CNN's King, WSJ reported McCain has shifted "emphasis," "subtly alter[ed]" position on immigration -- but he has reversed himself on it

››› ››› RYAN CHIACHIERE

Discussing immigration reform, CNN's John King stated that Sen. John McCain "has changed his emphasis -- he still says a guest-worker program, still says treat those here illegally humanely." The Wall Street Journal similarly reported that McCain "subtly alter[ed] his position without actually reversing it," adding that "[t]he lesson he drew from the debate last year ... is that Americans 'want the border secured first, and I would do that.' " In fact, McCain's current support for securing the border before implementing a guest-worker program is flatly inconsistent with his previous assertion that, unless other changes to immigration laws are also passed, "people will risk their lives to cross our borders -- no matter how formidable the barriers -- and most will be successful."

During CNN's January 28 coverage of President Bush's final State of the Union address, while referring to Bush's mention of the issue of immigration, CNN chief national correspondent John King stated: "I'm willing to bet a dollar or more that Senator [John] McCain [R-AZ] was wishing the president had not brought that issue back up, because Senator McCain has not changed his position." King continued, "[B]ut it has hammered him among conservatives." He later added that immigration reform "is where Senator McCain has been so damaged among conservatives. And even he has changed his emphasis -- he still says a guest-worker program, still says treat those here illegally humanely." A January 29 Wall Street Journal article similarly reported that the Congress' failure to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2007 "allowed Sen. McCain to subtly alter his position without actually reversing it." The article continued: "The lesson he drew from the debate last year, he said, is that Americans 'want the border secured first, and I would do that.' Only then, he added, would he move on to other reforms." In fact, McCain's current support for securing the border first is inconsistent with his previous assertion that, unless other changes to immigration laws are also passed, "people will risk their lives to cross our borders -- no matter how formidable the barriers -- and most will be successful."

In a January 27 appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, McCain claimed that Americans "want the border secured first -- and I will do that":

McCAIN: The lesson is they want the border secured first. That's the lesson. I come from a border state. I know how to fix those borders with walls, with UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles], with sensors, with cameras, with vehicle barriers. They want the border secured first -- and I will do that. And, as president, I will have the border state governors secure -- certify those borders are secured. And then, we will have a temporary worker program with tamper-proof biometric documents, and any employer who employs someone in any other circumstances will be prosecuted.

By contrast, in a March 30, 2006, Senate floor statement, McCain said: "While strengthening border security is an essential component of national security, it must also be accompanied by immigration reforms." He added: "[A]s long as there are jobs available in this country for people who live in poverty and hopelessness in other countries, those people will risk their lives to cross our borders -- no matter how formidable the barriers -- and most will be successful." From the statement:

McCAIN: The Border Security provisions under the Leader's bill and the Judiciary Committee's bill provide sound proposals to promote strong enforcement and should be part of any final bill. However, I do not believe the Senate should or will pass an "enforcement only" bill. Our experiences with our current immigration system have proven that outdated or unrealistic laws will never be fully enforceable, regardless of every conceivable border security improvement we make. Despite an increase of border patrol agents from 3,600 to 10,000, despite quintupling the Border Patrol budget, and despite the employment of new technologies and tactics -- all to enforce current immigration laws -- illegal immigration drastically increased during the 1990s.

While strengthening border security is an essential component of national security, it must also be accompanied by immigration reforms. We have seen time and again that as long as there are jobs available in this country for people who live in poverty and hopelessness in other countries, those people will risk their lives to cross our borders -- no matter how formidable the barriers -- and most will be successful.

Our reforms need to reflect that reality, and help us separate economic immigrants from security risks. We need to establish a temporary worker program that permits workers from other countries -- to the extent they are needed -- to fill jobs that would otherwise go unfilled.

Additionally, during the January 27 Meet the Press appearance, McCain asserted: "As far as the others are concerned, we were in an ongoing debate and discussion when this whole thing collapsed, and part of that, I think, has to be a humane approach. Part of it has to be maybe people have to go back to the country that they came from for a period of time while we look at it."

But in a May 13, 2005, floor statement, McCain said: "The reality is, there are an estimated million undocumented people living and working in this country. It would be impossible to identify and round up all 10 to 11 million of the current undocumented, and if we did, it would ground our nation's economy to a halt. These millions of people are working. Aliens will not come forward to simply 'report and deport.' " From the statement:

McCAIN: Make no mistake, this is not an amnesty bill. We are not here to reward law-breakers, and any accusations to the contrary are patently untrue. This bill recognizes the problems inherent in the current system and provides a logical and effective means to address these problems. The reality is, there are an estimated million undocumented people living and working in this country. It would be impossible to identify and round up all 10 to 11 million of the current undocumented, and if we did, it would ground our nation's economy to a halt. These millions of people are working. Aliens will not come forward to simply "report and deport." We have a national interest in identifying these individuals, incentivizing them to come forward out of the shadows, go through security background checks, pay back taxes, pay penalties for breaking the law, learn to speak English, and regularize their status. Anyone who thinks this goal can be achieved without providing an eventual path to a permanent legal status is not serious about solving this problem.

From CNN's January 28 coverage of President Bush's State of the Union address:

GLORIA BORGER (CNN senior political analyst): Wolf, there are already discussions actually going on about just what role George Bush will play in that convention, but there was one other interesting thing to me tonight. And that is that the president did sort of lay out an agenda for future Congresses. He said: "What this body didn't do -- what we couldn't get done -- was immigration reform and curbing entitlement spending."

Whatever you think of George Bush, these were two big issues that they tried, they tried and failed. And he made it very clear that this is going to be the work of future Congresses and future presidents.

WOLF BLITZER (host): And there is no doubt that he feels that that was a huge missed opportunity, that comprehensive immigration reform that he and Senator McCain and Senator Kennedy, they all got together, they worked out what they thought was a deal. He said, "I'll see you at the signing ceremony," and, at the end, it collapsed.

And you know what? He tends to blame the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, for going on his -- he likes to call it vacation -- as this bill was about to be considered, which allowed radio talk show hosts and others who oppose this to go on the offensive.

KING: Well, sitting in Florida tonight, not in the House chamber, is John McCain, who, of course, was the architect, with Senator Kennedy, of that bill, Wolf. And I'm willing to bet a dollar or more that Senator McCain was wishing the president had not brought that issue back up, because Senator McCain has not changed his position -- but it has hammered him among conservatives.

And Florida is the one state where he may break even on that issue. Perhaps his position is slightly a net plus, but that is where Senator McCain has been so damaged among conservatives. And even he has changed his emphasis -- he still says a guest-worker program, still says treat those here illegally humanely -- but now he says -- the man who was the leading -- leading the charge for, quote, unquote, "comprehensive reform," now says: "I get the message, border security first."

He doesn't really want to talk about it.

From The Wall Street Journal's January 29 article:

Immigration erupted as a problem for Sen. McCain last spring, when Congress began debating -- for the third time -- a comprehensive plan urged by President Bush. It would have combined new border-security measures with steps to bring immigrant workers out of the shadows.

The legislation included both a guest-worker program and a plan to allow those working in the U.S. illegally to register, pay a fine and become legally documented workers. The idea was to get more control over the more than 10 million illegal immigrants already here, and to lessen the pressure for more illegal immigration.

Sen. McCain, from the border state of Arizona, supported the legislation. But to a vocal group of critics within his party, it amounted to giving "amnesty" to those in the U.S. illegally. At a Republican debate the first week of June, Sen. McCain was pilloried by his foes for backing the bill.

Sen. McCain's candidacy got a reprieve on June 7, when the legislation collapsed on the Senate floor and died for the year. That meant Washington stopped forcing the issue into the spotlight. "Every time you bring it up, it's just like throwing gasoline on the fire," says Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, a McCain supporter who found that support for immigration reform was one of the factors that undercut his own presidential bid. "By the third time we brought it up, people were flaming mad. Now it's not being brought up and nothing happened."

The death of the bill also allowed Sen. McCain to subtly alter his position without actually reversing it. Now when asked about immigration, he replies with a border-security-first formulation, as he did Sunday on NBC TV's "Meet the Press." The lesson he drew from the debate last year, he said, is that Americans "want the border secured first, and I would do that." Only then, he added, would he move on to other reforms.

From the January 27 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:

TIM RUSSERT (host): If the Senate passed your bill, S.1433, the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill, would you, as president, sign it?

McCAIN: Yeah, but we -- look, the lesson is, it isn't won. It isn't going to come. It isn't going to come. The lesson is they want the border secured first. That's the lesson. I come from a border state. I know how to fix those borders with walls, with UAVs, with sensors, with cameras, with vehicle barriers. They want the border secured first -- and I will do that. And, as president, I will have the border state governors secure -- certify those borders are secured.

And then, we will have a temporary worker program with tamper-proof biometric documents, and any employer who employs someone in any other circumstances will be prosecuted. That means a lot of people will leave just normally because they're not going to be able to get a job. Then, of course, we have to get rid of the two million people who have committed crimes here. We have to round them up and deport them.

As far as the others are concerned, we were in an ongoing debate and discussion when this whole thing collapsed, and part of that, I think, has to be a humane approach. Part of it has to be maybe people have to go back to the country that they came from for a period of time while we look at it. But the principle the American people want: secure the borders, reward no one ahead of someone who has either waited or come to this country legally because they have broken our laws to come here. But I'm confident -- look, there's humanitarian situations. There's a soldier who's missing in action in Iraq. His wife was here illegally. America's not going to deport her.

We have humanitarian circumstances. America's a generous, Judeo-Christian-valued nation, and we can sit down together, though, all the leading Republican candidates now just about agree that with -- using those principles that I just articulated -- we can fix it. But secure the borders first.

RUSSERT: But you would sign your bill if it's passed.

McCAIN: It's not going to come across my desk.

RUSSERT: It won't pass.

McCAIN: I -- if pigs fly. Then -- look --

RUSSERT: So, it's dead.

McCAIN: The bill is dead as it is written. We know that. We know that. And the bill is going to have to be, and I would sign it, securing the borders first and articulating those principles that I did. That's what we got out of this last very divisive and tough debate. And we have to get those borders secured. That's what Americans want first.

Posted In
Immigration
Stories/Interests
2008 State of the Union, State of the Union Addresses
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