Senate defenders of the reform plan cite misinformation, as e-mails clog their mailboxes and calls jam the switchboards.
Trent Lott doesn't usually answer his Senate phone himself, but when angry callers are burning up the lines – as they are over this week's debate about revising America's immigration laws – the Republicans' No. 2 Senate leader has picked up to hear what they've got to say.
A lot of the talk is misinformation, he says. Talk radio and the blogs were blasting the compromise bill, which includes a guest-worker program and a path to legal status for many of the 12 million illegal immigrants already in the US, well before the text of the bill was ready for senators on Tuesday.
"We talked for 15 minutes," says the senator, recounting one call. "I can't talk to everyone in America for 15 minutes.... But if you cower in the shadows, you'll get pummeled.... You've got to stand up."
Withering attacks on the bill aren't only by phone: Deal-busting amendments are surfacing on the Senate floor. By week's end, the bill's defenders expect to have an idea of whether their "grand bargain" will hold – and then they'll head home on Memorial Day break to meet the backlash face to face.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid had planned to wrap up the immigration debate before this week's break. But he delayed the start of the debate until this week, after negotiators, led by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts and Jon Kyl (R) of Arizona, said they were "80 percent of the way" to a bipartisan deal on immigration. That put off the final vote on the issue until senators return to Washington the first week of June.
Critics of the legislation, who cross the political spectrum, plan to use next week to turn up the pressure on senators at home.
"People are going to be piling on their senators at public events, media events, and in their offices over the break," predicts William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, based in Raleigh, N.C. "They can expect large angry mobs of their constituents. I've never seen this degree of disparity between lawmaker actions and the electorate."
Nearly half of US voters oppose the proposed reform, and only 26 percent of US voters support it, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll this week.
Boos for two backers of the bill
Last weekend, two senators who helped negotiate the bill were booed at their respective state Republican conventions. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was shouted down when he called the reform "the best bill I think we can get to President Bush."