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White House admits Bush made a mistake

In a rare move, the press office says the president misspoke when he said amnesty was part of the new immigration bill.

June 27, 2007|James Gerstenzang | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — At every opportunity, President Bush has said -- emphatically -- that the legislation he favors to overhaul the nation's immigration laws does not provide amnesty to those in the United States illegally.

On Tuesday morning, he said it did, and his comment prompted a rare acknowledgment from the White House that the president had made a mistake.

Speaking to government officials and others in an auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House, Bush said: "You know, I've heard all the rhetoric -- you've heard it too -- about how this is amnesty. Amnesty means that you've got to pay a price for having been here illegally, and this bill does that."

What? It provides amnesty? That's what critics of the bill have been saying all along.

His words -- never mind that they were an obvious mistake -- began lighting up the blogosphere just as the Senate was about to vote on moving ahead with the immigration legislation. As soon as it became clear his errant language was making news, the White House press office moved to tamp down the mini-furor.

Before lunchtime, presidential spokesman Tony Snow dispatched a what-the-president-meant-to-say e-mail to reporters: "Today, in speaking about comprehensive immigration reform, President Bush misspoke."

Repeating the president's words, Snow added: "This has been construed as an assertion that comprehensive immigration before the Senate offers amnesty to immigrants who came here illegally. That is the exact opposite of the president's long-held and often-stated position."

At least 18 times in the last two months Bush has spoken publicly about the legislation, noting each time that, in his view, it would not grant amnesty.

As recently as Saturday, in his weekly radio address, he said that the legislation would resolve the status of the estimated 12 million people here illegally: "Under this bill, these workers will be given an opportunity to get right with the law. This is not amnesty. There will be penalties for those who come out of the shadows."

On Tuesday, he got it backward.


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