Responding to Democratic strategist Keith Boykin's assertion that Sen. John McCain "switched positions" on immigration, MSNBC's Contessa Brewer asked "how?" and described McCain's position not as a reversal, but as "prioritiz[ing] border security" after his immigration bill failed in the Senate. But, in fact, McCain has reversed himself on a key component of comprehensive immigration reform.
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On the July 8 edition of MSNBC Live, responding to Democratic strategist Keith Boykin's assertion that Sen. John McCain "switched positions" on immigration, host Contessa Brewer asked "how?" and described McCain's position not as a reversal, but as "prioritiz[ing] border security" after his comprehensive immigration reform bill failed in the Senate. Brewer added: "[H]ow is that really changing? He's just saying, 'OK, you want me to start talking more about border security? OK, I will.' " Republican strategist Phil Musser responded, "[E]xactly. ... He's learning from experience, you know?" However, as Media Matters for America noted, McCain has in fact reversed himself on a key component of immigration reform. As Brewer noted, McCain now says, "[W]e've got to secure the borders first" -- but Brewer did not note that his new position is at odds with his prior position that border security could not be disaggregated from other aspects of comprehensive immigration reform.
Indeed, in the words of Gebe Martinez in a June 23 Politico piece, "McCain, the Arizona senator, dismayed Latinos last year when he stepped back from his immigration bill that would have tightened the borders and legalized undocumented immigrants. As boos and hisses from angry Republican conservatives grew louder at campaign events, he switched course and vowed to 'first' secure the borders. Were his failed bill to come up again, he would not vote for it, he said." From Martinez's piece:
McCain, the Arizona senator, dismayed Latinos last year when he stepped back from his immigration bill that would have tightened the borders and legalized undocumented immigrants. As boos and hisses from angry Republican conservatives grew louder at campaign events, he switched course and vowed to "first" secure the borders. Were his failed bill to come up again, he would not vote for it, he said.
Trying to regain Latino support, McCain has chastised Republicans who stoke the fires of the immigration at election time. And at a private meeting with Chicago-area Latinos last week, he promised to push for a comprehensive immigration bill.
"It sounds like he's trying to have it both ways, and it's not convincing anyone," said Frank Sharry, who also was involved in immigration bill negotiations when he headed the National Immigration Forum.
This is not the McCain Hispanics thought they knew. Even after the 2001 terrorist attacks placed an emphasis on national security, McCain's speeches to Latino audiences and on the Senate floor prioritized the compassionate side of the immigration argument.
He understood that border security "first" means "deportation only" in the eyes of immigrant activists, and he championed a broader approach.
As the Senate mulled immigration in 2006, McCain often stood in the Capitol's corridors, pounding his fist in the air, arguing that border enforcement would not work without simultaneously penalizing employers who hire workers illegally, creating a temporary worker program and finding a way to bring 12 million illegal immigrants "out of the shadows" of society.
"It won't work! It won't work!" he protested of suggestions to do enforcement first. The stool cannot stand on one leg.
From the 9 a.m. ET edition of the July 8 broadcast of MSNBC Live:
BREWER: You know, it's interesting, though, because his position does not differ all that greatly from Obama's position. Keith, where does -- what does the Democrat here point to, to show Latino voters who consider this a top priority that he has a different plan than McCain?
BOYKIN: Well, I think it does differ a bit, Contessa, and I think that one of the key issues in where -- in which they differ is the method and the approach that they would take to the immigration issue. I think Barack Obama represents change and, unfortunately, John McCain is more of the same, which people are fed up with regardless of whether we're talking about immigration or the economy. So, I think when you look at the Latino community, and you start to look at the American population at large, people want some sort of different approach. They want different people to make the decisions. John McCain, I think is --
BREWER: But -- wait, wait, wait. John McCain did try a different approach. And in this --
BREWER: -- he differed from a lot of Republicans. His bill failed --
BOYKIN: Until he switched positions, though. That's the problem. I mean, John -- John McCain --
BREWER: Well, how? I mean, by saying -- by saying, Keith, that John McCain's priority now is he's going to focus more on the border security. He said that's why he thought this bill didn't pass, because he didn't prioritize border security. I mean, how is that really changing? He's just saying, "OK, you want me to start talking more about border security? OK, I will."
MUSSER: He's -- exactly.
BOYKIN: No, I think what he means is to --
MUSSER: He's learning --
BOYKIN: I think --
MUSSER: I mean, he's learning from experience, you know? The lesson of that debate was that --
BOYKIN: Well, I don't think --
MUSSER: Well, no, the lesson of that debate and the moral of that story, which he admits, and we'll talk about today at LULAC, is essentially, you know, what he heard in the context of this discussion was we need to secure our borders first, and then we need to move methodically to a compassionate approach to illegal immigration with --
BOYKIN: Let me just say something about that.
MUSSER: And so, I mean, I think that's -- we can respect that. Can't we?
BREWER: Go ahead. Go ahead, Keith.
BOYKIN: I don't think -- I don't think that's learning from experience. If Barack Obama had done the same thing, they would say he's flip-flopping --
BREWER: Wait a minute.
BOYKIN: -- which is exactly --
BREWER: Wait a minute.
BOYKIN: -- which is exactly what John McCain has done here. He has flip-flopped his position on immigration --
BREWER: Wait a minute. Just --
BOYKIN: -- just as he's done on taxes and on offshore drilling and other issues.
BREWER: Now, Barack Obama -- now, Keith, Barack Obama just said he would refine -- he'd be willing to refine his timetable to withdraw the troops depending on what he finds. Isn't that learning from experience? Isn't he saying, "I'm willing to learn from experience?"
BOYKIN: Barack Obama hasn't said he's not going to withdraw the troops from Iraq. In fact, the Iraqi prime minister, who wants the troops withdrawn from Iraq on a timetable. So, I don't think he's changed his position on that issue. And of course, candidates do change their positions, but John McCain is the guy who's talking about being the Straight-Talk-Express guy, and it's not clear when he switches --
BREWER: All right.
BOYKIN: -- when he's switching his positions on immigration.
MUSSER: John McCain is the guy that stood up -- John McCain is --
BREWER: Keith, Phil --
MUSSER: John McCain -- we gotta go, Contessa?
BREWER: I'm sorry. I mean, just when the -- just when the gettin' gets good, huh?
MUSSER: Have us back on this one. This is a good one.
BOYKIN: Yeah. Right. Exactly.
BREWER: All right. Thank you, guys.