Senator says Bush’s involvement key to immigration reform

Vermont senator would like to move on to other measures, including one to create a national standard for data security.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., contends any chance of passing comprehensive immigration legislation this year rests with President Bush's personal involvement, especially corralling reluctant GOP members to support the effort.

In a CongressDaily interview, Leahy said he told the administration he will not mark up a comprehensive immigration bill "until the president gets involved personally and strongly." Leahy said he is concerned that momentum for a comprehensive measure peaked before last year's congressional elections, when GOP lawmakers alienated Democrats by passing a bill authorizing a 700-mile fence along the border with Mexico.

"I don't doubt his commitment on a comprehensive bill. I had a long, long talk with him last time [the matter was discussed]," said Leahy, who spoke favorably of Bush's knowledge of the topic. "You are not going to have Republicans involved unless the president is involved ... We're going to lose Democrats, too, because not every Democrat is going to be in favor of a comprehensive bill," he said.

Leahy said he would like to move other business-related measures, such as one to create a national standard for data security breaches and another that would remove the antitrust exemption for the insurance industry.

On data security, Leahy said chances for passage rest with public outrage over breaches at businesses such as shoe retailer DSW Inc. and BJ's Wholesale Club Inc. and government agencies such as the Veterans Affairs Department -- which have not galvanized Congress. Six committees in both chambers have jurisdiction over the issue, complicating passage because of potential territorial fights.

"If it is left to the special interests, the companies that don't want to make changes, then you have a difficult time. Because with three committees [in the Senate], it's too easy to keep the ball in the air," he said.

Leahy also has sponsored legislation with Republican Sens. Trent Lott of Mississippi and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania that would remove the antitrust exemption for insurers and would place them under FTC oversight. Leahy is aided in his quest by Lott, who has made it a personal mission to bring more accountability to the insurance industry in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

His house was destroyed and State Farm Insurance did not cover his wind damage claims. "It is interesting we have strange bedfellows on this, myself and Trent Lott, we tend not to be lumped philosophically together ... I think that's probably worrying some of these companies as much as the chairman is doing it," Leahy said. "Trent is working this very, very hard on his side of the aisle."