Wash. Post, WSJ call McCain's reversal on immigration a "shift[]" in "emphasis"

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

A Wall Street Journal article asserted that "[w]hile Sen. [John] McCain has shifted his emphasis, talking more now about 'securing the border first,' he remains committed to the broad strokes of his original approach [on immigration reform]." And the Washington Post editorial board wrote that McCain has made "what amounts to only a mild shift in emphasis in his longstanding position." However, McCain's current position -- that the borders must be secured before other reforms can be addressed -- is a reversal of his prior position; McCain previously argued that border security could not be disaggregated from other aspects of comprehensive immigration reform without being rendered ineffective. Moreover, he now says that he would not support his own legislation if it came up for a vote in the Senate.

In a February 14 editorial, the Washington Post editorial board wrote that Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (AZ) "is the presumptive GOP nominee, despite what amounts to only a mild shift in emphasis in his longstanding position [on immigration]." The Post then added: "He now talks about the primacy of border security but continues to express compassion for illegal immigrants, who, he notes, 'are God's children.' " Similarly, a February 14 Wall Street Journal article asserted that "[w]hile Sen. McCain has shifted his emphasis, talking more now about 'securing the border first,' he remains committed to the broad strokes of his original approach." However, McCain's current position -- that the borders must be secured before other reforms can be addressed -- represents a reversal; McCain previously argued that border security could not be disaggregated from other aspects of comprehensive immigration reform without being rendered ineffective.

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." Asserting that "[o]ur reforms need to reflect that reality," McCain said, "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, while the Journal wrote that McCain once "joined liberal Sen. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.) on the failed immigration-overhaul plan last year that would have created a pathway to citizenship for some illegal immigrants" and "was alone in the once-crowded field embracing a comprehensive immigration-overhaul package," the Journal did note that McCain now claims -- as he did during CNN's January 30 Republican presidential debate -- that he "would not" vote for his own legislation if it "came to a vote in the Senate floor."

Finally, McCain reversed his position on the DREAM Act. After co-sponsoring earlier versions of the bill, McCain said he opposed a version of the legislation that was defeated in October 2007 -- though McCain did not cast a vote. While McCain co-sponsored several versions of the DREAM Act in 2003, 2005, and early 2007, he opposed a version of the act (S. 2205) in October 2007 that would have allowed "illegal immigrants under age 30 to remain in the United States and gain legal status if they attend college or join the military." McCain, who skipped the vote on S. 2205 despite having voted an hour earlier on a judicial nomination, was not a co-sponsor of the measure, which was introduced on October 18, 2007. According to an article at InsideHigherEd.com, the bill's sponsor, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), said that S. 2205 was largely similar to previous versions of the DREAM Act but "would not repeal a 1996 federal law interpreted by many as prohibiting the extension of in-state tuition benefits to undocumented students." Still, the difference did not appear to be a reason why McCain would not have voted for the bill. Indeed, The Sun News of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, reporting on McCain's position on the bill in a November 2, 2007, article, wrote: " 'I think it has certain virtues associated with it,' McCain said of the DREAM Act. 'And I think other things have virtues associated with it. But the message is they want the borders secured first.' " The article also quoted McCain as saying: "I will vote against anything until we secure the borders."

From the February 14 Wall Street Journal article:

Sen. McCain joined liberal Sen. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.) on the failed immigration-overhaul plan last year that would have created a pathway to citizenship for some illegal immigrants. Sens. Obama and Clinton both supported the measure.

President Bush supported the legislation as well, so the three candidates don't represent a change there. For a time, though, it appeared the Republican Party would move sharply away from the Bush view on the issue. Sen. McCain was alone in the once-crowded field embracing a comprehensive immigration-overhaul package, and he nearly lost the nomination over it.

While Sen. McCain has shifted his emphasis, talking more now about "securing the border first," he remains committed to the broad strokes of his original approach.

From the February 14 Washington Post editorial:

Granted, hard-liners remain apoplectic about Arizona Sen. John McCain's erstwhile role as a champion of what they regard as amnesty for illegal immigrants; their ire may yet erode the Republican base in the general election. And many Republican congressional candidates will surely try to exploit the residual fervor on the issue in this fall's elections. But the fact remains that Mr. McCain is the presumptive GOP nominee, despite what amounts to only a mild shift in emphasis in his longstanding position. (He now talks about the primacy of border security but continues to express compassion for illegal immigrants, who, he notes, "are God's children.")

Posted In
Immigration, Border Security, Immigration Reform
Network/Outlet
Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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