Bush Regrets Timing of Immigration Push

By Teddy Davis

Jan 8, 2009 9:46pm

ABC News’ Teddy Davis Reports:

President Bush is usually reluctant to engage in Monday morning quarterbacking. But in an interview this week with syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, he opened up when asked to identify his "biggest do-over," the one thing he would have liked to have done over again knowing everything he knows now.

"I probably, in retrospect, should have pushed immigration reform right after the 2004 election and not Social Security reform," said Bush. "[I]f I had to do it again, I probably would have run the immigration policy first, as a part of a border security/guest worker/compassionate campaign."

Bush indicated in the interview that concerns about border security are legitimate.

He added, however, that the U.S. also needs a guest worker program.

"See," said Bush, "I happen to believe a system that is so broken that humans become contraband is a system that really needs to be re-examined, seriously. I know there’s a lot of concern about our borders, and there should be. And we’ve done something about that."

"On the other hand," he continued, "I don’t see how you can have a comprehensive border security without a program that recognizes that there will be people doing jobs Americans aren’t willing to do, and therefore there ought to be a way for them to temporarily come here on a verifiable basis in a way that would cause them not to have to sneak here or pay for a coyote or get stuffed into an 18-wheeler, or try to walk across the desert and die."

Immigration reform was considered by Congress and promoted by the president in 2006 and again in 2007. But by that time, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the president’s bond had been broken with the public in the view of former adviser Matt Dowd and he did not have the clout to win support for reform.

Rather than focus on immigration reform following his re-election, Bush emphasized an overhaul of the nation’s retirement program.

The president still believes in partially privatizing Social Security.

He now believes, however, that legislative bodies generally "don’t react until the crisis is upon us, even though there is a funding crisis that is pretty evident to a lot of people who study the issue."

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