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Morning Joe
updated 2/26/2013 12:19:25 AM ET 2013-02-26T05:19:25

After a long history with immigration reform, McCain is back to the reform table, and his more conservative constituents are not pleased.

For years, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has stood at the crossroads of Conservatism and immigration.

In 2007, he lead the charge to reform the immigration system. Scuttled by far-right lobby groups, McCain moved away from his comprehensive reform approach and pushed for securing the border, running an ad in 2010 during a primary challenge from the right that said “Complete the dang fence.” Now, after Latino voters made up a considerable part of the electorate, McCain is back to the reform table, and his more conservative constituents are not pleased.

“Why didn’t the army go down and stop them, because the only thing that stops them, I’m afraid to say and it’s too damn bad, but is a gun. That’s all that will stop them,” one constituent said at a Town Hall the Senator hosted on Tuesday..

“The border is 2,000 miles long, sir. I don’t know how many troops and army people you think would be required. I don’t know how many you think would be required, but I’ll give you expert information that shows you’re probably talking about 2 million soldiers,” McCain said. “You want to round up 11 million people and send them back to their country. You’re not going to do that. They’re not going to do that. They’re not going to do that though, they are people who have been here, illegally, for 50 years, or 40 years. Then telling them to become guest workers? No, you can’t do that. Why can’t you do that? Because we’re a Judeo-Christian principled nation.”

“You said build the dang fence, where’s the fence?” another asked.

The Senator pointed to charts, which showed $600 million in appropriations to secure the border.

“That’s not a fence!” someone called.

McCain is part of a group of Republican Senators including Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. Marco Rubio who are looking to lead the way on bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform; the president reached out to the trio yesterday, in the wake of a leaked memo detailing the president’s plans (which Sen. Rubio said was “half-baked and seriously flawed” due to its lack of input from Republicans.)

The bipartisan group that announced a general immigration deal last month found compromise with both a more secure border with a path to citizenship, but the details are far from set.

“There is resistance to real reform, guys like Sen. Rubio are sticking their necks out and they’re getting on the phone with Conservative talk radio hosts and trying to educate these Conservative opinion leaders and grass roots efforts about what we need to do something and they are feeling a little exposed on both sides – they’re exposed on the right and they’re exposed [on the left]– the fact that Rubio [first] heard from President Obama on immigration reform yesterday,” former Romney adviser Dan Senor said on Wednesday’s Morning Joe.

Video: Sen. McCain faces tough immigration questions at Ariz. town hall

  1. Closed captioning of: Sen. McCain faces tough immigration questions at Ariz. town hall

    >>> immigration, after reports indicated frustration from republican leaders concerning president obama 's lack of outreach, generally the president took the rare step tuesday of extending himself to key republican senators. the president called john mccain , lindsey graham and marco rubio who just last weekend called the president's plan, quote, half-baked and seriously flawed. the president told those senators he shares their commitment to overhauling u.s. policy. after the call, senator rubio 's office put out a statement that reads, in part, "the senator told the president he feels good about the ongoing negotiations in the senate, and is hopeful the final product is something that can pass the senate with strong bipartisan support." senator mccain spent the day in town halls in arizona . the senator encountered crowds who made their anger known about the state of immigration in america and particularly in arizona .

    >> why didn't the army go down there and stop them? because the only thing that stops them, i'm afraid to say, and it's too damn bad, but is a gun. that's all that will stop them.

    >> the border is 2,000 miles long, sir. i don't know how many troops and army people you think would have been required. i don't know how many you think would be required, but i'll give you expert information that shows you that probably maybe you're talking about 2 million soldiers. you want to round up 11 million people and send them back to their country? you're not going to do that. they're not going to do that. they are not going to do that, though. they're people who have been here illegally for 50 years or 40 years. then telling them to become guest workers ? no, you can't do that. why can't you do that? because we're a judeo-christian principled nation.

    >> you're a senator with the federal government , and you're doing nothing about it. you said build a dang fence. where's the fence?

    >> in case you missed it, i showed you --

    >> that's not a fence!

    >> it's not a fence? it's a banana, a banana with about $600 million worth of appropriations we have.

    >> there were two of those town halls yesterday for senator mccain , jonathan capehart. he said there are 11 people living here illegally. we simply don't have enough buses to deport them. and he got a lot of pushback on that.

    >> i mean, who was that man? we haven't seen that john mccain in a very long time. someone who's willing to speak truth and push back against people who are spouting some things that are, you know, either intemperate or wrong or wrong-headed. you know, it's interesting that, you know, the immigration debate here in washington with, you know, mccain -- senator mccain and senator lindsey graham and senator marco rubio all trying to hash these things out. but you know, mccain gets there at a town hall meeting and sees -- i mean, we all know how difficult this issue is going to be. but then senator mccain is confronted by the fact that there are people out there in his own district and probably across the country who think that maybe what's being negotiated here isn't -- doesn't come anywhere close to what needs to be done.

    >> dan, senator mccain 's confrontations at the town hall notwithstanding, what's the likely outcome on immigration? the president has said it's a priority. rubio has put out a separate plan. where's the middle?

    >> to me what was interesting is not what mccain said. it's this audience. that is a window into a town hall meeting that almost every republican in this country faces over presidents' day weekend. particularly if they're from a conservative state.

    >> not just arizona .

    >> not just arizona . any conservative district in country, republican primary voters and activists are saying things like that to their members. these members like rubio and mccain and graham are sticking their necks out on this issue. and what is frustrating for them which i think i saw expressed in some of the things rubio said over the last couple days, what paul ryan has said in the last couple days, they want to feel like they have a partner with the white house working on this issue. and if you look at the president's speech in las vegas on immigration a few weeks ago for which these republican senators got no warning. even the democratic senators got no warning. or the bill that was leaked over the weekend, no warning. republicans are saying, are we partners here? are we working together? because right now this is not a collaboration.

    >> correct me if i'm wrong, i don't think the intensity in paul ryan 's district is going to be nearly what it was there in arizona . i don't think there were people in wisconsin saying bus them all out.

    >> i think you're right. i'm just saying there's a culture, there's a mood within conservative republican circles that activists who show up at many of these town hall meetings across the country, particularly in conservative districts, who are saying maybe something not as extreme but some version, there is resistance to real reform. guys reilike rubio are sticking their necks off and getting on talk show radio and grass-roots efforts about what we need to do something. and they are feeling a little exposed on both sides. they're exposed on the right. the fact that rubio , the first time you heard from president obama , the first time on immigration reform , was yesterday. everyone knows that rubio has been part of this gang of eight for weeks, that he's indispensable. he's essential to republicans being on board.

    >> let's put aside the frictions and name calling between the republicans and the white house . this is a tough issue, right? this is a tough issue. and even the gang eight which came up with its plan, even if the white house had done nothing, said nothing, the plan of the gang of eight had a long way to go from here to there because the idea that you're going to have border security before you're going to deal with these undocumenteds, you know, you can deal -- you can say one sentence about that, but then you they'd three more paragraphs explaining how that works. and that's where this all breaks down in terms --

    >> and the guest worker program .

    >> and the guest worker program . but the devil is in the details here. and just because the gang of eight announced this plan, it has a long way to go. and i don't think it's the white house he's fault completely at least that things have gotten a little bit off track because we're getting into the issues now. we're getting into the specifics, and it's getting harder.

    >> that's fair. what you have with the gang of eight, people like rubio and people like chuck schumer who are saying, give us some space. white house . give us some space to work on this bill. and the white house is not -- it's the worst of both worlds. not only are they not giving them space, they're meddling. they're leaking stuff over the weekend.

    >> but when the white house doesn't do anything, people say the white house is on the sidelines.

    >> i think if they want to be constructive, they should be calling these senators and saying what can we do to give you the space you need to construct a bill? and they are not doing that. again, the fact that rubio heard from the president for the first time yesterday on this issue, given how long he's been working on it, sends a message to a lot of republicans that the white house are looking for a political issue.

    >> i thought you didn't want the white house to be calling anybody, but okay.

    >> jonathan, we get past --

    >> calling them and saying how can we help? how can we give you the space you need?

    >> john, when you get past the hurt feelings and you get to the policy, where do we end up on this? if they actually do get in a room and they get the space they need, what's the policy at the end of the day they can agree on?

    >> it sounds as though from the leaked proposal from the white house and what the gang of eight is working on, they're not that far -- they're not that far apart. and i want to push back on something dan just said. it makes it sound like the white house hasn't been engaged with anybody from any staff among those senators. and the white house yesterday said that while maybe the president probably called those senators for the first time, the staffs, at the staff level, they've been talking. so i don't want to leave the impression out there --

    >> barely. barely staff content.

    >> that the white house is totally hands off. i subscribe to the viewpoint that gene robinson had in his column yesterday that, you know, this leak of the white house plan probably actually made it a little easier for the gang of eight to get a deal done because it gives -- it gives the republicans something to push back on the white house against and for those folks at those town hall meetings , gives those senators an opportunity to say hey, look. the white house proposed this. we've got this. and this is our plan. and we're going to go for it.

    >> all right. still ahead this morning on " morning joe ," msnbc political analyst richard wolffe joins us here on set. also nbc's chief white house correspondent, mr. chuck todd . and later, star of the hit tv series "unnecessary roughness," me krchlc -- mehcad brooks .

    >>> up next, a brazen diamond heist in brussels.

    >>> first, bill karins with a look at the forecast.

    >> major winter storm heading for the middle of the country. then it looks like another storm possible for new england this weekend. that would be three weekends in a row. first things first, we are watching the big storm. the one that we're going to be talking about kicking through california into arizona . that is on the move. it will head into the middle of the country today. it will be at its peak intensity thursday. then it kind of weakens and dies off. then it will redevelop, a piece of it, off the east coast this upcoming weekend. so as far as the specifics go, in the midwest , we are plenty cold enough. look at 13 in kansas city . we're setting the stage for very significant snows. kansas , iowa, northern missouri and even portions of northern oklahoma, already on the map, rain in green. the white is the snow breaking out just north of oklahoma city . up into kansas . so it will be a little treacherous this morning on i-35. this is how it breaks down. this is tomorrow morning in the midwest . snow, widespread, full-blown snowstorm for kansas , nebraska, pushing into missouri and iowa. it looks like an ice storm for northern arkansas. how much snow are we talking about? this isn't a foot or two. this is mostly 6 to 12 inches over a large area of kansas , northern missouri . and for st. louis, a messy winter mix for you. chicago, it looks like a couple inches as we go through thursday night. so today's forecast, today's kind of the calm before the storm . east coast , no problems at all. all eyes are on the midwest in the next 48 hours . then we'll focus on possibly another snowstorm for new england this upcoming weekend. amazing. you're watching " morning joe " brewed by starbucks.

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