HARDBALL. It's...

HARDBALL. It's a bit Machiavellian, but what a move. Turns out that a hefty chunk of congressional Republicans wanted to delete James Sensenbrenner's provision turning all illegal immigrants into felons. Too explosive, they thought, to unite behind a bill that would render 1.6 million children serious criminals hiding on the lam. The Bush administration asked Sensenbrenner to soften the offense of lacking a visa to a misdemeanor and so he did, offering an amendment to that effect. The amendment failed, 164-257, with 191 Democrats voting to retain the harsh penalties:

"From a strategic point of view, Democrats were not going to help Republicans pass the bad Sensenbrenner bill," said Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). "With the felony provision in there, it is a poison pill, as we've seen from all the rallies around the country."

Crider said that Republicans were the majority party in the House, and if they truly wanted to change the House bill, they could have.

"The bottom line is that 65 Republicans voted for that provision, and the rest voted for that provision when they voted for the final bill," she said.

Quite so. In the end, the creation of a new felon class wasn't nearly enough to sour congressional Republicans on Sensenbrenner's legislation, revealing exactly the cold, cavalier attitude towards immigrants that Democrats wanted to highlight. There's a contrast being drawn here, and for once, congressional Democrats are refusing to blur it.

--Ezra Klein

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