WASHINGTON — Mexican President Felipe Calderon's appearance Thursday before a joint session of Congress dramatically illustrated — and possibly reinforced — the partisan divide that has stymied progress on immigration legislation.
In his 40-minute address, Calderon sharply criticized Arizona's tough new immigration law and the United States' refusal to ban assault weapons, which are being used in the violent drug-gang shoot-outs in Mexico.
Afterward, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Calderon "crossed a line" by urging changes in gun policy, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has become a hard-liner on curbing illegal immigration, declared, "I've never heard of another country's president coming here and criticizing the United States like that."
Calderon offered blistering comments about the Arizona law, which would permit law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people they stop for other reasons. Obama has said the Justice Department will review the law.
"I strongly disagree with the recently adopted law in Arizona," the Mexican president said, as most Democrats stood and cheered. He denounced it as "a terrible idea using racial profiling as a basis for law enforcement."
Republicans reacted strongly.
"It's inappropriate for a head of state to question our laws, especially when the state of Arizona only acted in the best interest of its citizens and with the support of 70 percent of its people," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Calderon also stirred Republican ire with comments about assault weapons. Tough 1994 U.S. restrictions on 19 such weapons expired nearly six years ago, and Calderon urged that they be reinstated. He said there are more than 7,000 shops along the border where such weapons can be obtained.
"Today, these weapons are aimed by the criminals not only at rival gangs but also at Mexican civilians and authorities," he said. "And with all due respect, if you do not regulate the sale of these weapons in the right way, nothing guarantees that criminals here in the United States, with access to the same powerful weapons, will not decide to challenge American authority and civilians."
Republicans weren't pleased with those remarks either.
"I have great respect for President Calderon, but he really shouldn't turn this into an opportunity to tell us we should change our laws," Cornyn said.
He said the Second Amendment, which gives Americans the right to bear arms, wasn't a subject for diplomatic discussions.