip and handing it to Dick Cheney.

13 Comments

  1. Karl Rove’s idea that open border, amnesty, and the laughable immigration bill would increase the Republican Party’s extremely low level of support in the Hispanic community was laughably naive.

    The immigraiton bill would have created million more hispanic voters who would never vote Republican. The Republicans are going to be made irrelevent by changing demographics in the U.S. The immigrationbill would hav just sped up the process.

  2. One has to have political clout in order to have it suffer a blow. Defining clout as the ability to get/force people to do what you want, which might not be what they really want, Bush hasn’t had any clout since the mid-terms, and he had limited clout before then. His only ‘victories’ have been where either he holds the cards (as C-I-C, refusing to bring troops home from Iraq) or where he has ridden the along with Congress, as they did what they, and not necessarily him, wanted to do.

    And keep in mind that, even right after 9/11, Bush didn’t have support from the Democrats. Sure, they went along with his proposals, but only grudgingly and out of fear that they were on the wrong side of the public and would punished at the polls, and not because they agreed with the substance of what he was doing.

  3. And it leaves unsolved the controversial and highly emotive issue of immigration, our correspondent says.

    Dead wrong. All this government has to do is enforce the current laws instead of trying to make up new laws that further encourage MASSIVE immigration. The difference?

    This bill would have legalized MASSIVE immigration. Enforcing the existing bill is dull and monotonous and makes it look as if our government is doing NOTHING.

    This is the Republican fear mongering at its best and the democrats countering with BIGOTRY at its best.

    WE MUST fence the border but in order to make sure the other side agrees with a fence we MUST allow incredible amounts of immigrants into the country legally. What a sham.

    We need NO fence and we need NO massive influx of Immigrants. If we have to grow so fast that America cannot assimilate its immigrants then we need to address our growth issues.

  4. This bill should be broken up into 4 parts and tackled after each part is accomplished.

    1.) Enforce current immigration laws and develop a national ID system of back ground checks and begin Legalizing current immigrants IF they pass a background check and kicking them out if they do not. Pass legislation that allows guest worker numbers to increase from 165,000 per year now to 450,000 per year which adjusts yearly on a sliding scale. In other words if only 400,000 return their visas then next year allow only 400,000 guest workers into the country.

    2.) Build a fence and hire guards to enforce the drug and human trafficking issues. The drug cartels in Mexico are killing more people daily in Mexico then any terrorists are killing daily in Iraq. During this phase then current legalized immigrants and permanent residents can then petition for the admittance of their family members into the USA.

    3.) Once these issues are resolved, in place and working we can then pass legislation that addresses hiring ILLEGALS. IE. punish employers and Landlords for not hiring or housing only legal immigrants. Enforcement of the use of the national ID carried only by non citizens. National ID goes away once they become US citizens.

    4.) Once that is working fairly smoothly then address the needs for changing the current numbers of immigrants to meet the needs of an expanding and growing economy.

    Agreeing on this format in order will make sure that the speed in which each of these items is implemented will increase so that each political base gets what they want~!

  5. Joe,

    While I can appreciate the need to repetitively post up obituaries for George Bush in order for it to sink into the minds of the left and the Democratic Party candidates that they continue to campaign against an essentially fictitious candidate…….I certainly hope you harbor no delusions that you are somehow addressing Republicans or fiscal conservatives with these.

    Other than the appointment of John Roberts to SCOTUS, what precisely has George Bush done to advance the agenda of Republicans or fiscal conservatives during either term?

    Yes, we did want to (and continue to want to) fight against terrorism, but he did not possess the insight or acument to fight it effectively once the big armor phase against uniformed enemy combatants was completed, nor did he possess the communication skill to even keep his constituents behind “the purpose” when the “manner and duration” was either being challenged or misunderstood. OK, perhaps Petraeus was a good, albeit late, find as well, but likely will be more of an actual help to a subsequent CIC.

    Whether excused by circumstances or not, he failed to advance, much less accomplish, anything of a domestic policy agenda to suit his party.

    While he was titular head of his party, he allowed a good number of his party representatives trade in their moral and ethical compasses for ones that directed them towards laziness, graft and totally bone-headed behaviors. Now, half of them that are left are functioning as responsible Democrats.

    I will be repetitive myself, his support came only in the form of support for the CIC of US Armed Forces engaged against an enemy that would not hesitate to blow you or anyone else, that does not subscribe to a radical interpretation of Islam, up at that drop of a hat. As far as political party leader advancing an agenda that would serve the platforms of his party he never gained support.

  6. Joe
    As I said over at my place this is much more than a defeat for Bush, it may represent the end of the Lee Attwater/Karl Rove Republican party.

  7. Considering the poll ratings and the number of disasterous policies, I have been continuously surprised at the resurgence of Bush’s political clout after his party’s midterm losses. Many predicted that the GOP would break away from him on the war and other issues. The only reason that they broke away on this one is tremendous pressure by grass roots Republicans who hotly disagreed with the president on this issue. It was a loser for him from the start, and a more pragmatic president would have seen it coming, and cut his losses earlier (as he did with his failed Social Security privatization initiative).

    But I disagree with those who have stated that he was out of step with his party from the start. The Social Security initiative, his Supreme Ct picks, his actions during the Terry Schiavo controversy, his rejection of funding for embryonic stem cell research, faith based initiatives and his tax cuts were in keeping with the GOP party platform. His foreign policy initiatives of using force to maintain a strong US presence in the ME come straight out of the PNAC’s charter statement.

    Its natural now that his presidency has failed, however, for conservatives to disavow any association with him, but it seems like a disassociation based on political convenience to me

  8. K. Ritter:

    cut his losses earlier (as he did with his failed Social Security privatization initiative).

    Note that the Democrats were highly obstructionist and can be excoriated for not proposing any badly needed solutions to rescue the program in its future. However, your subject was the Bush plan itself, and yes, there was a huge amount of opposition publicly to what Bush was proposing; many who know Social Security in its current form is doomed were suspicious of what Bush was seeking — and they smelled Wall Street investment firms waiting to enjoy huge fees no matter how well the quasi-private (they were never truly private) investments actually performed, while long-needed revision of the totally public part of the program was neglected. Also, these accounts were for a government program and constituted government investments as much as private investments, and the last thing we want is the federal government to become the nations’ largest institutional investor by far, ready at any time to engage in wrongful “shareholder activism” to force businesses to pursue political objectives, such as “social responsibility,” make the companies “greener,” divest from Israel, and so on.

    In this case, opposition to it was more sound than what has been the case with opposition to the war over the past several years.

  9. One has to have political clout in order to have it suffer a blow.

    Well, Bush has no clout, yet suffered anyway and rightfully so with this bill.

  10. K. Ritter:

    Its natural now that his presidency has failed, however, for conservatives to disavow any association with him, but it seems like a disassociation based on political convenience to me

    There’s more to it than that, though “political convenience” is part of it. On another thread I mentioned a book I own that I currently have in my vehicle (always read at stops when on road trips), about the fall of the Shah of Iran. While he was in power, much of the world loved him. When he fled, nobody wanted to host him. Iranian oil and political correctness made him a political liability. Carter wanted him gone from this country, for example, even after risking political wrath initially by allowing him to come here for medical treatment.

    Where the foregoing leads is this: Bush is currently in that position, developed into a political liability, as you shall see next year when the GOP campaign for the Presidency is in its main stage. It is an obvious question whether the GOP candidates will want Bush to visit them, be seen with them, and endorse them.

    Other than that, Bush is also unpopular not only for his administration’s antagonism toward critics (even though the Democrats in Congress are hardly angelic). He is also unpopular for not having pursued many non-liberal goals that so many people want to see met.

    In that sense there’s a sense of betrayal (as this immigration bill exemplifies) and a worse feeling toward him nowadays than was felt toward his father after his father had betrayed us by raising taxes (and by not going all the way to Baghdad as Dubya chose to do, don’t forget). Before the 1992 election, I believe it was at Heritage that activists marched around with a fake head of the elder Bush on a platter. Bush, in fact, lost in 1992; Clinton was a nobody who could have been replaced by Cuomo with liberal approval as late as the debates or the convention, and Perot is not to blame for Bush’s loss then.

    What now Dubya’s behavior does for Jeb Bush’s prospects (obviously he’s going to want to try someday to be President, too, with his family’s approval and support) is probably negative, though Dubya has been so bad at times that even Bush haters won’t transfer “taint” thereby to Jeb.

    There is some convenience behind it, K., just as was true with the Shah out of power. (Note that Bush is a lame duck and he may not be asked to appear with or endorse candidates for Congress, even.) But it’s more. In Bush’s case, it’s a big sense of betrayal and disappointment (or worse) among non-liberals.

  11. Other than the appointment of John Roberts to SCOTUS, what precisely has George Bush done to advance the agenda of Republicans or fiscal conservatives during either term?

    [sound of crickets chirping]

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