MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: Can the Senate and the House agree on a comprehensive reform of immigration? Was the FBI raid on a congressional office a breach of the constitutional separation of powers? With us: the senior senator from Nebraska, Chuck Hagel; and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin.
Then, President Bush admits missteps in the Iraq war.
(Videotape, May 25, 2006):
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: Saying, “Bring it on.” Kind of tough talk, you know, that sent the wrong signal to people.
MR. RUSSERT: And the new Iraqi prime minister in an exclusive NBC News interview.
Insights and analysis from David Broder of The Washington Post, David Ignatius of The Washington Post, Kate O’Beirne of the National Review, and Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post.
And in our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE, we remember former Treasury Secretary and U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, who died this week.
But first, immigration. Can the House, the Senate and the White House find common ground? We are joined by Congressman James Sensenbrenner, Senator Chuck Hagel.
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE): Hi.
MR. RUSSERT: Welcome both.
Let’s put this issue in context for our viewers, and read a summary of the bill that was just passed by the Senate. Here we go. “Border security would get a boost, with 14,000 Border Patrol agents added ... over the next five years. Extra detention facilities would be built to hold the illegal immigrants caught at the border. And the bill authorizes the construction of 370 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico boundary.
“Employers would have to start using an electronic verification system within 18 months to ensure that all new hires are legal. Companies that hired illegal workers would be fined up to $20,000 dollars, and repeat offenders would draw prison terms.
“... The bill creates a three-tiered system to determine the future status of illegal immigrants. Those who arrived in the U.S. in the last two years would be required to leave. Those in the country more than two years but less than five years would have to leave the country and get a work visa before reentering, after which they could work toward legal status.
“Those in the U.S. longer than five years could stay and eventually apply for permanent legal status, a step toward citizenship, as long as they paid back taxes and fines of at least $3,250 dollars, continued working, and learned English and U.S. civics.
“A guest worker program would allow foreign workers to enter the country in the future and provide a way for them to gain permanent legal status.
“The bill also declares English the national language.”
Congressman Sensenbrenner, what is wrong with that legislation?
REP. JAMES SENSENBRENNER (R-WI): Well, it’s too much too soon and too expensive. What we have to do is first secure the border, and then we have to turn off the magnet that brings more illegal immigrants into our country. Once we do that and we know it’s effective, then we can figure out what to do with the 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants that are already here. I’m afraid that the amnesty—and that’s what it is—that’s proposed in the Senate bill and the way it’s proposed is going to result in huge document fraud just like there was when amnesty was passed 20 years ago in the Simpson-Mazzoli Bill, which failed so miserably that we have a problem that’s out of control now.
MR. RUSSERT: What would you do with the 11 million illegal immigrants?
REP. SENSENBRENNER: Well, if we have a workable and effective employer sanctions program, then I think a lot of the illegal immigrants would simply go back home because they would no longer be able to work in this country illegally. The problem with the Senate bill is that there is no verification of current illegal immigrant status, so they can keep their jobs forever. The House bill does require current employee Social Security numbers to be verified so that we can squeeze the illegal immigrant employment out of our economy and replace illegal immigrant workers with either citizens or legal immigrants who have green cards.
MR. RUSSERT: As you well know, those 11 million illegal immigrants have about three million children who were born in the U.S., therefore they are U.S. citizens. What would happen to them? Would they go back to the or—the country of origin for the mom and pop? Or would they stay in the U.S.?
REP. SENSENBRENNER: The mom and pop would have to make that determination on their own. We cannot deport U.S. citizens, and I would tell you that it’s impractical and probably physically impossible to deport the 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants that are already here. What the Senate does is throw up their hands, say, “Give them amnesty”—they don’t call it amnesty—but give them amnesty and allow them to stay. That’s not fair because it gives a reward to a lawbreaker, but it also is unfair to people who are standing in queue to become legal immigrants. For example, a legal immigrant from Mexico has to wait 16 years. Under the Senate bill, an illegal immigrant who is a Mexican citizen can get the permanent resident status and a green card in only six years. So sneaking under the fence under the Senate bill jumps you ahead in the line by 10 years.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Hagel, you are the author of that said legislation.
SEN. HAGEL: Well, my friend, Jim Sensenbrenner, has not given all the story here as to what that bill does. Let’s start with a couple of the main points. Our bill is 730 pages long. The House bill is 255 pages long. The first half of our bill deals solely with enforcement. You put some of them up on the screen. It goes for hundreds of pages beyond that. So we do enforce the border, and we do things in addition to which you said, 500 miles of vehicle traps and so on. There are 60 subsections in our bill on what we would do with enforcement. In fact, our bill goes further than the House bill in some sections on enforcement.
Now, let’s get to the bigger issues after enforcement. In the first half of our bill is enforcement. Nobody questions enforcement. Amnesty, that’s nonsense. What Ronald Reagan did in 1986 was amnesty, “Unconditional, all is forgiven.” What Jimmy Carter did in 1978 with those who left this country rather than serve the country, “unconditional, all is forgiven.” That was amnesty. This is not amnesty, as you’ve already laid out some of the criteria that those who would qualify would have to go through. Not all of the criteria you laid out.
Let’s talk about the workers. For example, in the front page of The New York Times this morning, there’s a story about firefighters in the Northwestern part of the United States. It talks about half of the National Forest Service firefighters are immigrants, and probably most of those are illegal immigrants. The fact is, temporary workers—and by the way, the secretary of labor signs off on temporary workers. No temporary workers are allowed in this country unless he signs off or she signs off.
We need to deal with that. We need to deal with the 11 million to 12 million and, as you noted, those children. We can’t just defer that. This is not a sequential process. This is a process that must be comprehensive. All the pieces that we have in our bill—and yes, they are debatable and they should be debatable. Yes, they’re emotional, but they’re all part of what we’re trying to do in a wider view, wider sense of what is important to our, our country.
Let me talk about a couple of other things here. He talks about money. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Commission on Taxes both said—both came up with the same number, over the next 10 years the Senate bill would cost about $54 billion dollars. But what you don’t hear is they also said that the revenues coming in from that Senate bill would be about $66 billion dollars. So, yes, it’s going to take some resources, but actually the Congressional Budget Office says that our bill produces more revenues than it does expenses.
You can’t just let dangle out there for our country, for our national security, for our economics, for our fabric, our social fabric, those who are here illegally. They have broken a law, they must be dealt with, and we have a way to, to deal with them. Is it imperfect? Yes, it is. But when you asked the chairman the question, “What are you doing, Mr. Chairman?” he really doesn’t have an answer for that. “Well, let’s just fix the border first.” Well, of course you fix the border first. The problem with 1986 in that, in that bill, yes, it was amnesty. This is not amnesty. Second, we didn’t enforce our border. Third, we didn’t do anything about worker enforcement. We didn’t give any penalties or any structure to those who hire, the employers, their verification, those illegals, and we just let the rest of, of it drift. We have an opportunity now to restructure, recommit ourselves and do it right.
MR. RUSSERT: Congressman Sensenbrenner, when the president of the United States addressed the nation on this subject, you said, quote, “I think he doesn’t get it.” What doesn’t President Bush get?
REP. SENSENBRENNER: President Bush and my, with all due respect, my colleagues in the Senate don’t get the fact that Simpson-Mazzoli failed miserably 20 years ago. This bill is a repeat of Simpson-Mazzoli. First, let me say that the convoluted thing that Senator Hagel says is not amnesty really is amnesty, and former Attorney General Ed Meese, who was Reagan’s AG at the time, wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times on Wednesday, said that at least Ronald Reagan was honest in calling it amnesty.
Now, what—the procedure that the Senate has done invites document fraud. That happened in ‘86 when illegal immigrants who were here for two years could apply for amnesty. Meese said that there was a huge amount of document fraud. The same construct is in the Senate bill. But the Senate also has got a provision in their bill that says that the immigration authorities cannot investigate beyond the piece of paper that the immigrant applies for amnesty on. So if the person lies on that application, there can’t be an investigation, and the government employee is subject to criminal investigation and liability if they try to investigate it on their own.
The other thing the Senate bill does, and I think this is really outrageous, is that it gives retroactive Social Security credit to illegal immigrants who are using fraudulent Social Security cards. That’s going to be an $80 billion to $100 billion-dollar raid on a Social Security trust fund that we all know isn’t very healthy. And what this does is that it rewards the illegal immigrants for the period that they were here illegally, work—and working illegally, not just in letting them stay here, but to dip into a Social Security fund that has got to be restructured if it is to continue to provide the benefits to people who have worked here and paid in all of their lives.
MR. RUSSERT: But isn’t it estimated that illegal immigrants have contributed over $400 billion dollars into the Social Security fund?
REP. SENSENBRENNER: And, and illegal immigrants can’t get Social Security numbers on their own, so either they contributed with a stolen Social Security number or a fraudulent Social Security number. And the fact of the matter remains is that the entire transaction was fraud and the Senate bill retroactively rewards that fraud. That’s not right.
MR. RUSSERT: Go ahead, Senator.
SEN. HAGEL: Well, let me, let me correct the chairman on a couple of points. The Senate bill puts into place a biometric identification card. Every alien, every immigrant worker must have a biometric identification card. That means you can’t get a job without it. It’s tamper-proof, fraud-resistant. And therefore, that starts to deal with some of the things the chairman’s talking about. He inconveniently forgets that.
The fact is, on workers, one of the things that we don’t talk much about is that we are essentially at full employment in the country today. Our current unemployment rate in this country today is 4.7 percent. That—any economist will tell you that’s almost full employment. The fact is, we have more jobs today than ever in the history of this country, all kinds of new jobs. Our bill deals with these, these worker visas, these temporary worker visas, both low skill and high skill.
One of the things that Europe did wrong in this years and years ago—and France is a good example—when they’re not dealing with the things the Senate bill’s dealing with, what you do is you perpetuate a, a lower class, a constant, a consistent, a permanent lower class. That’s part of the problems that the Europeans are having today. Our bill deals with that. You, you cannot perpetuate that lower class. So all of these things are, are part of what we have to deal with.
And I acknowledge, can we do something better in a conference? I hope so. That’s the whole point of a conference. But, but to just walk away from it and say, “Well, we’re going to enforce budgets—our borders first, and then maybe we’ll get to the rest of it,” we fail the American public. We fail those who sent us here not to resolve this problem. And I think the president’s right. I think the American people are starting to move in that direction, fix the problem. It will be imperfect.
MR. RUSSERT: What will be the political consequences this fall if a Republican president, a Republican Senate and a Republican House do not come together and find common ground on immigration?
SEN. HAGEL: Well, there will be political consequences. There are political consequences for everything we defer and don’t do. We’re in the mess that we’re in today on this issue is because we’ve deferred this tough issue. My dear friend Jim Sensenbrenner and those who think like Jim on this, they want to continue to defer it. That’s why we have the problem we have. There will be a political consequence for this. That’s not why we do it or should fix it, but, but make no mistake, politics is wrapped around everything. Politics is in the fabric of our very processes, as it should be, because politics is about accountability, it’s about leadership, it’s about courage. This is the test. This is a significant test.
MR. RUSSERT: Bottom line, Congressman Sensenbrenner, will you—will House Republicans accept any path to citizenship for the illegal immigrants now in the U.S.?
REP. SENSENBRENNER: Tim, the words “path to citizenship” is a buzz word for amnesty. We ought to be honest. It is amnesty.
But to respond to Senator Hagel, I was in Congress when the Simpson-Mazzoli bill was passed. I voted against it. We have the problem today not because we deferred the problem, it’s because Congress made a mistake in passing Simpson-Mazzoli. And those who supported it, including former Senator Simpson, said that the Simpson-Mazzoli bill has given us the difficulty that we’re in.
The Senate bill is Simpson-Mazzoli 20 years later. I want to solve the problem. The American people want this problem solved, but this time we’ve got to do it right. And to do it right means to do things in the proper order. The secret is first, secure the border and enforce the employer sanctions law. If we don’t do both of those things, then we will simply get more illegal immigrants coming across the border and taking jobs, because it is always cheaper for an illegal immigrant to be hired than either a citizen or a legal immigrant with a green card and work authorization. The market does work, and no bill that we pass, unless it is done right, will be able to rectify the market so that people who are doing these jobs, including Americans and legal immigrants, will be on the books, will be legal, will be paid and will have their Social Security taxes paid under their own Social Security number and their own name. And that’s what the priorities of the House are.
I can say that earlier this month Zogby released a poll, and they had a fair question where they asked the American public whether they preferred the Senate or the House approach. The House approach was preferred over the Senate approach by a 64- to 30-percent margin by the American public. I think the House is where the American people are; the Senate has gone way off the page.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask my question again: Would you accept any legislation which would put illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship or, as you say, amnesty?
REP. SENSENBRENNER: No. Amnesty is wrong, and even Mexican government officials have said that the talk of amnesty is actually increasing the flow of illegal immigrants across the border as we speak. And they have redeployed some of their security forces into the desert on the Mexican side of the border to prevent Mexicans who are trying to come across the border from either starving or being deyhdrated. Amnesty is wrong and we should not pass it.
MR. RUSSERT: Twenty-four percent of the farming industry relies on illegal immigrants; 17 percent of the cleaning industry, 14 percent of the construction industry, 12 percent of the food preparation industry—all illegal immigrants. What happens to those industries if the illegal immigrants are sent home?
REP. SENSENBRENNER: I’m not saying that the illegal immigrants will be sent home, and I think that the end sum game, which I hope Senator Hagel agrees with, is to turn the illegal immigrant work force into a legal work force, whether they’re legal immigrants or whether they’re United States citizens. Because this problem has festered for such a long period of time, that can’t be done with the wave of a wand or the signing of a bill by the president of the United States.
But I get back to the point that unless we do employer sanctions right and do border security right, you’ll simply get more illegal immigrants coming across the border, and those that are here now might not apply for amnesty or whatever else it’s called because they’re afraid that they will price themselves out of the market and lose their jobs.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator:
SEN. HAGEL: Jim Sensenbrenner has just described the Senate bill. He has just described why we should pass the Senate bill. Everything he just said, it is right and it is included in the Senate bill. You talk about polls and the American people and where the American people are on this. Isn’t it interesting that you have four states that are along that 2,000-mile border with Mexico, four states with eight United States senators. Five of those eight senators, bipartisan, supported the Senate bill.
Now, are they so out of touch with their constituents, five out of eight border state senators supported the Senate bill? I don’t think so. I think the American people, as they start to become more aware of what the details are, what the facts are, information, your kinds of programs, Tim, that allow people to understand this, will, as we always do, start to appreciate the fact that you just—you cannot let this continue to drift, that you have to deal with it. And, again, I’m, I’m amused, is the only reaction I can have at Jim and others, they’re continuation on amnesty. I mean, this is just not amnesty. But we’ll let, we’ll let the conference figure this out.
Last point I’d make on this. I don’t speak for the Senate, I don’t speak for any senator. I’ve spoken to a number of Jim’s colleagues—matter of fact, some leadership colleagues over there. Most of the people, the Republicans on the House side that I’ve spoken to, including leadership, including the chairman of the Rules committee who is from California, Congressman David Dreier, want to try to find a resolution to this. So what I’m saying is, this is the best opportunity to do that in a conference, and I think we all want that. I know Jim Sensenbrenner wants it. But to, but to say that something’s a nonstarter before you go in, you can’t do that.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you support legislation, in the final analysis, that did not provide a path for citizenship for the illegal immigrants?
SEN. HAGEL: I think you’ve got to have some system, Tim, to do this. Now, they could change it, they can tune it up, they can amend it, but you again are deferring the problem. And, as Jim Sensenbrenner said, the failure of the 1986 act was because we didn’t deal with that, as well as we didn’t deal with other things. We are now dealing with all those pieces in the Senate bill. Doesn’t mean it’s perfect, doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. That’s why you have the conference.
MR. RUSSERT: Congressman Sensenbrenner, will there be a bill?
REP. SENSENBRENNER: I hope so. I think the American public wants us to have a bill, but it’s important to do it right. Twenty years ago we did it wrong, and we’re paying the price. I don’t think either Senator Hagel or I want our name on a bill that ends up blowing up in the face of the United States 20 years from now like Simpson-Mazzoli did.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to another subject. You issued a press release saying that you’re going to have a hearing entitled “Reckless Justice: Did the Saturday Night Raid of Congress Trample the Constitution?” The FBI raiding the office of Congressman William Jefferson, a Democrat, with a court-approved search warrant, in their investigation of potential bribery. Why are you so upset?
REP. SENSENBRENNER: The Constitution has given Congress immunity for certain transactions, but the court has very clearly said that no corrupt member of Congress can hide behind the speech or debate clause of the US Constitution to shield criminal activity. The FBI has been able to convict corrupt congresspeople in the ABSCAM and in the House bank scandal without this kind of a raid. The executive branch has got immunity under executive privilege as well. And I don’t think that it would be right for a House committee to issue a subpoena to the president’s office and send the Capitol Police rummaging through files, taking everything, and then deciding what wasn’t relevant by themselves and returning it to the president. And that’s what the Capitol—or what the FBI did in Congressman Jefferson’s office two weeks ago.
Separation of powers and checks and balances is very important, but I want to emphasize and reemphasize that this debate is not over whether Congressman Jefferson is guilty of a criminal offense. He cannot use the constitutional immunity of Congress to shield himself from that or any evidence of that. But it is about the ability of the Congress to be able to do its job free of coercion from the executive branch, and this is something that’s worked very well for 219 years, and I think if it’s done right, it will continue to work very well for the next 219 years.
MR. RUSSERT: When Speaker Hastert spoke out like you have against this raid, he said information was leaked about him and being involved in his own investigation against him in order to intimidate him. What do you know about that?
REP. SENSENBRENNER: Well, the Justice Department twice denied that Speaker Hastert is under investigation. One of your competiting—competing news channels after that denial by the Justice Department republished the fact that the Justice Department allegedly was investigating Speaker Hastert. There was a second denial. I think that news media people have a justifiable cynicism of those of us who serve in public office, but believe me, after the department denied that the speaker is under investigation, for them to turn around and put it up on the air again kind of makes those of us who are in the cross hairs because we happen to be elected a little cynical of what some people in the news media do. Fortunately, that’s not you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Hagel, are you upset at the fact that the FBI raided the office of a congressman with a subpoena, court-ordered, because he is the subject of a criminal investigation?
SEN. HAGEL: Well, first, we all need to reaffirm that no individual is above the law. Whether it’s a congressman, a senator, certainly a president. But some of the points that Jim Sensenbrenner brings out are important. I don’t know the facts here, so I’m a little out of my depth. But what I do know, I think this was handled a little awkwardly. I think the president is right in pulling this back a little bit. He is, as you know, put a freeze on this and they will not make a decision for 45 days. We can work our way through this, but you’ve got a number of factors involved. Not only the ones that the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee mentioned, but you’ve got also atmospherics here and, and a very testy relationship that’s going beyond just what, what this issue is about. So we need to just work it through.
MR. RUSSERT: You mean Republicans are fed up with the Bush White House?
SEN. HAGEL: Well, there, there are lot of issues here. And I would go back more specifically not to political issues, but NSA for example, using new technologies to monitor and inventory calls. This is, this is the point I’m making. It’s a universe of bigger issues than, than just this. And this environment, now, is widened and deepened by this one last issue and, and yes there is.
MR. RUSSERT: Is there anger amongst Congressional Republicans with the White House?
SEN. HAGEL: Well, I think there’s an issue of—and there’s always a tension usually.
MR. RUSSERT: Frustration?
SEN. HAGEL: There’s some frustration. Sure, there is. And I think that you’re seeing that played out on both sides.
MR. RUSSERT: You said last week the president should negotiate directly with Iran. Why?
SEN. HAGEL: I said he should engage directly with Iran. I don’t see, first of all, how you’re going to get to the core, to the central issues on the differences, significant differences, between Iran and the United States without that direct engagement. How are things getting better? Are things getting better at the United Nations? Are we enlisting more support for our cause? Are things getting better in the Middle East? I think you could make a pretty strong case that things are worse off in the Middle East today than they were three years ago, by measurement of Iraq, by Iran, by the Palestinian/Israeli issue, what’s going on in Egypt.
And I think the United States must use its force of diplomacy to engage Iran. Eventually you’re going to have to do that. It is bigger than just the nuclear issue. We’re talking about Israel, Iraq, oil, economy. Iran is a large country. It’s a powerful country. It’s a country of a 5,000 year history. That’s diplomacy, that’s the hard work of diplomacy. Eventually, we’re going to have to do it, we should do it, we should take the leadership.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Chuck Hagel, Congressman James Sensenbrenner, we thank you both very much for your views.
REP. SENSENBRENNER: Thank you.
SEN. HAGEL: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: And we’ll be watching this conference committee discussion about immigration.
REP. SENSENBRENNER: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, our political roundtable. Immigration and the Iraq war, how will they affect the midterm elections November 2006? Our political roundtable is next right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: Our political roundtable—David Broder, David Ignatius, Kate O’Beirne, and the one and the great Mr. Robinson of The Washington Post—after this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: Welcome, all.
David Broder, here’s the front page of your paper today. “Republican House members facing the toughest races this fall are overwhelmingly opposed to any deal that provides illegal immigrants a path to citizenship—an election-year dynamic that significantly dims the prospects that President Bush will win the immigration compromise he is seeking ... The opposition spreads across the geographical and ideological boundaries that often divide House Republicans. ... Moderates such as Christopher Shays in suburban Connecticut and Steve Chabot in Cincinnati [and] conservative J.D. Hayworth in Arizona said they are adamant that Congress not take any action that might be perceived as rewarding illegal behavior.” Where are we?
MR. DAVID BRODER: The House is convinced—the Republicans in the House are convinced that the public is with them, as you heard Mr. Sensenbrenner say. I think it’s going to be a very difficult negotiation, and I think, for many of those Republicans, they’d rather have no bill than a bill that they can’t justify to their constituents.
MR. RUSSERT: Kate O’Beirne, the speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, has said, “I will not put forward any legislation that does not have the support of the majority of the Republicans.” Even if he has every Democrat and 49 percent of the Republicans, a majority in the House, he won’t move the legislation. Is that right?
MS. KATE O’BEIRNE: Right. That, that’s been a long-standing pledge of his, not too much unlike the Democrats who were running Congress before the Republicans took over. Let’s not forget, most of the items on the Contract with America were items that Republicans in the House couldn’t get a vote on on the floor. So it, it is a difference between the House and Senate.
Senator Frist, of course, didn’t get a majority of his Republicans for the bill the Senate just passed out. He had no alternative, because his option was no bill, because he needs 60 votes to get something out of the Senate. But a majority of the Senate Republicans wind—wound up seeming to agree with the majority of the House Republicans, so it sort of puts George Bush with congressional Democrats on the issue of immigration.
MR. RUSSERT: Gene Robinson, how about this? You see George Bush closer to John McCain and Ted Kennedy than he is to House Republicans. What happens politically if a Republican president, Republican House, Republican Senate cannot agree on an immigration bill?
MR. EUGENE ROBINSON: Well, I think politically it’s damaging. It makes it—this whole issue has been raised, it’s, it’s topic A. If they get nothing done on it, I think it’s harmful to the Republican Party. It may be a good thing for the country if they don’t get anything done, because the House approach, I think, really ignores the fact that there are 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants here who can’t be rounded up and deported overnight, or, or whatever. The president’s bill, and the president’s approach and the Senate approach—very complicated, hard to sell—might make more sense as public policy, I think, but harder to sell.
MR. RUSSERT: David:
MR. DAVID IGNATIUS: Well, you know, I—listening to the debate between, between, between Sensenbrenner and Hagel, I, I kept thinking this is a wedge issue for Republicans. And Republicans are really angry at each other. And, you know, I think this may be a moment where, if they’re unable to come to a compromise on final legislation—you’d certainly have to say that after, after watching this debate and hearing what’s going on, that may be a good thing, that the country really isn’t quite yet at the point where there is a clear path that everybody will feel comfortable about going forward that will legalize this very difficult problem of immigration. We’re just not there yet.
MS. O’BEIRNE: Well...
MR. RUSSERT: Go ahead.
MS. O’BEIRNE: What the House is going to argue, I think, is—what they are arguing is we wouldn’t have the 11 million to 12 million illegals here had we not done what we did in 1986, which was, of course, legalize three million illegals and promise to enforce the border and interior enforcement, and not do so. So I think what the House is going to be arguing is for an incremental approach. We do know 80 percent of the public wants the border enforced, they want to stop the hundreds of thousands coming over, and they support workplace sanctions. They think you shouldn’t be able to hire illegals. So they’re with the public on the enforcement side, and they’ll talk incremental.
Once we have that in place, then we can adopt—and I think there’s more support among House Republicans than people think for a guest worker program. They are hearing from employers back home. But they want to make sure that it’s going to be orderly, not make the mistakes in ‘86, and it would be unworkable if we don’t get the enforcement and workplace stuff right.
MR. IGNATIUS: You know, Sensenbrenner talked about turning off the magnet that’s drawing illegal immigrants. I’m sorry, the magnet is the U.S. economy.
MS. O’BEIRNE: Right.
MR. IGNATIUS: And you can’t turn that off.
MR. ROBINSON: And the border is not easily sealed.
MS. O’BEIRNE: Right.
MR. ROBINSON: It is not easily sealed. Go down there, you’ll see.
MR. RUSSERT: David Broder, the president of the United States, 35 percent approval rating, has talked about this issue, immigration, passionately for a long time. What does he now do if he moves forward on the path to citizenship—or amnesty, as Congressman Sensenbrenner referred to it? Does he further antagonize his political base and risk going down in the polls, or will a success on the issue help him with moderate or swing voters?
MR. BRODER: Well, a success would certainly help him. He has not had a win in Congress for much too long politically. So he’s better off if he can get a bill. But there’s no question that he’s going to pay a price for challenging the core of the Republican Party on, on this issue.
I have to say, I think the president is committed. I think his gut and his heart is in this issue, and he is prepared, I think, to fight on this issue.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the issue of the FBI raid on the office of Congressman William and—Jefferson, denounced in an interesting bipartisan letter by Dennis Hastert and Nancy Pelosi, the first I’ve seen in a long time.
Kate O’Beirne, your National Review editorial this week is quite strong on this subject. Let me read it. “House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Majority Leader John Boehner led a chorus of disgruntled legislators in crying foul, closing ranks around an apparent felon and raving incoherently about a supposed separation-of-powers violation.
“This incredibly tin-eared performance was based on an extravagant construction of the Constitution’s speech-and-debate clause (Article 1, Section 6). Congress evidently reads this clause as giving its office space blanket immunity from any investigation by the executive branch - even with court authorization - in connection with any crime, no matter how heinous.
“This is delusional. Congress had a chance to come out swinging against corruption - to demonstrate, amid a slew of tawdry scandals, its recognition that public officials are subject to the same laws as ordinary citizens. The Republican leadership in particular should have seen an opportunity to redirect attention from its caucus’s lapses to a Democrat’s crude criminality. They chose, instead, to rally around an apparent swindler.” Wow.
MS. O’BEIRNE: The, the broad constitutional claim I think is awfully shaky. In fact, as you watch this during the course of this week, it’s not a claim that the congressional leaders are making. They do allow that no member should be able to hide in secret in his office, away from law enforcement officials, evidence of criminal behavior.
But just because the Justice Department has a legal right under a, under a legal search warrant, doesn’t mean they should either do it or that they did it in the right way. There actually are legitimate separation of powers arguments, I think. And, in fact, the legislative branch is susceptible to being intimidated by the executive branch. The members had no interest in appearing to be defending an accused felon in their midst. They knew the public relations was terrible on the objections they raised, but they felt so strongly about the principle of it. And members who are uneasy about the public relations of seeming to be protecting an accused felon in their midst really reacted so negatively to a leak from the Justice Department against Speaker Hastert a couple of days later, falsely claiming that he was the target of an investigation, part of the Abramoff scandal, that they really rallied to the speaker on those grounds. And it was reminded to them that the same people capable of leaking in retaliation are rummaging through congressional offices.
MR. RUSSERT: How much anger, frustration is there amongst House, Senate Republicans with the Bush White house?
MS. O’BEIRNE: There’s a backdrop of frustration. So some saw this as maybe the latest example of showing a lack of regard for legislative prerogatives. I mean, it is an administration that has jealously guarded its own prerogatives, it’s own executive privileges. You think they would have been more sensitive to a co-equal branch’s view of its prerogatives.
MR. RUSSERT: Gene Robinson, I can hear people, watch people all across the country saying, “You know, the guy is under investigation for taking money. Why not go into his office?”
MR. ROBINSON: Well, you know, the Justice Department seems to feel equally strongly about that what they did was right. The question I had initially was, if you got the money in Bill Jefferson’s freezer and you got the alleged bribe on videotape, why do you need to go into his office?
MS. O’BEIRNE: What do you need?
MR. ROBINSON: What do you need? Well, you know, it turns out that there are other instances, there are other possible crimes they want to look into. But also, remember the Abramoff investigation is ongoing. It seems to me that, in a sense, the Justice Department was kind of putting down a marker and saying, you know, “We’re going to be looking at a number of people up here, and we’re going to go in when we need to go in, and you can’t just hide stuff in the corner in your office and expect that, that it will never come to light.”
MR. BRODER: I talked to a former member of Congress, a very good lawyer, last night because I was confused by this, by this issue. He said he thinks that the law is probably on the side of the Justice Department, but that it’s not a very clearly defined area of law. And he said institutionally he’s glad that the Congress is challenging it because this may get it to the Supreme Court and get a definitive ruling about under what circumstances and under what limits can an executive branch agency go in to the congressional office, because there truly is an important principle of the separation of powers that’s at stake here.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the president. Back in April of ‘04, David Ignatius, he was asked about his biggest mistake, and he said that he really couldn’t respond at that moment, he couldn’t think of one, and, and he wishes he had more time to prepare for that kind of question. Then, this week he was asked about his biggest mistake with, with Iraq, and without hesitancy, he said, “I shouldn’t have said ‘Bring it on.’ I shouldn’t have said, ‘We’re going to get them, alive or dead,’ and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal was a huge problem.” Are we seeing a president who’s been chastened by Iraq, more introspective about Iraq? What?
MR. IGNATIUS: Well, I thought there was some of both. It was, it was, it was telling, two years on that the president looks back and he’s willing to talk, finally, about, about mistakes. In this case, they were mistakes of language. You can say, you know, Abu Ghraib was a mistake, but, frankly, you know, the administration’s response still has not been a vigorous one in terms of holding people account for what happened at, at Abu Ghraib. It’s been the, been the military.
You know, I, I thought that, that Tony Blair’s response to that question was much more substantive. Tony Blair said the problem was that our deBathification effort was too aggressive, that we, that we toppled the basic foundations of this society and we created a vacuum and we haven’t known how to, how to, how to fill it.
But, you know, listening to this discussion of past mistakes, it was a reminder that the past and what you know about it really is not a guide to the future. I mean, the dilemmas going forward in Iraq are as painful today as they, as they were two years ago. Looking at those two men, I thought Tony, Tony Blair looked, looked battered, the British prime minister, Bush less so, but you realized the weight of the decisions they still face.
MR. RUSSERT: Kate O’Beirne, we still have a situation of 135,000 American men and women on the ground. Will the president be forced to acknowledge more misjudgments about WMD, about troop levels, about insurrection in order to maintain public support for the war amongst Democrats, conservatives, liberals, Republicans, mainliners, moderates, whatever you want to call them?
MS. O’BEIRNE: I think there’s a recognition at the White House, Tim, that being candid about mistakes in the past appears to be more realistic. People maybe are more open to listening to your assessment of how things are going now if they, if they see that sort of sense of being realistic.
I thought it was notable during the press conference with Tony Blair that, rather than talk about all the possibilities with this new government or how many Iraqi forces are now standing up, Tony Blair was emphasizing the course of not winning in Iraq. And I, I think that the public is more open to hearing that than updates on progress on the ground when they don’t see a concrete progress—meaning, it seems to me, withdrawing troops, or at least a scheduled withdrawal of troops, capturing Zarqawi. In the absence of that kind of concrete evidence, I don’t think the public is open to assessments week by week that they have no way of judging. I think there’s just more candor involved when, in lieu of that, you’re admitting past mistakes and reminding people of the course of failure and how resolute the enemy is. And I thought Tony Blair and the president both made clear we’ve got to be equally resolute. I think the public’s more receptive to that.
MR. RUSSERT: Eugene:
MR. ROBINSON: You know, the, the difference in tone is really amazing when, when you go from “Mission accomplished” and “Bring it on” to, to the way the president sounds now. And if you put this together with, with other things he said recently, it all seems to be an acknowledgment that, you know, not only is Iraq not the, the Athenian democracy it was supposed to be, but, in fact, this is going to be a messy situation for a long time beyond his term in office. There’s no easy resolution, there’s no easy answer. And there’s a—he seems to be looking ahead, you know, toward the verdict of history.
MR. RUSSERT: Enter Iran. The new Prime Minister Maliki sat down with Richard Engel this week, of NBC News, and said, “Iraq will not be used as a base for any military operations against Iran.” That is not what we’re here for.
David Ignatius, you wrote an interesting column where you said, and I’ll read it, “Amid all the debate about intelligence, there has been surprisingly little focus on the question the average citizen (and average policymaker, too) would probably have at the top of the list: Will these guys get it wrong again? Will they tell the world that something is a ‘slam-dunk,’ only to discover later that it didn’t exist? ...
“So how can [Director of National Intelligence John] Negroponte ... be sure the analysts are getting it right this time on Iran? How can they remake the analysts’ world so that their human judgment is again ‘the intelligence device supreme,’ in the words of their patron saint, Sherman Kent, who headed CIA analysis during the Cold War?” Big challenge. Will the world, will the country listen to an American president saying, “Iran is dangerous. We must do something”?
MR. IGNATIUS: Well, that’s obviously the biggest nightmare that anyone in the intelligence community could have, that the country will so fundamentally have lost trust in their judgments that when they warn of, of a real crisis, they won’t be believed. We have a new CIA director, Michael Hayden, who was confirmed this week, who’s going after the agency with a mission of restoring morale, of trying to do analysis in a different way, much more careful look at sourcing, much more transparency so that analysts know who these sources, who typically have been hidden from their view, are. Much more competition and really argument about, about hypotheses for what’s going on. So they’re going at Iran in a, in a different way.
On the Maliki comments about Iran, where he says, “We will not allow Iraq to be used as a base for attacks on Iran,” you know, obviously that, that would worry Americans who’d hoped that Iraq would be an aircraft carrier for us in the Middle East. But, you know, this is an assertion of Iraqi sovereignty and independence, and that should not frighten Americans. Quite the opposite, that’s actually good news.
MR. RUSSERT: We have 20 seconds, David. Senator Hagel calling on the president to negotiate directly with the Iranians.
MR. BRODER: I think that’s questionable, because we have committed to the Europeans that we would work with them. For us to go off on our own now would leave them in a—wondering can the Americans keep their own commitments to us?
MR. RUSSERT: To be continued. David Broder, David Ignatius, Gene Robinson, Kate O’Beirne, thanks very much.
Coming next, our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE with former vice presidential candidate, treasury secretary and U.S. senator from Texas, the late Lloyd Bentsen.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Former U.S. senator of Texas, Democratic vice presidential candidate, and Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen died this week at the age of 85. During his long career, he appeared on MEET THE PRESS 18 times. This 1994 appearance with NRA chief Wayne LaPierre stands out for what Mr. Bentsen brought to the MEET THE PRESS table. Let’s watch.
(Videotape, May 1, 1994):
MR. RUSSERT: We’re back with the secretary of the treasury, Lloyd Bentsen.
Mr. Secretary, you heard Mr. LaPierre’s challenge. Will you go to the range on Wednesday and experiment with his guns?
SEC’Y LLOYD BENTSEN: I tell you, that’s funny, because I went to the range this last week and fired some of those guns. Let me give you an example. When I heard him say that these were not used in crime, that’s a street sweeper, 156 instances in the last three years this gun involved in crime.
And I was amused to hear that I’m not supposed to know anything about the guns. I’ve had guns all my life. I qualified as an expert on the range in the military. I went to the front lines and fired guns in World War II. I fired .50-calibers. In addition to that, I flew 35 missions over Europe. I’m also a quail hunter. Can you imagine that thing being used in...
MR. RUSSERT: Is that Dan Quayle?
SEC’Y BENTSEN: No, no, no.
MR. RUSSERT: That reference, of course, to what The Washington Post called “the perfect put-down.” Mr. Bentsen’s famous exchange with Dan Quayle during the vice presidential debate, October 5, 1988.
(Videotape, October 5, 1988):
SEN. DAN QUAYLE: I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency. I will be prepared to deal with the people in the Bush administration if that unfortunate event would ever occur.
MODERATOR: Senator Bentsen:
SEN. LLOYD BENTSEN: Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy.
Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.
MR. RUSSERT: Lloyd Bentsen will be laid to rest this Tuesday in Houston, Texas. He and his family are in our thoughts and prayers.
And we’ll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: Every American president since John F. Kennedy has been a guest on this program during his political career. Now, you can watch complete episodes of some of the most historic MEET THE PRESS presidential appearances: John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. “Meet the Presidents,” and other NBC News programming now available on iTunes. For more information and a preview of what’s available, check out our Web site mtp.msnbc.com.
That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.
And this weekend we honor all those brave young men and women in Afghanistan, Iraq and around the world, and we remember all those in our nation’s history who’ve paid the ultimate sacrifice so we all could be free.