White House Counselor Challenges Democrats on Immigration Bill

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/co ... 01082.html

By Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, May 22, 2007; 5:26 PM

White House Counselor Dan Bartlett today challenged House Democratic leaders to help assure passage of the immigration reform bill currently before Congress, pledging that President Bush will actively lobby Republican House members if the Democrats live up to the terms of the bipartisan agreement struck last week in the Senate.

The new measure has drawn sharp criticism from both Republicans and Democrats, forcing Senate leaders to extend debate past the Memorial Day recess. Acknowledging that the centerpiece of Bush's domestic agenda faces enormous obstacles in both chambers, Bartlett said he believes the more time advocates have to explain the details of the massive bill, the more likely the chances for its success.

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Democratic leaders say the bill has no chance of passing unless the White House can deliver a significant number of Republican votes in the House. Bartlett, in an interview for washingtonpost.com's PostTalk program, said the president's commitment to persuade members of his own party to support the bill is contingent on the ability of Democratic leaders to do their part to keep the bipartisan agreement intact.

Predicting a strong vote of support in the Senate, Bartlett said the "onus will be on the Democratic leadership" to deliver. "They now have an obligation to show they can work in a bipartisan way, show leadership in their own caucus and bring a bill that is acceptable to this bipartisan arrangement so that we can get a bill to the president's desk. . . . If it's good enough for Ted Kennedy, it ought to be good enough for [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi. If that's the case, the president is willing to do everything he can to make this bill become law," he added.

Addressing embattled Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, Bartlett accused Democrats of playing politics by calling for a vote of no-confidence in the attorney general and said Bush intends to stand behind Gonzales despite calls for his resignation. He charged that Democrats have sought to build a case against Gonzales through leaked documents, "innuendo and allegations that have not been proven true," and he said the divide between Democrats and the White House appears irreconcilable.

Quite frankly I don't know who they [Democrats] would be satisfied with," he said. "They have demonstrated time and time again to be opposed to the type of law enforcement and antiterrorism policies this president's pursued. They're trying to take that out on the attorney general, which is their right to do. But I think this is going to be one of those cases where there is going to be fundamental disagreement between the two parties on who should be leading the Department of Justice."

During the interview, Bartlett brushed aside questions about a late-night visit in March 2004 by then-White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and Gonzales, then White House counsel, to the hospital room of attorney general John D. Ashcroft, seeking his approval for the administration's warrantless wiretapping program over the objections of the deputy attorney general, James B. Comey, who was serving as acting attorney general at the time.

He declined to say who had authorized the visit but insisted that Congress had been fully briefed on all aspects of the program and implied that those briefings included a full description of any changes that may have resulted from the dispute between Justice and the White House.

"If there are ever any changes made to the program, which there was a suggestion of by Mr. Comey and others, they [congressional leaders] were certainly aware of [them]," Bartlett said.

Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee this month that someone at the White House -- possibly Bush himself -- called Ashcroft's hospital room to announce that Card and Gonzales were coming over. Bush declined to answer directly when asked at a news conference last week whether he had ordered the visit.

Bartlett also said there was no contradiction between Comey's testimony and earlier testimony by Gonzales that there were never any serious disagreements inside the administration over the program, but his explanation was far from clear.

"Remember he was in open hearing talking about a program the president chose to disclose," Bartlett said. "That doesn't necessarily mean he was talking about all programs. While I can understand why that may be confusing, I can rest assured that the statement the attorney general made was accurate."

Asked to explain, he added, "After a careful review of what the attorney general said then and based on the disclosure we're seeing now, that what he said was consistent and accurate."

With Congress moving this week toward passage of an Iraq war funding bill that Bush appears likely to sign, Bartlett turned to the future clashes with Democrats and some Republicans in Congress over the fate of the administration's Iraq policy and acknowledged that the clock is ticking faster in Washington than in Baghdad.