McCain on Immigration Bill

I just got off a blogger conference call with Senator John McCain. The main topic, as one might imagine, was the immigration bill he and Senator Teddy Kennedy have put together.

His position and mine are identical at a high level, although we likely disagree on some of the nuts and bolts. He argues that we simply must get a handle on the problem, that the status quo is unacceptable, and that a bill that would round up all 12 million illegal aliens is neither politically possible nor feasible. He strongly resists the idea that making people pay a fine and endure other penalties constitutes “amnesty,” a position Steve Verdon has articulated at OTB quite thoroughly.

As a side note, he believes that Republicans generally and evangelical Christians particularly need to see this as a humanitarian issue and deal with it accordingly. Politically, he thinks Hispanics are sympathetic to the Republican position on most issues but are being alienated by the fervency that many in the party have on this issue, which they perceive as anti-Hispanic rather than a matter of law enforcement or border security.

I was able to get a question in toward the end of the call and asked how he planned to repair the damage this issue has done to the base of his party. He agreed that the issue is divisive. Indeed, he says it is by far the most polarizing issue among Republicans that he’s seen in his career, with the possible exception of abortion.

His solution for dealing with it, which is a common theme with McCain, is that he’d do it gradually by reaching out in town hall meetings and otherwise having a conversation with the American people. He says he’s had great success at the small level doing that, saying that he sees visible conversion in people’s attitudes once he explains the issue to them. He’s frustrated that his position is one that takes five minutes to articulate, while the opposition can get people worked up in a matter of seconds, but that’s a reality he’s prepared to deal with.

He’s got much more faith in the attention span and willingness to engage of the general public than I have. Then again, that’s likely a prerequisite for his line of work.

Other participants’ takes: Ed Morrissey, Soren Dayton, Ryan Sager, Ann Althouse, Scott Johnson

UPDATE: Bill Quick thinks McCain and I are too wonkish and that our “‘solution’ will destroy the Republican party for a generation, and do far more harm to the nation as a whole than the problem it purports to solve.”

It’s quite possible that this issue will break apart the GOP; indeed, that was the essence of my question to McCain, although I didn’t put it quite that strongly. Then again, it’s arguable that the perception by Hispanics that the Republican party is anti-immigration has already cost us dearly. Certainly, it has taken California from being a slam-dunk Republican presidential state as recently as 1988 to a write-off since 1992. That’s more than 20% of the Electoral College and more than enough to have spared us two terms of Bill Clinton and the sturm und drang over the 2000 recount.

In terms of the immigration issue itself, I’m aware of the real concerns about the cultural and economic consequences of having essentially open borders with Mexico. I merely note that this is already the case and has been so long as I can recall. The illegal alien problem is analogous to the illegal narcotics problem; we’re not going to stop the flow of either and the consequences of having a “war” on either will be much more harmful than the tiny sliver of the flow we staunch.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, James Joyner, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Command and Staff College, Marine Corps University, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. TheHat says:

    This bill is nothing more than an attempt to change 30 million Hispanics into Democrats starting with the 12 million illegals here now. And adding 18 million more to come once the borders are open to the relatives of the illegals. This is the biggest welfare bill in history. It’s not going to pass. Americans are not about to hand their country over to Mexico.




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  2. Dave Schuler says:

    I certainly don’t think that the process of examination and complaint being engaged in by pundits, professional or amateur, of either political party is particularly helpful. As I wrote over at my place this morning I think that, rather than trying to come up with the perfect bill from their points of view, it might be more helpful to try to formulate the least unacceptable bill that those who disagree with them will approve of.

    I don’t know if I agree with McCain on the “high level” or not but I do know that no bill preserves the status quo and that’s unacceptable.




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  3. Michael says:

    This bill is nothing more than an attempt to change 30 million Hispanics into Democrats

    Yup, you guessed it! This is all part of the Bush/McCain master plan.*

    This is the biggest welfare bill in history.

    Yeah, immigrants should have to pay for their citizenship like the rest of us, not just have it handed to them.**

    * Obviously this is sarcasm, do not take it seriously.

    ** Seriously, it’s sarcasm, stop looking at me like that.




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  4. Patrick McGuire says:

    Let me see if I get this right… we can’t find 12 million illegal immigrants so we fix the problem by making them legal – no more illegal immigrants! I wonder if McCain has any French ancestry.




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  5. Michael says:

    Let me see if I get this right… we can’t find 12 million illegal immigrants so we fix the problem by making them legal – no more illegal immigrants! I wonder if McCain has any French ancestry.

    Yeah, because those French voters sure do like immigrants. Do you pay any attention to international events?




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  6. Tlaloc says:

    Shoot, I’m out of popcorn already. I gotta hit the store.




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  7. jim says:

    While I agree that something must be done this doesn’t seem to be that thing. Does anyone really believe the penalties will be in the final bill? How about the prohibition on bringing extended families? The border security provisions might pass but will they ever be funded?




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  8. Anderson says:

    It does not bode well for McCain’s prospects that he is taking time out of his day to field questions from Ann Althouse.




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  9. JohnG says:

    I think the problem here is definition of the problem. If you define the problem as not liking people living here IN THE SHADOWS then you will reach one conclusion. If you define the problem as not liking people LIVING HERE in the shadows then you will reach a completely different solution.




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  10. Triumph says:

    His solution for dealing with it, which is a common theme with McCain, is that he’d do it gradually by reaching out in town hall meetings and otherwise having a conversation with the American people. He says he’s had great success at the small level doing that, saying that he sees visible conversion in people’s attitudes once he explains the issue to them.

    Was this “common theme” put in place when he decided to be the prime apologist for Bush’s Iraq escalation “strategy.”?




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  11. Wayne says:

    Definition of the problem is more then people living in “the shadows” or “living” in the shadows. The problem is we have borders that anyone could waltz across. The problem is having hospitals going bankrupt because that can’t turn away illegal immigrants. The problem is having a large group cross our border, refusing to learn English and not adopt American culture then claiming it the land belongs to Mexico anyway. The list of problems due to an uncontrolled border goes on and on.

    This bill from what I have heard is B.S. so far. Claiming the definition of a control border is 18,000 new border agents, 330 mile of fence, and a handful of other measure is outrageous. What happen to the 700-mile of fence that already past? It was defunded which is probably what will happen to most of the border security in this bill. Same old song and dance. Prove that they are serious about securing the border first then we can talk about worker programs.




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  12. Michael says:

    The problem is having a large group cross our border, refusing to learn English and not adopt American culture then claiming it the land belongs to Mexico anyway.

    Wait, large groups of people coming to our country, refusing to live by our traditions or speak our language, claiming ownership of our land? Hell, sounds like they’ve been Americanized already.




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  13. floyd says:

    So, John thinks that if we would just listen to him long enough then the “T” in TREASON would just fade into a fog of scented perfume and we would begin to see & smell it as REASON??
    HOGWASH! A skunk is a skunk, not a kitty!




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  14. Gekkobear says:

    I like the triggers in this bill, that only come into effect once Congress agrees to secure the border.

    Sure it doesn’t require the border to actually be secured, but hey, neither did the 1986 bill, and that one was the last immigration bill we’d ever need because we’d secure the border once it passed.

    Much like the 1965 Immigration bill that secured the border and was the last one we’d ever need.

    How could anyone not believe that this isn’t the last bill we’ll ever need… until 2029 of course when we have 35 million immigrants who really need amnesty because we didn’t really secure the border… but that’s 20 years out. Everyone knows “permanent” = 20 years or so.

    But securing the border first, then giving amnesty, that isn’t an option. Because everyone knows we’ll never do anything to actually secure the border. We will however promise to do things to secure the border, so long as we can go back on those promises after the amnesty is in effect. Kind of like the 700 miles of “border fence” that were voted in.

    Anyone seen any fence? Anyone believe 700 miles of fence will ever be built on the border?

    I will glady secure the border Tuesday for Illegal Immigrant Amnesty today. – McCain/Wimpy … who can tell the difference?




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