WASHINGTON – Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, who has pushed a tough border security bill through the House, accused President Bush on Wednesday of abandoning the legislation after asking for many of its provisions.
"He basically turned his back on provisions of the House-passed bill, a lot of which we were requested to put in the bill by the White House," Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., angrily told reporters in a conference call. "That was last fall when we were drafting the bill, and now the president appears not to be interested in it at all."
Sensenbrenner chairs the House Judiciary Committee and would be the House's chief negotiator on any final immigration package for Bush's signature. He said it was the White House that had requested two controversial felony provisions in the bill the House passed last winter.
"We worked very closely with White House in the fall in putting together the border security bill that the House passed," he said. "... What we heard in November and December, he seems to be going in the opposite direction in May. That is really at the crux of this irritation," he said of Bush.
White House spokesman Alex Conant said Bush has been consistent in seeking comprehensive immigration reform. "He applauded the House's action to strengthen our borders and is now urging the Senate to pass a bill," Conant said.
Sensenbrenner spoke with reporters as the Senate worked this week on a broader bill that generally follows the approach Bush laid out Monday night in his nationally televised speech. That includes offering most of the nation's 12 million illegal immigrants an opportunity to eventually become citizens — an act that Sensenbrenner and other conservatives label as amnesty.
"I was very disappointed in the president's speech," Sensenbrenner said. "I think he doesn't get it."
Asked if Bush mollified conservatives in the speech by calling for sending National Guard troops to states along the Mexican border, Sensenbrenner said, "He failed in that completely."
And despite Bush's insistence that he was not calling for amnesty, Sensenbrenner said, "Well it is an amnesty, because it allows people who have broken the law to stay in the country."
"The president has repeatedly and forcefully rejected amnesty," Conant said. "Under his plan, you're going to have to pay stiff fines, follow the law, stay employed, learn English and — after achieving all those things — go to the back of the line."
Sensenbrenner did not attend a closed-door meeting between Bush political adviser Karl Rove and House Republicans, but said that some members complained to him that Rove didn't stay around for many questions or hear what lawmakers had to say.
"The overwhelming majority of those that I talked to who were at the conference believe that he dissed the House Republicans," Sensenbrenner said.