Back Bush, Rove tells House GOP

White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove went into the lion’s den yesterday, calling on House Republicans to rally behind an immigration plan that many of them oppose.

White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove went into the lion’s den yesterday, calling on House Republicans to rally behind an immigration plan that many of them oppose.

The meeting, however, was cordial, according to congressional GOP officials who attended. Rove characterized the meeting as “hopeful, optimistic and positive.”

The White House political guru kept his remarks brief during the Republicans’ regular Wednesday-morning conference meeting, expanding on the five points that President Bush laid out in his prime-time television appearance Monday night, members and aides in attendance said yesterday.

Rove spent much of his time explaining the particulars of the president’s plan to expand security along the border and did not remain long enough to answer many questions.

Given his tight schedule, Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) had to cut Rove off so that members could ask him a few questions in front of their colleagues.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), who is not running for reelection, commended the president for his remarks and said they came at the exact right time. Rep. Ric Keller (R-Fla.) then couched his serious reservations about aspects of Bush’s plan with a light-hearted barb at the senior senator from Massachusetts.

“Karl, yesterday Ted Kennedy gave a passionate speech on the Senate floor supporting President Bush’s proposal,” Keller told Rove. “If you get in bed with Ted Kennedy, you’re going to get more than sleep.”

The remark prompted laughter from the assembled lawmakers, but the good-natured jest belied the Floridian’s serious concerns about the political implications of this debate.

Keller said he was concerned that working with a liberal Democrat was the wrong way to appeal to conservative Republican voters this election season.

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said yesterday that Bush is “actually taking a more aggressive approach on border security than the House of Representatives took. … So I think that is the sort of thing that is going to answer a lot of the complaints we have heard from some in the Republican caucus on Capitol Hill.”

GOP lawmakers have grown increasingly worried about the political impact this issue will have on their reelection races in the fall. While most members contend that voters in their districts would like to see a bill signed into law before November, Republicans have struggled to reach a consensus.

Republicans on Capitol Hill have complained at times this year that the White House has not taken a strong enough stand on the issue to give members political cover with the midterms approaching. The House-passed bill does not include Bush’s guest-worker provisions, but they are expected to be included in any immigration bill the Senate approves.

While immigrant groups throughout the country have attracted headlines with a series of protests over the past two months, anti-immigration groups have used e-mail, phone banks and regular mail to oppose any legislation that would expand the current guest-worker program or create avenues for illegal immigrants already in the country to gain citizenship.

In that vein, eight members attended an afternoon press conference organized by Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) to protest guest-worker provisions that could clear the Senate.

Rove, who is the subject of an investigation into the leaked name of a covert CIA operative, did not address that case during his remarks yesterday.