Compromise may hurt Pence
Indiana Congressman Mike Pence has proposed what he calls a "middle
ground" in the debate over immigration reform. For his efforts
Pence is now the subject of harsh criticism from both sides of the
debate. But it is the criticism from the anti-immigration
hard-liners on the right that threatens Pence's standing as a hero
The Senate, fresh off passing the McCain-Kennedy amnesty plan,
appears adamant that its position on a guest worker program
containing some sort of amnesty must survive. Meanwhile, the
hard-core crowd in the House led by Colorado Republican Tom
Tancredo is providing a much more vigorous critique of the Pence
plan, concluding that it is weak on border security and tantamount
to amnesty, even though the Pence plan has won support from
conservatives including Dick Armey and Newt Gingrich.
Indeed, Tancredo says, the Pence plan "gives the administration
exactly what it wants: unlimited foreign workers first, enforcement
later or never. Pence's plan is the '86 amnesty with a trip home
tacked on." MSNBC commentator Pat Buchanan this week joined the
fray with a
attacking Pence as a traitor to the conservative cause
because of his "stealth amnesty" plan. Buchanan says one of the
crucial steps ignored by Pence is to "[b]uild a fence along the
2,000-mile border to stop the flood."
Also dealing a blow to the public relations effort for the Pence
plan was Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist.
On a weekend call-in talk show, which featured Pence as a guest,
Gilchrist phoned in with kind words for Pence's plan and thanked
him for engaging in the debate with new ideas. Pence misread
Gilchrist's comments as support for his plan and announced Monday
at The Heritage Foundation that the Minuteman leader was in
But Gilchrist denies that, telling
World Net Daily
, "I congratulated Congressman Pence on putting
forth alternatives, but that does not mean I think the alternatives
Congressman Pence proposed are the solution. Quite frankly, I
don't." Gilchrist concludes, the "only solution that has any chance
of work is for us to close the borders first, before we start
talking about any kind of a guest worker program."
What appears to be missing from the criticism of the Pence plan is
an acknowledgement that it does put border security first.
A key provision of the Pence plan puts a two-year wait on
implementing a guest worker program while the border is being
secured, fence and all. After that waiting period the Department of
Homeland Security would be required to certify the security of the
border. Essentially, this provision is identical to Republican
Johnny Isakson of Georgia's amendment that failed in the Senate.
That amendment was lauded by conservatives of all stripes and its
defeat signaled the end of any conservative support for the Senate
In an interview with Lou Dobbs on CNN, Pence responded to critics
who claim his plan is weak on border security. "We do everything
that the House legislation adopted last December does to secure the
border," Pence said. "My proposal is, Lou, that for the first two
years after enactment, all we do is secure the border, and build
the fence and deploy the UAV and build the additional capacity and
have additional border patrols. A nation without borders is not a
nation. That has to come first."
Pence also rejects accusations that his plan amounts to amnesty. In
a Wall Street Journal op-ed Pence wrote, "my bill does not include
a so-called path to citizenship, i.e., an amnesty, for the some 12
million illegal aliens in this country. Instead, it insists that
they leave and come back legally if they have a job opportunity in
Still, Pence's detractors aren't convinced.
They're so adamant about the perceived wrong-headedness of his
plan that they appear willing to dismiss the young conservative as
a has-been. Indeed, rather than disagreement followed by dialogue,
some appear ready to banish the Republican Study Committee's
Chairman to the hinterlands of the conservative movement. In the
above mentioned column Buchanan insists that the adoption of the
Pence plan will mark "the end of Mike Pence as a rising star of the
That would be a shame.
The idea that some so-called conservatives would abandon an
up-and-coming Reaganite because they disagree with his good-faith
attempt to find a workable immigration solution is a measure of the
temperature at which this debate is being conducted.
Pence has demonstrated his commitment to the conservative cause
time and time again. Without his leadership, it is likely that the
RSC's numerous victories in this Congress would not have happened.
And that is no small thing.
Increasingly in this Republican Congress it has been Pence and his
small band of conservatives that have been the only ones willing to
stand up for principle. But that point appears to be lost on many
hard-liners who are dead set on a "my way or the highway" approach
Tim Chapman is the Director of the Center for Media and Public
Policy at The Heritage Foundation and a contributor to
First appeared in TownHall.com