Bush says immigration bill will survive
Vail, CO Colorado
SOFIA, Bulgaria – President Bush, turning from adulation in the Balkans to difficulties back home, said Monday that his stalled immigration overhaul would be revived and his embattled attorney general would not fall under a Senate vote of no-confidence.
“I’ll see you at the bill signing,” Bush said confidently about an immigration bill that has run into deep trouble on Capitol Hill.
Bush, who left for Washington later Monday, plans to trek to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to have lunch with Republican senators, part of a hands-on approach to persuading party conservatives that the bill is better than the status quo.
He also dismissed a planned Senate vote against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as a purely political “meaningless resolution,” saying it would have “no bearing” on Gonzales’ fate.
“I’ll make the determination if I think he’s effective or not,” Bush said.
The no-confidence vote follows months of investigations and the disclosure of internal Justice Department documents that contradicted Gonzales’ initial assertions that the firing of federal prosecutors was not politically motivated or directly coordinated with the White House. Bush dinged the Democratic-controlled Senate for ditching the immigration debate in favor of the Gonzales matter.
Warmly welcomed in both Bulgaria and Albania, the president spoke at a news conference in one of Europe’s oldest capitals with Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov. He was to be back at the White House Monday evening, after an eight-day trip that also took him to the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Italy and Albania.
On a sunny, cool morning, thousands of Bulgarians lined the cobblestoned main street through Nevsky Square as an honor guard played both countries’ national anthems.
Bush and Parvanov walked past a line of Bulgarian troops wearing white coats trimmed in red and navy pants tucked in high black boots. After watching troops goose-stepping to upbeat military music, Bush prayed before a wreath at an eternal flame that marks Bulgaria’s tomb of the unknown soldier.
The president greeted a line of Bulgarian soldiers in camouflaged uniforms who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bulgarian parliament recently extended the Iraq mission until March 2008, and last year, Bulgaria signed an agreement with Washington allowing U.S. troops to use Bulgarian military facilities.
Bush then worked a crowd of locals, reaching in to shake hands. Later outside the news conference, he eagerly approached another curious gathering ” the third time in two days he has done something he rarely does at home.
In contrast to thousands of anti-Bush protests at earlier stops and his low approval rating at home, Bush seemed to bask in the affection he received here and, even more enthusiastically, in Albania the day before.
Bush’s comments on immigration reflected his determination to pass a bill to give millions of unlawful immigrants a path to citizenship. It is a top priority for the remainder of his presidency, but a fragile bipartisan compromise on the issue has unraveled.
He has been criticized for not doing enough for the bill, which is bitterly opposed by many conservatives in his party. Some lawmakers claim it is dead for the year, but Bush said it was only one step back after “two steps forward” and vowed to push ahead.
“I believe we can get it done,” he said.
Once again, Bush was asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s surprise counterproposal to the U.S. plan for a missile shield in Eastern Europe, based in the Czech Republic and Poland. Putin proposed instead a system anchored around a Soviet-era radar installation in Azerbaijan.
“I don’t know whether it’s technologically feasible,” Bush said of Putin’s idea, promising a review by experts.
Bulgaria’s leaders are worried that the rocket shield is not intended to cover southeastern parts of Europe, including their own country. Bush said that isn’t needed because other defenses cover Bulgaria, but Parvanov said he would only “accept any solution that would provide more guarantees, more security guarantees.”
Another worry comes from the tensions the proposed shield have created between the United States and Russia. Moscow fiercely opposes the plan, fearing the shield is aimed at Russia. The United States says no ” the shield is aimed at Iran, in case it develops nuclear weapons.
Bulgaria feels caught in the middle. It was the most loyal Soviet ally during the Cold War, and even now is almost entirely dependent on Russian energy supplies.
“Bulgaria should not have to choose between the friendship between the U.S. and the friendship with Russia,” Parvanov said.
Bush stressed the strength of U.S. relations with Bulgaria, which shed communism in 1989 and joined NATO in 2004 and the European Union in January.
Parvanov appealed for U.S. help in freeing five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor sentenced to death in Libya for allegedly infecting hundreds of children with the AIDS virus. They have been in Libyan custody since 1999, and all deny the charge.
Bush pledged the U.S. will press the Libyan government for their release and contribute to a fund to help the children. “This is an issue that we care about,” he said.
Bush also met with Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev, and Parvanov feted him at a formal luncheon at the National Museum of History, outside of town at the foot of green mountains.
“For a person who was raised in the deserts of Texas, this is a beautiful view,” Bush said, gesturing to the floor-to-ceiling windows that afforded a dramatic view.
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