McCain Role Is Disputed

Posted April 11, 2008 at 6:15pm

House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) are in a spat over who deserves the blame for spiking a compromise House immigration package — Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) or Democratic leaders.

Stupak, as well as the office of House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), have blamed the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee for thwarting efforts to craft an interim bipartisan compromise that would include temporary visas for illegal immigrants, new enforcement provisions and an extension to existing temporary worker programs, including the H-2B program for seasonal workers.

But in a letter to Stupak obtained by Roll Call, Blunt said the failure of an immigration compromise rested with Democratic leaders’ insistence on “amnesty” provisions for illegal immigrants.

“I am not aware of any discussions between House Republican leadership and Senator McCain on the issue of H-2B visas,” Blunt said. “The current impasse is a function of your leadership’s insistence that a simple extension of the exception to [the] H-2B cap be combined with a proposal to grant temporary amnesty to people who are in the country illegally.”

Stupak reacted with frustration to the letter in an interview Friday.

“I’m really disappointed with Roy,” Stupak said, reiterating that a senior Republican told him that they would not be able to get the Republicans they needed for an interim immigration package because the McCain campaign did not want to vote on it prior to the election.

“Word was given to them that McCain will not support it any more,” Stupak said. “That’s why those 30 to 40 Republicans are not there.

“I’m just deeply disappointed that he couldn’t help but play politics with this issue,” Stupak said of Blunt. “It shows that the Republican Party and Mr. Blunt are not interested in solving a major issue in this country; they’d rather politicize it.”

Stupak said that immigration was “a major issue that needs to be addressed by mature people in a mature way, not with political sound bites,” and that Blunt was wrong to label the Democratic plan “amnesty.”

“There is no amnesty in there, but he keeps insisting there is,” Stupak said.

Illegal immigrants would get temporary visas under the proposal provided that they show they have a job, pay a fine, not be on public assistance and pass a criminal background check, Stupak said.

“If that’s what he means by amnesty, then he is sadly mistaken,” Stupak said. “We are taking a small step in hopes of setting up with the new president a comprehensive policy. We know if we continue to use political sound bites and mischaracterize the honest efforts of people, this issue will never get solved. … You would think he would rise above that.”

But Blunt said in his letter that he had worked with Stupak to enact an extension of H-2B visas, but Democrats haven’t moved a visa extension to the floor.

“It is my impression that a combination of newly minted objections by organized labor and a calculation that the H-2B program could be leveraged to force Republicans to accept controversial amnesty legislation was responsible for this unfortunate decision,” Blunt wrote.

Blunt said any attempt to broaden the bill beyond extensions of current law would “needlessly complicate the issue.”

Nick Simpson, a spokesman for Blunt, reiterated that the temporary visas for illegal immigrants are amnesty.

“What we want is a secure border and a fix to the H-2B visa program,” Simpson said. Democrats keep signaling that it is going to have some sort of amnesty provision, Simpson said, “That’s what’s causing it to lose Republican support.”