Washington In a defeat for President Bush, Republican congressional leaders said Tuesday that broad immigration legislation is all but doomed for the year, a victim of election-year concerns in the House and conservatives' implacable opposition to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.
"Our number one priority is to secure the border, and right now I haven't heard a lot of pressure to have a path to citizenship," said Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., announcing plans for an unusual series of hearings across the nation to begin in August on Senate-passed immigration legislation.
In deference to the president, neither Hastert nor any other Republican official in either house said publicly that the president's ambitious plan - including a guest worker program as well as an opportunity for citizenship for many illegal immigrants - was dead for the year.
But several Republicans in both houses, speaking on condition of anonymity, were less guarded.
"There will be no path to citizenship," said one lawmaker who attended a strategy session in Hastert's office.
Some officials added that Republicans have begun discussing a pre-election strategy for seizing the political high ground on an issue that so far has served to highlight divisions within the party. Among the possibilities, these officials said, are holding votes in the House or Senate this fall on additional measures to secure the borders or on legislation that would prevent illegal immigrants from receiving Social Security payments or other government benefits.
"The discussion is how to put the Democrats in a box without attacking the president," said one aide, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Additionally, GOP aides said Rep. Tom Reynolds, chairman of the House campaign committee, recently has been using polling data to persuade fellow members of the leadership that the public would respond poorly to some provisions in the Senate-passed bill.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said after Hastert's announcement of hearings, "The president is undeterred. We are committed and we have been working very hard with members (of Congress) to see if we can reach consensus on an issue the American people have said they want action on."
Hastert announced no schedule for the completion of hearings.