Demise of the ‘Grand Bargain’

Just days after shelving the high-stakes immigration reform bill, today the Senate takes up a no-confidence vote on Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. Democrats are fine with it failing; they just need to get the Republicans on the record defending Gonzalez for future use in campaign commercials. We’re not getting anywhere on substance but you can sure take the political temperature of Congress these days and it’s clearly so hot they can’t do their jobs. What’s on for tomorrow? President Bush will attend the GOP Senate lunch and implore his fellow Republicans to forge ahead with the immigration package they rejected. They will listen, hot under the collar, but the reception could be chilly.

With the death of the “grand bargain” on immigration, Washington observers are mourning the death of bipartisanship. But bipartisanship is alive and well — both parties, working in concert to torpedo the bill, hated it equally. The grassroots, not the lobbyists, spoke loud and clear and the voice of the opposition was much noisier than those advocating reform.

Yes, the atmosphere is still partisan on Capitol Hill, and too politically volatile for compromise. Democrats who just won Republican seats last fall are scrambling to keep them. Republicans who just lost them are scrambling to get them back. Until there is a new president, and a new season of true bipartisan goodwill, both sides have too much to lose. In his first months in office President Bush enjoyed the cooperation of Democrats on education reform, and even some on tax cuts, and it is possible the next president will convince the Congress to pass an immigration compromise that looks much the same as the one both parties now love to hate.

A beleaguered Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who stuck his neck out for the “grand bargain” and was swarmed with more outraged constituent letters, emails and calls than he had seen in 20 years in office, said on CNN that there is no political win for Republicans on immigration and maybe even a political loss. Still he said it was necessary. How many colleagues will agree?