Bush returns to immigration reform battle

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

SOFIA, Bulgaria -- President Bush braced for problems at home Monday with the cheers from his European trip still ringing in his ears.

He pledged to resurrect his derailed immigration bill in the Senate -- "I'll see you at the bill signing," he declared -- and dismissed Democrats' effort to hold a no-confidence vote on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as a waste of time.

Returning to Washington Monday night, Bush said he would be on Capitol Hill today to lobby Republican senators to support a plan that would give up to 12 million illegal immigrants a pathway to legal status.

En route aboard Air Force One, he phoned three senators to discuss how it could be revived: Sens. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

"He thanked all of them for their leadership and their hard work. He underscored his commitment to getting the bill done soon," said deputy White House press secretary Dana Perino.

"I believe we can get it done," the president said before he left Bulgaria.

Senate Democratic leaders wrote Bush saying it was up to him to lean on Republicans to back the measure.

"It will take stronger leadership by you to ensure the opponents of the bill do not block the path to final passage," said Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., quoting the letter. Reid said he would be willing to bring immigration back to the Senate floor if he could be assured that enough Republicans would support the bill.

Bulgaria, once the most loyal Soviet ally during the Cold War but now an American friend, was Bush's last stop on a six-country journey. Thousands of Bulgarians lined the cobblestoned main street through Nevsky Square as Bush and President Georgi Parvanov watched troops goose-stepping to military music.

With 1 1/2 years left in his term, Bush returns home with dismal poll ratings, declining influence and an unpopular war in Iraq in its fifth year. The political world already is turning to the 2008 presidential race.

An overhaul of the nation's ineffective immigration laws represents Bush's best hope for a major legislative achievement, because earlier efforts to revamp Social Security, rewrite the tax code and extend expiring tax cuts are apparently doomed.

The immigration bill was put aside last week after the Senate twice refused Democratic efforts to cut off debate. The president has been criticized for not doing enough for the bill, which is bitterly opposed by many conservatives in his party.

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