The two amigos tackle immigration.

By Salon Staff

Published September 6, 2001 10:18AM (EDT)

Daily line

"A sound foreign policy begins by ensuring the safety and security of the neighborhood we share. A good neighborhood is made by good neighbors. And good neighbors work as we are working, with shared obligations and mutual respect."
--President Bush toasting Mexican President Vicente Fox at a state dinner Wednesday night.

Bush buzz

On Wednesday night, Bush threw an intimate but flashy bash in honor of Mexican President Vicente Fox, complete with a surprise fireworks display. Earlier in the day, Fox had had his own surprise for the president during the first official state visit of the Bush administration.

Fox challenged Bush to aim for an immigration agreement between the two nations by year's end, though the president has recently emphasized that any compromise could take years to craft. Immigration reform, which Bush had once put close to the top of his agenda, has become a domestic headache for the president at a time when the economic slowdown is giving him all the problems he can handle.

Though foreign policy was never considered one of Bush's strong suits, the president has used his close relationship with Fox as proof that he knows how build alliances, that he is sensitive to the concerns of Mexican Americans and, by extension, Hispanics in general. But as hungry as the GOP is to be competitive for Hispanic voters, some party members feel that a broad amnesty for illegal immigrants is the wrong way to get their support. Congressional Republicans, particularly those whose careers rose during an era when the GOP was considered an anti-immigration party, believe that such an amnesty would be a betrayal of their law-and-order values, and would fail to address larger concerns about the effect of immigration on the nation as a whole.

With the White House in the midst of a limited retreat on the issue, it's hard to tell whether Hispanic voters will credit Bush for his good intentions on immigration reform, or blame him for surrendering to the less progressive elements of his party. Furthermore, Bush's original overtures toward illegal immigrants from Mexico prompted some leaders of other Latin American immigrant communities to accuse Bush of giving special treatment to Mexicans.

Bush is facing a potential backlash over another effort to reach out to minority voters. The president is reportedly conflicted about whether to extend federal government contracting preferences that favor firms headed by minorities and women. While such an effort would boost Bush's credentials as a "compassionate conservative," plain old conservatives despise any preferences, and any White House moves to uphold them could alienate significant portions of Bush's political base.

But Bush's diversity woes take a definite backseat this month to jitters over the federal budget and the shrinking surplus. While Democrats continue to insist that they will honor the "lockbox" protecting the Social Security surplus from unrelated spending efforts, the Bush administration has not altered its plans to boost military spending. The Republicans in Congress have decided that the best way to deal with the problematic disappearing surplus is to pretend that it's not a problem.

Their constituents may or may not let them get away with that. Bush won't get off so easy. While loyal Republicans might forgive his fudging on his campaign pledge to leave Social Security funds untouched, it could read like a "read my lips" moment for senior voters who have previously punished the GOP for being insufficiently protective of the federal retirement program.

Though Bush had entered office with the expectation that he could forge permanent alliances with traditionally Democratic voters like racial minorities and seniors, the uncertain economic climate has made him all the more dependent on his base. And if the conservative Republicans won't create a comfortable environment for the president's outreach efforts, then Bush won't have much chance at success.

And don't miss big time celebrities pounding the president. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, "Friends" star Jennifer Aniston describes Bush as "a fucking idiot," but shies away from speaking about more specific political issues on the record. Aniston also talks about how she and husband Brad Pitt greeted Jenna Bush when the president's daughter worked as a summer intern for Brillstein-Grey, a Hollywood management firm that represents the couple. "We'd pass her in the hall," Aniston says, "and Brad would say, 'Heyyyy, Jenna, wanna beer? I got one in the truck!'"

Several rock performers are a bit more focused and substantive in their anti-Bush actions. Some stars like Moby, Matchbox 20 and Alanis Morissette are backing petition drives protesting Bush's energy and environmental policies. Thus far, activists have collected more than 30,000 signatures.

Thursday's schedule: The president travels to Toledo, Ohio with Mexican President Vicente Fox. In the evening, he attends a dinner hosted by Fox at Blair House. The vice president meets with Fox in the morning.

-- Alicia Montgomery

This day in Bush history

Sept. 6, 1992: The New York Times reports on the efforts of Texas Rangers general partner George W. Bush to support Fay Vincent, the embattled commissioner of major league baseball. When asked whether his statements defending Vincent could be interpretted as applying to embattled Republican presidential nominee, President George Bush, the younger Bush replied, "Dang right."

Bush league: Toxic nominee

When Bush nominated former Ohio state environmental official Donald Schregardus to be the top Environmental Protection Agency enforcement officer, it's likely he expected to get grief from conservation and environmental groups. But he probably didn't anticipate that the EPA itself would contribute to the bad notices. The New York Times has reported that an EPA study of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency found that programs under that state agency were deficient, including some of those implemented at a time when Schregardus was in charge. The finding complicates efforts by EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman to show the administration's support of the troubled nominee.

Schregardus' nomination has encountered significant resistance all along. Democrats have been particularly suspicious about his investigation of a concentration of leukemia cases in an Ohio town built partially on the former site of a World War II Army dump. Both Democratic New Jersey Sens. Jon Corzine and Robert Torricelli wrote a letter to Bush expressing their concern about an October 2000 Labor Department finding that Schregardus steered the probe toward a conclusion that found no connection between the leukemia cases and the dump. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., has declared her opposition to Schregardus, and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., have placed a hold on the nomination.

But so far, Senate Democrats haven't shown much spine in fighting Bush nominees. To date, only Bush's pick to lead the Consumer Protection Agency, Mary Sheila Gall, has been rejected.

-- A.M.

Burning Bush

Links to the Web's best sites for hardcore Bush watchers.

Send questions, comments and tips to bushed@salon.com.

Bushed! contributors: Eric Boehlert , Gary Kamiya, Kerry Lauerman, Alicia Montgomery, Scott Rosenberg, Jake Tapper, Joan Walsh, Anthony York

Take a look at the previous edition of Bushed!

Salon Staff

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