Now With Alex
updated 6/19/2013 6:18:57 AM ET 2013-06-19T10:18:57

Former President Bill Clinton says he thinks immigration reform will have enough votes in Congress, but its passage will hinge on whether or not Speaker Boehner breaks the Hastert rule.

Former President Bill Clinton is “bullish” that Congress will pass comprehensive immigration reform. Speaking to Alex Wagner on NOW Friday, Clinton expressed optimism about the legislation but suggested Speaker John Boehner would need to break the so-called Hastert rule to do it.

The former president believes there will be enough votes to pass an immigration reform bill, but asks, “Will [Speaker Boehner] allow a bill to be brought to the floor of the House that does not have the support of a majority of his own caucus, but clearly would get a big bipartisan majority in the House?”

So far, Boehner isn’t showing his cards. The Speaker said Tuesday there was “no question” that immigration reform would be passed in the House and Senate and signed by the end of this year. But he started walking that back on Thursday, saying “I don’t intend to bring an immigration bill to the floor that violates what I and what members of my party–what our principles are.”

Boehner has broken the Hastert rule three times already this year, in order to pass the fiscal cliff deal, Sandy relief legislation, and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. Clinton applauded the Speaker for those votes, saying, “Every time he’s done that, something good’s happened….I think he understands that it’s an important issue for America; it’s an important issue for the Republican Party if they want to be competitive with all the young immigrants in our country.”

The former president also weighed in on the political climate in Washington, saying a fundamental shift has taken place in this country. He cited the deep division among Americans in the 1960s, culminating with a rash of political assassinations. He said that despite the turmoil, “political leadership continued to hold together…we passed the Civil Rights Act, a Voting Rights Act, an open housing act, anti-poverty legislation.  All of it had bipartisan support….there was a political system that was trying to hold the country together even as we were dividing underneath.”

Clinton believes there has been a role reversal when you compare that environment to the political gridlock today, saying “if you look at the support, say, for universal background checks, 80%, 90%, the political system is more divided than the people.”

In the wide ranging interview, Clinton also discussed why he believes Republican efforts to suppress the vote backfired in 2012, and how he thinks New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s political strategy will play outside the Northeast. Watch more of Alex Wagner’s interview with Bill Clinton above.

Video: Clinton talks economy, immigration, and bipartisanship

  1. Closed captioning of: Clinton talks economy, immigration, and bipartisanship

    >>> president clinton is feeling bullish. mostly. it's friday, june 14th . and this is "now," live from chicago .

    >>> house speaker john boehner is running hot and cold on immigration reform . just days after saying there was no question two pass the house and senate, he issued this threat.

    >> immigration reform is a very difficult issue. but i don't intend to bring an immigration bill to the floor that violates what i and what my members of my party, what our principles are.

    >> earlier today, i sat down with former president clinton at cgi america here in chicago and asked him if he thinks legislation can get through congress.

    >> i mean i think that john boehner wants to do immigration reform and the first time will only probably be able to get a bill through the house that those of us who support immigration reform won't like very much. but you got to get some kind of a bill through the house, some sort of bill to the senate, then it will go to conference. that's the important bill. and then we'll just see if it passes. but i think in the end, the speaker's big decision will be what it always is -- will he allow a bill to be brought to the floor of the house that does not have the support of a majority of his own caucus but clearly would get a big bipartisan majority in the house. every time he's done that something good's happened. when he did that we passed the violence against women act . i think he understands that it's an important issue for america , it is an important issue for the republican party if they want to be competitive with all the young immigrants in our country. but, look. there are two big issues that every american should know, even if you don't know an immigrant who's working hard and paying taxes and needs some path to citizenship. one is, in spite of all these problems we've been talking about with unemployment, the unemployment rate for college graduates is about 3.5%. unemployment rates for high school graduates among young people , 11%. so you want to give these young people a path to citizenship and a path to education. two is, the median age of a country has a huge impact on its potential to grow and generate wealth. we are younger than europe. we are younger than japan. within 15 or 20 years we're going to be younger than china if they don't change the way china immigration policy and immigration, sort of taboo. we need this immigration reform . it is not just do we need to let all these young people come here to study the stem courses stay, i think we do.

    >> right. highly skilled workers.

    >> it's not just that. they are the lifeblood of our country. every ethnic and racial and religious group , everyone in every country in the world, as their wealth goes up, they delay the age of marriage and the families get smaller. that's happening in america to basically european-americans who are barely at replacement rate population. you have to have immigrants. in a global economy where -- to have a country that can assimilate without violence -- boston marathon thing was shocking to us because it was the exception. the times square car bomb was shocking to us because it was the exception. by and large we've done pretty well integrating people from all over the world. we need this immigration reform . it is the right thing to do morally for the people involved that are here working. but it's an imperative thing for the american economy .

    >> i feel leak everything you just said is widely shared by people who think about immigration, who think about where this country needs to go. but the thing that seems to be holding us back is, to some degree, the electoral system we've created where you have congress people from very red districts who need to cater to a base and they feel like they can't move forward on common sense bipartisan legislation.

    >> to be fair to them, a lot of them also represent people who are from small towns and rural areas which haven't been part of the refer and feel economically insecure and feel threatened by this. and they also may not know that for the last two years there's been no net immigration from mexico . the idea that people are pouring across the rio grande river is not true because mexico has grown faster than brazil in the last two years and has grown up. that is, they've got 140 new universities in the last ten years. they graduated 110,000-plus engineers last year alone in mexico . this country's less than one-third of our population -- or about one-third. 110,000 engineers. it is a different country than what a lot of people in the heartland of america think. and this is what we've been trying to do. we're trying to build up our neighbors so that we'll have, you know, a bunch of prosperity to share with people. so i know they think that -- i still think we'll get the votes to pass it. i think the election had a lot to do with that. i really do believe that, you know, when -- even after the republicans tried to make it so hard for african-americans and hispanics, latinos from all parts of latin america to vote in florida , and they were sitting there -- or standing there in line, five and six hours, not on election day , in the advance voting . i remember turning on -- i was looking at an msnbc program one night, i swear, and there was a clip of the people in florida waiting to vote. and the clip was -- you guys were saying how awful it was that they'd cut down on advance voting . what i saw, i looked in the eyes of those people in the film and i said, if they have to stay there until tomorrow morning they're going to vote. that's when i realized that our side would win florida . looking in the eyes of the people who were forced to undergo the humiliation of standing in line five hours to do advance voting . so i think if you try to make it hard for people to vote, do you make it harder for them to vote and they vote anyway and they beat you, then it just is not a winning political strategy to alienate all these hispanic voters. and a lot of them are very old-fashioned. moderate republicans could get them to vote for them. they believe in family. they raise their kids. they have phenomenal work ethic . when i was president, one of the things that we worried about was that the hispanic work ethic was such that it was contributing to higher high school drop-out rates among young latinos who in fact had quit to support their families.

    >> you sound bullish on immigration reform . i want to talk to you quickly about --

    >> i actually think we got about a 55% chance to pass.

    >> so bullish --

    >> i'm slightly bullish.

    >> do you think bipartisanship is dead? governor christie is going to speak at cgi america . he plays a boardwalk game with president obama and it is a national issue. they go and tour the state of new jersey after devastating storms. he's hand-in-glove with the president on recovery efforts and the republican party is furious. what is going to happen to chris christie when he comes -- and again, is pledging to work with the efforts -- work in hand with former democratic president?

    >> well, it's interesting. i think in the culture of the northeast, if you're a republican and want to get elect and re-elected, bipartisanship is imperative. in sort of the way we've separated out our cultures, in the deep south and some of the intermountain west , if you want to do that, you get creamed. i mean i saw that this republican woman who was a third-generation i think owner of a general store that sold guns and had 100% nra record was the chairman of the committee in the tennessee legislature that referred a bill to committee, she basically killed the bill for the session that the nra wanted that said you could carry your loaded concealed weapon anywhere and leave it in any parking lot . any parking lot at all. and they ran pictures of her and her district with president obama and beat her by 16 points in the primary. in other words, they're basically trying to get everybody to check their brain at the door, bob english got beat in south carolina because he said he realized he didn't have to hate the president to disagree with him. and that global warming was real. boy, those were non-starters. he gets beat more than 2 - 1 in the primary. so there are cultures in which this is happening. but in the end, this constant conflict, this ideological war, is wildly ineffective at getting anything done. it won't work in the modern world . so i think that where bipathship is possible, you just have to keep working on it. congress cannot function. part of this, to be fair, it reapportionme reapportionment. but a part of it is, look at the media. why are you successful? finally people think we've got an answer to fox. why are all these things being broken up in niche networks? we're sorting ourselves out by what we believe. i tell everybody now it is america 's last remaining bigotry. we're less racist, sexist, homophobic than we used to be. we just don't want to be around anybody that disagrees with us.

    >> that's true. how do you reverse that trend?

    >> you have to create a culture of cooperation around a specific objective. then you have to just keep pushing it. it is very interesting. i was in arlington cemetery the other day for the 50th anniversary of the assassination of medgar evers . i was a boy when it happened. i trer like it was yesterday. i got to thinking about how we think it is so terrible today. in 1963 when medgar evers get assassinated. two months later martin luther king gives the greatest speech of my lifetime. we are going to celebrate that on august the 28th. november president kennedy gets killed. you then have five years of horrible riots in the streets and all these unimaginable things culminated by martin luther king and robert kennedy 's assassination. it makes us look like a cakewalk. but the difference was, the people then were more divided than our political issue. the political leadership continued to hold together, whether you agree or not, through the 1960s in support for the vietnam war . and we passed the civil rights act , a voting rights act , and open housing act , anti-poverty legislation. all of it had bipartisan support. we were working -- there was a political system that was trying to hold the country together even as we were dividing underneath. now the country is somewhat divided but if you look at the support, say, for universal background checks, 80%, 90%. the political system is more divided than the people. and that's -- that's a bad thing. and we've got to turn that around.

    >>> coming up -- more of my discussion with president clinton , including his thoughts on rebuilding america 's cities just ahead.

    >>> but first, as president obama faces a growing chorus of criticism over government surveillance, his administration moves to take action in syria. we'll discuss the president's tough position and his road ahead with one of the people who knows him best, former senior advisor david axelrod when he joins me next, next on "now," live from chicago . for over 125


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