ATLANTA - Congressional Democrats aren't using their newly won power to stand up to President Bush and minority Republicans, Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards said Thursday.
The 2004 candidate for vice president and former U.S. senator from North Carolina criticized his ex-colleagues in Congress for giving in too much to Republicans on both immigration reform and the war in Iraq.
"The Democratic leadership needs to show some strength and stand their ground," said Edwards, who served as the keynote speaker Thursday night at the Georgia Democratic Party's annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.
Illegal immigration was in the spotlight Thursday, with Senate leaders announcing a bipartisan agreement with the White House on a comprehensive reform bill.
The deal would set up a way for illegal immigrants already in this country to live and work here and eventually obtain legal residency and citizenship.
But the first priority, under the proposal, would be improving border security, cracking down on employers who hire illegals and establishing a high-tech identification program to screen for undocumented workers.
Edwards said the agreement has the wrong emphasis.
"We have a responsibility to keep our borders secure," he said. "(But) there needs to be a pathway to citizenship."
Georgia's two senators, both Republicans, expressed far different reservations about the agreement.
Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, both of whom were involved in the negotiations that led to the deal, said they wouldn't support a final version of the bill that includes a pathway to citizenship.
Isakson said he will continue to push his proposal to require that the Department of Homeland Security certify that America's borders are secure before any other parts of the reform package are put in place.
"We have got to fix our broken borders," he said in a prepared statement. "If Congress doesn't appropriate the funds and the secretary of homeland security doesn't install the barriers, hire the agents, get the unmanned aerial vehicles in the sky or create a verifiable biometric identification card, there is no bill."
Meanwhile, Edwards also took his fellow Democrats to task for backing away from insisting on a timetable for withdrawing American troops from Iraq.
A couple of weeks ago, Bush vetoed a Democratic-backed supplemental spending bill that tied continuing funding of the war to a schedule for pulling out.
Since then, Democratic congressional leaders have been working to craft another bill that would move away from setting a specific schedule for withdrawal without giving the president a blank check.
But Edwards said more Senate Democrats should have supported a bid this week by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., to cut off funding for the war after March 31, 2008. The proposal was defeated 67-29 in a procedural vote.
"Democrats should force this president's hand to start a withdrawal," Edwards said. "We have a responsibility to the American people to end this war."
About 3,000 Democrats paid $200 each to attend Thursday night's dinner at the Georgia World Congress Center.
Spokesman Martin Metheny said the state party expected to raise more than $600,000.