President Bush yesterday moved aggressively to resurrect his plan to relax rules against illegal immigration, a move bound to anger conservatives just days after they helped re-elect him.
The president met privately in the Oval Office with Sen. John McCain to discuss jump-starting a stalled White House initiative that would grant legal status to millions of immigrants who broke the law to enter the United States.
The Arizona Republican is one of the Senate's most outspoken supporters of expanding guest-worker programs and has introduced his own bill to offer a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), said he "suddenly went from calm to stressed out" after learning of the president's renewed push for immigration relaxation.
He predicted the plan would continue to meet vigorous opposition from House Republicans. "If the House wouldn't deliver this bill before the guy's election, when he claimed he needed it for the Hispanic vote, why would they deliver it after the election, when their constituents overwhelmingly oppose it?" he said. "Why would House leaders follow the president over a cliff?"
White House officials insisted the move was not "payback" to Hispanic voters who supported Mr. Bush in greater numbers last week than in 2000. Although the president first proposed relaxing immigration shortly after taking office, he mothballed the idea after September 11, 2001, and downplayed it on the campaign trail.
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On Wednesday President Bush named White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez to replace Ashcroft. If he is confirmed, Gonzalez will be the first Hispanic American to hold the post.