Divisive Bill Stokes GOP Anger; Base Rejects Path to Citizenship

Article excerpt

Byline: Ralph Z. Hallow, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The bipartisan immigration bill being pushed by the White House and Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, is fracturing rather than "saving" the Republican Party nationally, according to angry party leaders and new poll findings.

Arizona Republican Party officials have received "hundreds and hundreds of calls, e-mails and letters from Republicans angry about the bill," state party Chairman Randy Pullen told The Washington Times.

"They were saying, 'I am going to register independent and not give you any more money' - and that's the base of our party saying that," Mr. Pullen said.

Republican officials also criticized Sen. Mel Martinez, Florida Republican, as being out of touch for his weekend remark on CNN that the immigration bill "could be the saving of the Republican Party."

Chuck Laudner, the Iowa Republican Party executive director, told The Times that Mr. Martinez is "dead wrong because the bill doesn't save the Republican Party - it drives a wedge right through it."

"I don't think the immigration bill is going to save the Republican party," Cindy Costa, the Republican national committeewoman from South Carolina, told The Times. "If you undermine your base as this bill does, I don't hardly see how that can save the GOP."

Mr. Martinez was handpicked by the White House to be general chairman of the Republican Party because he agreed with the Bush administration's goal of reaching out to the nation's growing Hispanic electorate.

"I like Mel, he is a great guy, but his political instincts aren't real good - my Florida friends tell me they're calling him 'Amnesty Mel' down there," Mr. Pullen said.

The measure, whose chief sponsor is Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, would provide illegal aliens a way to gain legal status and eventually citizenship. It is "a Democratic bill," Mr. Pullen said.

"The White House and Jon Kyl are giving Democrats exactly what they need - cover," the Arizona official said. "Democrats aren't going to be out there alone, giving amnesty to 20 million illegal aliens.

Mr. Pullen also criticized Arizona Sen. John McCain, a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, for his sponsorship last year of a measure that would have enabled illegals to gain citizenship.

"McCain's position last year was the reverse of what it should have been," Mr. Pullen said.

Mr. Kyl said he's committed to the bipartisan deal in the Senate, and that his only fear now is that Democrats will pull the bill too far to the left for him to support it.

"I have already taken the political hit," Mr. Kyl said. "I have already made my decision to support this legislation, and I will support it to the end if it is not substantially modified. …