Sunday, May 21, 2006

Chuck Hagel Takes Charge

by Kyle Michaelis
Although I'm as bothered as anyone by Senator Chuck Hagel's near-inexplicable flip-flopping on key components of the Senate's immigration bill (exhibit a: deployment of the National Guard; exhibit b: fence-building), I have to admit that just because I don't understand Hagel's votes doesn't justify assuming the worst of them.

In fact, on the basis of today's Washington Post, I have to give Hagel credit for defending the immigration bill before the Senate from members of his own political party. The article explains Hagel's essential role in holding together the Senate's bipartisan coalition by fighting-off a Republican attempt to create a permanent under-class of temporary workers with no available pathway to citizenship. Writing of Hagel as if he were a character in a Frank Capra movie, the Post reports:
While President Bush was on the U.S.-Mexican border Thursday promoting an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, Senate conservatives were persuading a team of White House aides to deny 200,000 low-skilled immigrants citizenship.

In a series of private meetings, the conservatives thought they had convinced the Bush team that as many as 200,000 low-skilled workers who enter the United States under special work visas should not be allowed to stay forever. The plan thrilled conservatives -- but also threatened to rip apart a fragile coalition supporting Bush's call for a comprehensive, and compassionate, immigration solution.

Just as conservatives were declaring White House support for the controversial amendment, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) stormed to the Senate floor to announce that new White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten had assured him that the president now opposed the measure in the name of preserving bipartisan backing. The plan was promptly defeated, and the delicate pro-reform coalition held. For now.....

The dilemma played out publicly Thursday night...After 8 p.m., a succession of conservatives went to the Senate floor to declare Bush's support for their amendment to ensure that temporary work visas really would be temporary.

Then Hagel walked onto the floor, announcing that he and his allies had just gotten off the phone with the White House chief of staff, who had assured them that Bush opposed the amendment.

"The American people have a very low opinion of you, of me, of the Congress, of the president. Read the latest polls," Hagel thundered. "Why are the American people upset with us? Because we are not doing our job. We talk about, 'Let's run to the base. Let's run to the political lowest common denominator.' That is not governing. That is cheap, transparent politics."

Well, the Post makes no bones about who the hero of that story is. "Hagel stormed"! "Hagel thundered"! My God, I don't know if that's the Post casting it's ballot in the 2008 Republican primary or casting Hagel as the next Incredible Hulk (HAGEL SMASH!).

Regardless, Hagel does deserve credit for his role in beating back this assault on the Senate's immigration reform efforts. Though I am oftentimes suspect of Hagel's motivations and - on this issue - confused by some of his positioning, I have a hard time implying, as some would, that this all plays into Hagel's presidential ambitions.

Above, Hagel has risked the ire of every conservative in the country, calling their style of politics an appeal to the "lowest common denominator." That's bold speak from a man who evidently has every intention of seeking the Republicans' 2008 nomination.

I've spent a lot of time this last week pontificating on the immigration bill that stands before the Senate. Although their positions could not be more different, I truly want to believe that both Hagel and Senator Ben Nelson are doing what they think best for the country in their respective approaches to this legislation. It just so happens that Hagel is voting with a coalition that includes about 40 Democratic Senators who have some claim to a principle higher than compromise for compromise's sake. He is also voting for a bill more reflective of the America that I know and love.

Will the House Republicans find it acceptable? I don't know the answer to that, and I REALLY don't think that should be anyone's main concern. If President Bush is serious in his support for comprehensive reform, though, I personally feel the much-weakened Republican majority will fall-in line or risk even greater disaster than that to which they already appear headed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hagel is a disaster on immigration. Hagel is the architect of a bill that is worse than amnesty. According to a Heritage Foundation study, the guest worker and family reunification provisions of the Hagel/Martinez Senate bill will lead to 103 million new immigrants over the next 20 years. Goodbye working class wages, goodbye social services (public schools, hospitals). Say hello to a two tiered America with an elite (private schools, nannies, gated sub-divisions) and a lower class. The middle class will be gone.


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