Chris Matthews falsely suggested on MSNBC's Morning Joe that Sen. John McCain has "stood his ground" on the issue of immigration. In fact, after originally calling for a policy that both strengthened border security and established a guest-worker program, McCain now emphasizes securing the borders first.
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On the January 22 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, co-host Mika Brzezinski asserted that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) "has stood his ground on issues even when they're unpopular." Guest co-host Chris Matthews -- host of MSNBC's Hardball -- interjected, "Immigration, yeah." In fact, contrary to Matthews' claim that McCain has "stood his ground" on immigration, McCain has shifted his stance on the issue. While McCain originally called for a policy that both strengthened border security and established a guest-worker program or a path to citizenship, he now supports improving border security before addressing the issue of immigrants' legal status. Moreover, he has reportedly acknowledged "I understand why you would call it a, quote, shift."
Several media figures and outlets, including Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt and the editorial board of The Des Moines Register, have similarly praised McCain for purportedly maintaining a consistent position on immigration, with the Register citing that consistency as an example of how McCain "has stuck to his beliefs in the face of opposition from other elected leaders and the public."
But a November 3, 2007, Associated Press article about McCain's "approach" to immigration quoted McCain as saying he "understand[s] why you would call it a, quote, shift":
John McCain spent months earlier this year arguing that the United States must combine border security efforts with a temporary worker program and an eventual path to citizenship for many illegal immigrants.
Now, the Republican presidential candidate emphasizes securing the borders first. The rest, he says, is still needed but will have to come later.
"I understand why you would call it a, quote, shift," McCain told reporters Saturday after voters questioned him on his position during back-to-back appearances in this early voting state. "I say it is a lesson learned about what the American people's priorities are. And their priority is to secure the borders."
The shift in approach is likely to draw criticism from McCain's GOP opponents. Immigration has been a flash point in the race, with rivals Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson all seizing on it.
McCain, who has led on the issue in the Senate with Democrat Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, got a wake-up call of sorts in June when Congress again failed to enact a broad immigration proposal that he championed and that split the country.
The measure also exposed deep divisions within the Republican Party, and McCain's high-profile support for it hurt him politically. During debate on the issue as spring turned into summer, the Arizona senator saw his poll numbers in some early primary states slip and his fundraising wane.
Early in the year, McCain told Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina voters the country must take a comprehensive approach strengthening the borders as well as creating a temporary worker program and providing millions of illegal immigrants the opportunity to earn citizenship if they meet certain criteria.
Over the past few months, he has stressed border security first and said border-state governors should certify their borders are secure before making other needed immigration changes.
McCain said he listened to what the public was saying when the legislation failed -- and responded accordingly.
"I said, OK. We'll secure the borders, but after we secure the borders, we'll have a temporary worker program, we'll have to address the 12 million people here illegally, and I think the best way is the proposal that we had," McCain said.
"It's not a switch in position. I support the same solution. But we've got to secure the borders first," he added.
From the January 22 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
DAVID SHUSTER (MSNBC correspondent): One I think as you said the other night on Hardball, there's a gut sense that if you see John McCain taking the oath of office, as an American you can be proud of that, just because of his life service.
MATTHEWS: I have said that to my detriment 'cause it sounds partisan, 'cause I don't know who I'm going to vote for. But I gotta tell you, I do believe there's such a thing as being a patriot, obviously. He's been tested.
BRZEZINSKI: He's been tested --
MATTHEWS: None of us have spent five and a half years being beat to hell and our arms twisted off and everything else, and two years of solitary to think about how much you love your country. It is an astounding thing.
On the other hand, [Sen.] Hillary Clinton [D-NY] is a master of public policy. I watch her in these debates and I say, here's a person who has spent 20 years mastering every program. Remember, were you at that last speech she gave up in New Hampshire, three or four thousand people up there? Going through program after program after program. Now, some people don't like that; they say it's too programmatic.
BRZEZINSKI: Like a professor.
MATTHEWS: But when you show you care enough to learn all these issues, it's almost like a young kid in sports. You know everything 'cause you love it. And she does love public policy.
BRZEZINSKI: Yeah. Oh, well, John McCain also, beyond his war experience, has stood his ground on issues even when they're unpopular --
MATTHEWS: Immigration, yeah.
BRZEZINSKI: And I do think, when authenticity is playing such a role in what people want, I mean, he has a lot to --
MATTHEWS: And I think it's going to be a close general. What a debate those two would be. Because, you know, it's like one of those old swords-and-sandals movies, where one guy gets a trident and a net, the other guy gets a short spear. They never give them the same weapons, right? It's always a -- just to make it interesting. They always have different weapons.