Long before right-wing pundits were ludicrously attacking Democrats’ attempt to pass the DREAM Act as “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants, they were lambasting former President Bush’s attempt to enact comprehensive immigration reform with the same “amnesty” smear. In fact, a study by the nonpartisan Project for Excellence in Journalism released in 2007 found that “[o]pposition from key talk radio and cable TV hosts helped kill the immigration bill in Congress.” “What listeners of the conservative talk radio media were hearing, in large part, was that the legislation itself was little more than an ‘amnesty bill’ for illegal immigrants, a phrase loaded with political baggage,” the study’s authors wrote.
Yesterday, Bush appeared on right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh’s show to promote his new memoir. Bush reiterated that we “ought to have a comprehensive immigration law,” and debunked Limbaugh’s claim that immigration reform was merely about gaining new votes for Democrats. Bush also acknowledged that conservatives helped kill immigration reform by falsely dubbing it “amnesty,” and chided people, like Limbaugh, who “react[ed] poorly” and mis-characterized the bill:
RUSH: What was the objective of that legislation? What were you trying to accomplish with your comprehensive immigration reform because many people thought it was amnesty and that he they opposed it.
PRESIDENT BUSH: No, I know, and that’s what happens a lot of times these issues get labeled and people react poorly. I couldn’t have said it more plainly: I was against amnesty. I don’t know many people who were for amnesty when it comes time for comprehensive reform. … I was trying to basically recognize that our economy required immigrants to work. I mean, there’s a lot of jobs Americans won’t do and therefore there needed to be an orderly, legal way for people to come and work on a temporary basis and that if you’d paid your taxes and had been here for a while and were a good citizen you had a chance to become a citizen, but you had to get at the back of the line.
While Bush was probably reluctant to call Limbaugh out to his face, no one played a bigger role in labeling immigration reform as “amnesty,” and thus torpedoing it, than Limbaugh. Noticeably, Limbaugh did not respond to Bush’s comments, but rather quickly changed subjects to the tea party. “[D]erailing the bill was a clear priority of such conservative radio hosts as Limbaugh,” the Project for Excellence in Journalism report stated, noting that “immigration was the biggest topic” of conversation on conservative radio shows during the debate over the bill, and that Limbaugh has by far the largest audience.
In 2005, Limbaugh “spent months denouncing the proposed legislation” as “amnesty” or even “shamnesty,” and said Bush’s emphasis on reform over border security threatened “our sovereignty.” “The bottom line — you know it and I know it — is they want this amnesty,” Limbaugh explained. In early 2007, he warned Republicans that pushing immigration reform would lead to “the marginalization, if not the destruction, of the Republican Party.” He also said that “beating back [the] amnesty bill will be great for [the] conservative movement.”
Limbaugh’s attacks on Bush only increased after immigration reform was killed. For example, during the 2008 Presidential campaign, Limabugh went on tirade saying, “Bush and McCain were both for amnesty!” “Bush and McCain were these illegals’ best friends, along with Ted Kennedy,” he exclaimed. Last year, he criticized moderate Republicans, saying, “we’ve had two people in our party literally, John McCain and George W. Bush, grant amnesty to how many millions of illegal Hispanics in the country.”
While Bush and Limbaugh played nice and attempted to whitewash Limbaugh’s past statements — he said “many people thought it was amnesty,” failing to note that one of the most prominent of those was himself — there’s no doubt to whom Bush’s comments were directed.
The Wonk Room has more on Bush’s faulty logic in claiming that Arizona’s draconian anti-immigration bill could have been avoided if Congress approved his bill.