Less than 12 hours after winning reelection over Democratic challenger Francine Busby, Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Carlsbad, said Wednesday he is prepared for the challenges of working with a Democratically controlled Congress and said his legislative priorities for the upcoming term will include illegal immigration, the environment and beefing up local infrastructure.
The incumbent congressman, who originally became the 50th district’s representative after former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham resigned his seat in disgrace, has for the last six months worked within the confines of a GOP-controlled House of Representatives.
But when he returns to Capitol Hill for the 110th Congress, Bilbray and fellow party members will be at the mercy of the Democratic Party, and the woman widely regarded as the party’s pick for Speaker of the House -- Nancy Pelosi.
Standing on the fourth-floor patio of the Manchester Grand Hyatt Wednesday and overlooking the scenic San Diego bayfront, Bilbray said he is up to the task of bipartisan cooperation, adding the change will “force people to look beyond their party affiliation and actually look for what’s good in the long run.”
“What the American people care about is not Democrat or Republican,” Bilbray said. “What they worry about is what’s going to happen with their grandchildren.”
Bilbray said that when he originally ran for Congress in 1994 in the 49th district, he believed he would enter a Democratically controlled Congress. However, Republicans seized the House in the 1995 elections and have held power until Democrats upset what some had deemed the “Republican Revolution,” Tuesday night.
The congressman must now work with representatives on both sides of the aisle -- a task that could prove particularly cumbersome on Bilbray’s pet issue: illegal immigration.
Bilbray is an ardent opponent of illegal immigration, so much so it became the focus of his election and re-election campaigns, and was even prominently featured on the banner of his Web site: "Bilbray for Congress: Proven Tough on Illegal Immigration."
It is an issue that has even brought the congressman to a notable disagreement with President Bush about the way to handle immigration policy. Bush favors a guest-worker program, while Bilbray contends the country needs to take a more hard-line approach to the topic.
“I totally disagree with the president that he mixes an amnesty with illegal aliens with some kind of idea that it is tied at the hip with a guest-worker program,” he said. “I think there is a very clear distinction between legal and illegal immigration.”
However, that didn’t stop Bilbray from defending the president from frequent criticisms brought by Democrats in the runup to the midterm elections.
He said Wednesday that Pelosi, who has been a vocal critic of the Bush’s policies, will now have to show that she can lead as she has asked Bush to do.
“Now, Mrs. Pelosi gets to propose how she would do it,” he said. “Now she’s a responsibility to create an agenda and to sell it to the American people -- not just to badmouth the president.”
Bilbray said that apart from immigration, he would also rally for environmental issues and for infrastructure funds. He said anyone who drives up to Carlsbad as he does knows how the freeways in San Diego need widening, particularly in the interstates 5 and 805 merge to Manchester Drive.
Bilbray won re-election Tuesday night when, with 100 percent of precincts reporting, he was beating Busby 53.3 to 43.4 percent. Busby has not yet conceded defeat, but is expected to comment once the Registrar of Voters has certified the election results.
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