As Nancy Reagan secretly played footsie with Arnold and a group of illegal aliens applied Turtle Wax to the Gipper's Air Force One, the topic turned to immigration. McCain was asked if he would now support his own immigration reform legislation of 2006.
Unbelievably, McCain backed off on supporting a bill he himself co-sponsored! He was asked point blank if he would vote for the bill today, and his response was to evade the question by simply stating that the bill won't come up for a vote again because the idea is dead. He evaded the question several times with the same tactic.
Like the other candidates, his pre-programmed response was to focus on "border security." Said McCain: "We will secure the borders first when I am president of the United States. I know how to do that. I come from a border state, where we know about building walls, and vehicle barriers, and sensors, and all of the things necessary." He scored additional points with the Minuteman crowd with a specific, very sci fi reference to "tamper-proof biometric documents" that will solve everything.
I like McCain. One main reason is that he has taken a principled stand on immigration (and on waving the Confederate flag in South Carolina and -- even though I disagreed -- on The Surge).
Can you really blame him for being politically expedient on the immigration issue? He's still far more reasonable than either Romney or Huckabee (and Ron Paul ain't no Libertarian -- he's an extreme xenophobe on immigration). But what's going to happen if he's running against Hillary or Obama? Will he resist the temptation to go demagogic?
As I wrote here a couple of days ago, the Dems are showing signs of hope -- what with Obama's explicit endorsement of drivers licenses for illegals. Let's hope McCain doesn't turn into the next Tom Tancredo.
Oh, and by the way, about his cheek. Had been too lazy to Google it. It's not a war wound. It's not chewing tobacco. He isn't a genetically modified creature with a splice of chipmunk DNA. The cheek is the byproduct of a melanoma removal operation a few years back.
Full text of immigration portion of Jan. 31 "Temple of Reagan, Cleanest Air Force One
You Ever Saw" Republican Debate.
VANDEHEI: Obviously, we're here in California, where one-third of the population is Hispanic, Latino. Immigration has been a huge issue in this campaign from the beginning.
Governor Huckabee, Brian Berry (ph) of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, wants to know, "In order to curb illegal immigration, do you support making changes in the law that would give citizenship only to children who are born to parents who are legally in this country at the time the child is born?"
HUCKABEE: I think the Supreme Court has already ruled on that. The real issue is, that doesn't fix the problem.
HUCKABEE: What we've got to do is to have a secure border fence, something I have proposed that we do within 18 months of taking office.
If we don't have a secure fence and have just this open door that people can come in and out at will, we're never going to deal with this issue effectively and responsibly.
And today, many Americans are angry not that people want to come here -- and I've repeatedly said and I'm going to say it again -- people in this country I think are grateful to God they're in a land that people are trying to break into and not one they're trying to break out of.
So it's not that we're building a fence so we can keep our people in or keep people out, but that people who do come here would have to come legally.
And touching the issue of those born here is not the challenge. It's two things. It's first making sure that that fence is built, I think within 18 months. And the second thing is that we have a process where the people who are here would have to go to the back of the line and start over.
And it's not to be cruel. I want to make sure you understand. It's to make that everybody who is living in our boundaries has their head up and lives in the light, not the darkness, and doesn't run and hide every time they see a police car.
We owe it not just to the people who have waited in line a long time. We owe it to the people who do want to live here and work here, but create a system that is legal, that makes sense, and that actually protects our borders but protects the dignity and worth of every person.
VANDEHEI: Governor Romney, I interviewed you in New Hampshire a couple of weeks ago and we talked a little bit about illegal immigration. You've taken a very hard stance against illegal immigration. You said at the time that you felt that there's, for a lot of illegal immigrants who are here, under your plan, we could deport many of them within 90 days. How could that happen? How could we do it that quickly?
ROMNEY: I think you may be confusing me with somebody else, but perhaps not. Let me tell you what my plan is.
VANDEHEI: At the time -- I can just give you the quote if you like. You said that "many of those could be deported immediately," but that would allow slower deportation process for those with thought as quickly as 90 days.
ROMNEY: My plan is this, which is for those that have come here illegally and are here illegally today, no amnesty.
Now, how do people return home? Under the ideal setting, at least in my view, you say to those who have just come in recently, we're going to send you back home immediately, we're not going to let you stay here. You just go back home.
For those that have been here, let's say, five years, and have kids in school, you allow kids to complete the school year, you allow people to make their arrangements, and allow them to return back home.
Those that have been here a long time, with kids that have responsibilities here and so forth, you let stay enough time to organize their affairs and go home.
But the key is this: These individuals are free to get in line with everyone else that wants to become a permanent resident or citizen. But no special pathway, no special deal that says because you're here illegally, you get to stay here for the rest of your life.
And that's what I found to be so offensive with the Z visa, which was in the McCain-Kennedy bill. It said to all illegal aliens, unless you're a criminal, you're all allowed to stay here for $3,000 for the rest of your life. And that's a mistake.
In my view, let us have a fixed period of time -- 90 days for some, depending on their circumstances, others longer, to the end of the school year -- even longer potentially. Do it in a humane and compassionate way, but say to those who have come here legally, you must return home, you must get in line with everybody else that wants to come here.
There are millions throughout the world who want to come to this country legally. It's a wonderful privilege. But those that have come here illegally should not be given a better deal.
I was just at the swearing in of some 700 citizens just a day or two ago in Tampa, Florida, and it was a thrilling thing to see these folks coming out, shaking their hands. People who come here legally are a great source of vitality and strength for our country.
COOPER: Let's follow up...
ROMNEY: But illegal immigration, that's got to end.
COOPER: Janet Hook with the L.A. Times with a follow-up question.
HOOK: Senator McCain, let me just take the issue to you, because you obviously have been very involved in it. During this campaign, you, like your rivals, have been putting the first priority, heaviest emphasis on border security. But your original immigration proposal back in 2006 was much broader and included a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who were already here.
What I'm wondering is -- and you seem to be downplaying that part. At this point, if your original proposal came to a vote on the Senate floor, would you vote for it?
MCCAIN: It won't. It won't. That's why we went through the debate...
HOOK: But if it did?
MCCAIN: No, it would not, because we know what the situation is today. The people want the border secured first. And so to say that that would come to the floor of the Senate -- it won't. We went through various amendments which prevented that ever -- that proposal.
But, look, we're all in agreement as to what we need to do. Everybody knows it. We can fight some more about it, about who wanted this or who wanted that. But the fact is, we all know the American people want the border secured first.
MCCAIN: We will secure the borders first when I am president of the United States. I know how to do that. I come from a border state, where we know about building walls, and vehicle barriers, and sensors, and all of the things necessary.
I will have the border state governors certify the borders are secured. And then we will move onto the other aspects of this issue, probably as importantly as tamper-proof biometric documents, which then, unless an employer hires someone with those documents, that employer will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And that will cause a lot of people to leave voluntarily.
There's 2 million people who are here who have committed crimes. They have to be rounded up and deported.
And we're all basically in agreement there are humanitarian situations. It varies with how long they've been here, et cetera, et cetera.
We are all committed to carrying out the mandate of the American people, which is a national security issue, which is securing the borders. That was part of the original proposal, but the American people didn't trust or have confidence in us that we would do it.
So we now know we have to secure the borders first, and that is what needs to be done. That's what I'll do as president of the United States.
COOPER: So I just want to confirm that you would not vote for your bill as it originally was?
MCCAIN: My bill will not be voted on; it will not be voted on. I will sit and work with Democrats and Republicans and with all people. And we will have the principals securing the borders first.
And then, if you want me to go through the description all over again, I would be glad to. We will secure the borders first. That's the responsibility and the priority of the American people.