Monday, July 02, 2007

Chuck Hagel Lashes Out

by Kyle Michaelis
From Friday's Omaha World-Herald, here are some choice quotes by Nebraska's Republican Senator Chuck Hagel on last week's brutal killing of the comprehensive immigration reform package that would have probably created as many problems as it would have solutions:
Three of the four U.S. senators from Nebraska and Iowa joined with a majority of their colleagues Thursday in killing a controversial immigration bill and likely putting off action on the emotional topic until after the 2008 elections.

With 46 senators supporting it, the bill fell well short of the 60 needed to clear a procedural hurdle.

The legislation, backed by President Bush, included a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, a large guest-worker program and increased border security and workplace enforcement.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., was the lone Midlands senator to vote in favor of keeping the legislation alive. Voting against it were Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.; Tom Harkin, D-Iowa; and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

Hagel had harsh words for those who helped bring down the legislation.

"We walked away from a tough problem, and we failed America today," Hagel said....

Even supporters weren't in love with the bill that was before the Senate this week. Hagel said it was inferior to one the Senate passed last year.

But the country's immigration problems have to be addressed, Hagel said. "We continue to defer the tough choices," he said.

Hagel blamed TV and radio talk shows and "political hacks" for giving the public the impression that nothing was being done on border security when, in fact, the country has spent billions on such efforts.

He said the number of illegal immigrants — there are an estimated 12 million in the country — will continue to balloon before the matter resurfaces in Congress.

Hagel said the illegal immigrants will remain hidden, not pay taxes and not be as productive as they could be. He said unscrupulous employers will continue to hold workers' illegal status over their heads as a means to hold down wages.

"Most are decent people who came here for the right reasons," Hagel said. "We lose all the way around".....

Hagel's office...was getting plenty of correspondence. A spokesman said the office had received more than 3,000 contacts related to the immigration bill over the past few weeks.

"My phone lines right now are jammed — nobody can get in, people upset with me," Hagel said during a conference call immediately after the bill died.
I'm not for passing bad legislation just so Congress can show its accomplishing something. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin call this bill "an unworkable mess." Even though he's gearing up for a re-election campaign and surely taking those considerations to heart, I'm inclined to agree. Still, I appreciate Sen. Hagel's apparent sense of moral duty on this issue and his calling out the rightwing talk show circuit for their shameless lies and fear-mongering about the present condition of our nation's borders. It's also pleasant to see Hagel speaking of our undocumented workers as true human beings who love and support their families rather than the law-breaking vagrants imagined by most Republican commentators (and whatever the hell Lou Dobbs qualifies as).

Still, even though an overhaul of our entire immigration system is long overdue, it now falls on Congressional Democrats to take charge of the border security debate by using their majority to pass practical and humane solutions that don't betray our national character. This issue has been left to fanatics such as Iowa's Steve King and Colorado's Tom Tancredo for far too long. Furthermore, it's time to make some headway on new security, identification, and enforcement measures so that questions of what to do about the 12 million-plus immigrants who are undocumented can no longer be dismissed by the likes of Sen. Nelson, who at least seems to have backed away from his previous progress-impeding rhetoric that drummed up opposition to any plan with a perceived Amnesty component.

By the way, an anonymous Republican Senator just denounced Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to Washington Post columnist Robert Novak because of McConnell's flip-flopping on immigration and his inability to rally the party faithful behind their President's agenda. Although it would be incredibly uncharacteristic for Hagel to say anything off the record - giving up the opportunity to get his name in the headlines - there is a definite air of familiarity to the statement below:
"If this were a war, Sen. McConnell should be relieved of command for dereliction of duty."
Hagel may still want to keep his options open for 2008, and a good way of closing those in a hurry would be his publicly attacking the only national party leader this side of John McCain (who doesn't have such a hot track record in Nebraska) who would actually came to Nebraska to campaign on his behalf. Still, that definitely reads like a Hagel statement, and the fact that it ran in the always Hagel-friendly Washington Post certainly doesn't dissuade from this quite reasonable inference.

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