Since his 51 percent victory on Nov. 2, President Bush has been acting like an imperial president in the FDR tradition.
He has retired six Cabinet officers, replaced three with White House staffers, effected the recapture of Fallujah, begun cleaning out State and the CIA, and let Mexican President Fox know that his guest-worker/amnesty plan to legalize Mexican illegal aliens will be pushed and passed in Congress in the new year.
But Saturday night, as he was in Chile telling the world that China, Russia, South Korea and Japan were on board to pressure North Korea back to talks on its nuclear program, a rebellion erupted back home. Bush was handed a stinging defeat by his own House Republicans.
At issue was the bill to create a national intelligence czar. Leading the rebels were Duncan Hunter of California, who chairs armed services, and Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, chair of judiciary. Hunter, an ex-Green Beret, objects to giving the czar power to intrude in intel transfers from the Pentagon to troops in the field, saying this could “leave a state of confusion which is deadly on the battlefield.”
Sensenbrenner’s was the voice of Tom Tancredo’s Immigration Caucus. He refused to back a bill on homeland security that failed to create federal standards for driver’s licenses. Some of the 9-11 terrorists carried valid state driver’s licenses, which are the primary means of identification for boarding U.S. airliners. As Arizona Rep. J.D. Hayworth succinctly put it, “Border security is homeland security.”
Faced with a rebellion led by committee chairmen and backed by his rank-and-file, Speaker Dennis Hastert pulled the bill. Absent a special session in December, the bill is now probably dead until the 109th Congress meets in January.
The Beltway is in shock. Not only were Bush, Cheney and the Senate Republicans all supportive, so too were the 9-11 commission and Democratic establishment. An independent group, 9-11 Families for a Secure America, however, praised Republicans for holding the line to secure America’s borders.
Bush and Cheney both phoned in to save the bill and were deeply embarrassed by its defeat. But this wake-up call for the White House is overdue. Karl Rove needs to reread the exit polls from Nov. 2 and review what happened in Arizona.
In those exit polls, Bush swept the nation among voters who had the war on terror, taxes and moral values first in mind. He has a mandate here: Make the tax cuts permanent, fight for conservative judges and justices, hunt down bin Laden and finish al-Qaida.
But Bush lost four-to-one among those who had jobs on their mind and three-to-one among those who had Iraq, as separate from the war on terror, on their minds when they voted.
In Arizona, Proposition 200, requiring welfare applicants and would-be voters to give proof of citizenship – though opposed by Sens. John McCain and John Kyl and the Arizona chamber of commerce – carried by 56 percent.
McCain and GOP Reps. Jeff Flake and Jim Kolbe, who both faced primary opposition on the immigration issue, still back an even more liberal guest-worker/amnesty plan than President Bush.
What are the tea leaves telling the president?
If you intend to enact FTAA (the Free Trade Agreement for the Americas) or a guest-worker/amnesty scheme, you will tear the GOP apart and set up Republicans in 2006 for even tougher primary challenges than those faced by Kolbe and Flake.
The invasion of America by illegal aliens, the security threat it poses, the Bush failure to defend our borders, the export of U.S. factories to Asia – these issues are approaching critical mass. A sinking dollar, soaring trade deficits, and daily reports of factory closings and jobs outsourced point to a coming crisis for the Clinton-Bush policy of free-trade globalism.
If the narrowness of his Ohio victory and the triumph of Proposition 200 in Arizona did not tell Bush this, it is because, in the hubris of victory, he is not listening. And pride precedeth a fall.
“[N]ational security … dictates that we get control of our borders,” California Rep. Elton Gallegly admonished Colin Powell and Tom Ridge last week, after both traveled to Mexico to endorse the Bush amnesty. We must not, said Gallegly, “reward Mexican nationals living and working illegally in the United States” by granting legal status.
Speaking for 20 colleagues, Gallegly added, “It is our hope that in future discussions with the Mexican government, you will encourage Mexico to do its part to address illegal immigration rather than encourage their citizens to illegally enter the U.S.”
The president should accept with good grace his jolting defeat Saturday night. If he reads it right, it may save him much heartache down the road.