As Gail Russell Chaddock points out in the Christian Science Monitor today, "The trouble is, no one is quite sure what's in" the Senate's Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act.
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has distinguished himself as the Senate's leading statesman over the last two weeks for the simple reason that he has read the 614 page Hagel-Martinez bill and done the math. He has delivered a number of well-informed, carefully considered speeches on this hugely important subject. John O'Sullivan calls him "a hero of commonsense in this debate."
For this public service, he has been smeared by the Washington Post's top political reporter Dana Milbank:
Forget Politics. This Battle Is Personal.
By Dana Milbank Wednesday, May 24, 2006; A02
Alabama's Jeff Sessions sure knows how to nurse a grudge [boldface mine]. Talking about his family earlier this year, the Republican senator recalled that "Lincoln killed one of them at Antietam."
Now he is turning his prodigious anger on legislation the Senate is expected to approve on Thursday that would allow millions of illegal immigrants to become citizens. In the process, Sessions is taking on the White House, his leaders in the Senate, the Congressional Budget Office and business interests at home.
"This bill is one of the worst pieces of legislation to come before the Senate," he proclaimed at a news conference yesterday, his second on the topic in as many weeks.
My goodness, Sessions must be deranged if he's held two news conferences on the most far-reaching immigration bill of this generation. Maybe one news conference, but two? That's completely inappropriate!
He paused, unsatisfied with that superlative. "It's the worst piece of legislation to come before the Senate since I've been here."
A stream of epithets about the legislation flowed from his mouth and those of the two conservative scholars he brought with him. "Colossal error . . . absolute scandal . . . budget buster . . . fiscal disaster . . . catastrophe."
Linda Scott of PBS's "NewsHour" pointed out that the Alabama Farmers Federation takes the opposite view.
The senator fired back: "They want cheap labor and they're not considering the interest of the United States of America."
Sessions must be out of his mind with bigotry if he doesn't see the superior wisdom of those disinterested patriots, the Alabama Farmers Federation. What kind of vile insanity could lead a Senator to not immediately give in to a home state special interest group?
With the exception of some small victories -- Sessions persuaded his colleagues last week to support 370 miles of fence along the Mexican border and 500 miles of vehicle barriers -- the man from Alabama knows he has lost the battle in the Senate.
"We're heading to passage," he conceded yesterday, even as he readied a last-minute parliamentary maneuver to derail the bill today. Ultimately, he's hoping House Republicans, who have passed an immigration crackdown without legalization, will prevail in negotiations with the Senate.
"It will have to be rewritten," Sessions predicted of the Senate measure. "The bill is not fixable."
A short, wiry man with protruding ears, Sessions has become the Lou Dobbs of the Senate. He argues his points not with the courtly Southern tones of the late senator Howell Heflin (D), his predecessor, but with the harsh twang of a country tough -- which, in a sense, he is.
C'mon, Dana, don't be coy. Come right out and call Sessions the Ku Klux Klanner he obviously is for worrying about little details like how many tens of millions of foreigners will get into America under this bill.
Sessions was one of just nine senators to oppose a ban on torture. He has raised objections about renewing the Voting Rights Act.
As we all know, the Voting Rights Act is perfect beyond human comprehension.
In the days after Hurricane Katrina, according to Time magazine, Sessions, pushing for repeal of the estate tax, called a former law professor to see if he knew of any business owner who died in the storm.
And if his current fight in the Senate appears unwinnable, Sessions also knows how to turn defeat into victory. He sits on the same Judiciary Committee that in 1986 rejected him for a federal judgeship; opponents at the time cited his labeling of groups such as the NAACP as "un-American" and his prosecution of civil rights activists for voting fraud.
As we all know, civil rights activists like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are as honest as the day is long.
Sessions has joined the immigration debate with typical ferocity, impugning the motives of those who disagree with him. "We have quite a number of members of the House and Senate and members in the media who are all in favor of reforms and improvements as long as they don't really work," he said last week of those who opposed the 370 miles of fencing. "But good fences make good neighbors. Fences don't make bad neighbors."
The senator evidently hadn't consulted the residents of Korea, Berlin or the West Bank.
Killer line, Dana! Obviously, the residents of Korea or the West Bank would have lived in perfect harmony without those horrible fences keeping them separate. But why hold back, Dana? Point out that there was a fence around Auschwitz!
On Monday, he was on the Senate floor again, accusing his opponents of dishonesty. "The legislation has been crafted in a way that hides and conceals, even misrepresents its real effects," he said. "We should be ashamed of ourselves."
The Bush White House worries that the words of Sessions and like-minded lawmakers in the House will alienate Hispanic voters from the GOP. And, indeed, the senator's words can sound a bit harsh, as he fights to limit legal immigration, cut off tax benefits for those earning legal status and limit legal immigrants' ability to bring over family members.
"It's painful to bring people who are unable to speak English or to effectively take advantage of the opportunities our country has," he told his colleagues this week. "They tend to pull themselves apart and continue to speak their own language, and they don't advance and assimilate."
Forecasting a mass immigration of 73 million to 92 million over the next 20 years, Sessions described the process in extraordinary detail:
What a horrible, horrible man! He's read the bill and crunched the numbers. Unforgivable.
"The nuclear family that we bring in after five years, they become citizens, they bring in their parents. . . . The parents can bring in their parents if they're still alive. They really can. Maybe they're 90. They can bring in others -- their brothers and sisters. The uncles, all the uncles can come in with this through the parents here. And the wife can bring in brothers and sisters and then the wife brings in her brother, who brings in his wife and two children and she brings in her parents. And it just goes on."
Oh, my God! Sessions actually understands how this legislation would work. He must be destroyed!
This may not be the best way to broaden the Republican appeal, but that's not Sessions's worry. "I'm beyond politics," he said yesterday. His opponents would readily agree.
But seriously, folks. For a long time, I've been pointing out that the Establishment has been preventing the public from getting its way on immigration by ruling the entire topic out of public discussion, except in the most hazy, sentimental terms. Sometimes they dismiss the topic:
How do they keep winning? The articulate and affluent who profit from illegal immigration look down their noses at anyone who wants to reduce it. They don’t debate dissenters; they dismiss them. Their most effective ploy has been to insinuate that only shallow people think deeply about immigration. The more profound sort of intellect, the fashionable imply, displays an insouciant heedlessness about the long-term impact of immigration.
Other times, they angrily spew hatred at anyone who thinks rationally about immigration, denouncing him as a hate-filled lunatic for thinking about the facts and logic of immigration. Milbank's column is a classic example.
Southern Appeal has more on the story.
Dennis Dale writes on Untethered:
I'm well aware of the inherent evil of unsightly ears and an ectomorphic physique; but listening to Senator Sessions speak the other day I detected nothing of the "country tough" (which we're supposed to read as redneck cracker) in his speech. In fact, there's nothing "tough" in the senator's manner. I found myself wishing he had been a little more forceful. I suspect Dana Milbank has lead a sufficiently cloistered life that he thinks Michael Jackson looked tough in the Bad video.
Sessions was very hard on the legislation. Perhaps it's the tender virtue of the senate bill itself Milbank is concerned about. Indeed, singling out Sessions for abuse suggests Milbank finds reading the proposals before the Senate abusive. The poor legislation.
Still, not a single word of refutation of the senator's complaints. Milbank's message: pay no attention to a jug-eared redneck, and let the nice people with the dull, soothing, ill-defined words determine the course of the country. And don't forget: American Idol's on tonight!