1998 will surely be remembered as one of the most dramatic years in American political history. It began with the stunning revelation that President Clinton had an illicit affair with a White House intern and that he may have lied under oath to cover up the relationship. After Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr delivered a graphic report to Congress recommending the President be removed from office, the House of Representatives decided to proceed. The American public indicated their disdain for the whole process and voted against Republicans en masse during the November Congressional elections. Republicans expected to win a number of seats as a result of the Clinton scandal and instead barely held on to a majority.
Most political commentators pronounced the impeachment process dead. Indeed, the major Republican defeat led to the resignation of House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Instead, Republicans regrouped and forged ahead with impeachment. On the eve of the impeachment vote, President Clinton surprised the Congress and took the country to war against Iraq. At first, it was not clear whether impeachment proceedings would be delayed while the attack on Iraq continued. At the same time, House speaker-elect Bob Livingston admitted that he had a number of extramarital affairs as well. Livingston confessed after the truth was uncovered by pornographic magazine publisher Larry Flynt who offered $1 million to anyone who could prove they had an affair with a member of Congress. The House of Representatives delayed the impeachment proceedings by only a day. On the second day of the impeachment debate, First Lady Hilary Clinton went to the Capitol Building to rally her party. And then Bob Livingston took the floor and challenged President Clinton to resign. When he was resoundingly hissed by Democrats, he then stunned the chamber and said he would set the example for Clinton by resigning himself. The Republicans quickly announced that Illinois Rep. Dennis Hastert would instead be replacing Gingrich.
In the end, efforts by Democrats to introduce a censure resolution to condemn the President's actions as an alternative to removal were thwarted and President Clinton became only the second President in the history of the country to be impeached. The two approved articles of impeachment passed almost entirely on party lines. Now the Senate may put the President on trial and 1999 will no doubt see a continuation of this tumultuous episode in the country's history.
So what does this mean for immigration legislation in the new Congress? Some pundits believe that leadership shakeups in the Republican House will leave a power vacuum and committee chairmen will have more power. This could mean trouble since the nativist Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Smith would have more leeway to push an anti-immigration agenda. On the other hand, as we reported last month, immigrant voters made a big difference in a number of races and Republicans are growing more concerned about being perceived as anti-immigration. That, plus having Spencer Abraham, the Senate's open-minded Immigration Subcommittee Chairman may mean anti-immigration sentiment in the Congress is less pervasive.
And what about Dennis Hastert? Is he pro-immigrant or restrictionist. If his career is an indicator, he is likely to be more restrictionist. In 1996, he voted to end immigration for parents of US citizens as well as the other adult relatives. He also has a consistent record of supporting legislation to cut overall immigration numbers. And he voted to kill Section 245i of the Immigration and Nationality Act. On the other hand, he supported legislation to raise the H-1B visa limit earlier this year and previously supported bills to continue the nurse visa program and to create a new agricultural worker program.
The battle between the Republicans and the President also could mean that the legislative process is paralyzed and very few immigration bills - either pro or anti-immigration - are passed. This could be because the Senate is tied up in an impeachment trial and unable to move bills forward. The animosity between the President and Congressional Republican leaders could also mean that the President's legislative agenda goes nowhere and Republican bills are vetoed regularly. In any case, the cooperation needed to pass immigration legislation is unlikely to be present in the 106th Congress.
If legislation can move forward, the most likely bills to reach the President's desk relate to the reorganization of the INS, the creation of new restrictions making naturalization tougher and a possible revival of Section 245i of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
While we are waiting for the next Congress, Siskind, Susser, Haas & Devine is preparing to launch an important new service for readers interested in the movement of immigration legislation in Congress. Earlier this year, SSHD created its H-1B Emergency Update page to provide daily coverage of the advancement of legislation to raise the H-1B visa cap. The page proved to be extremely popular - our web site's traffic actually doubled for several months as a direct result of that effort. In response to numerous requests from readers, we have decided to expand that coverage and establish a permanent advocacy center on our web site. That page will include information on contacting members of Congress, a list of all of the major immigration bills pending in Congress with brief summaries of the legislation and links to the actual bills. And for the most important issues, we will provide coverage similar to this year's H-1B debate.
We hope our new Advocacy Center will be a useful resource for our readers both to stay informed on important immigration matters and to make their voices heard with the decision makers.