Alex Witt   |  May 25, 2013

Senate, House immigration bills set for clash in Congress

Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson speaks with MSNBC’s Alex Witt about the future of Guantanamo Bay. Former Governor Richardson discusses President Obama’s recent comments on drones. He mentions the importance of confidentiality when national security is on the line. Former Governor Richardson talks about the immigration bill and how he sees it moving through Congress. He also remarks on the IRS controversy.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> 108 days of a hunger strike and just today, three more were hospitalized and four more were force fed . president obama is calling for a close but there's still a long road ahead. bill richardson who served as sea secretary of energy and ambassador to the u.n. thank you for joining me.

>> thank you, alex .

>> closing gitmo, as you know, was perhaps the biggest initiative in the president's speech. is it politically possible?

>> well, it's going to be tough but i think it's possible. there's momentum towards making this change. you've got to remember, alex , this was caused, this guantanamo, by illegal detention of prisoners, by por tur in the past administration. what the president has said is he wants to have the congress eliminate the ability of the president to keep the ability of the president to transfer prisoners. congress refuses to do that. he said that we can try a lot of these prisoners in civilian courts, limited military courts , that we need to close this down not just for foreign policy reasons, this terrible image abroad. but also i think there's some real civil liberties . i think the president has seized the momentum on this issue. the hunger strike , which should not be the justification, it should be an important element here. the important justification is that this can be done in civilian court with appropriate, judicial screening and action but at the same time we've got to recognize what happened in boston, what has happened in 9/11. we still have a threat from terrorists.

>> you said a terrible image abroad. elaborate on the impact of gitmo as well as the strikes on foreign relations .

>> well, obviously in pakistan it has probably hurt our policy the most. the guantanamo issue, the drone issue. on the issue of drones, the president has also made important statements. one, no longer will they be used on the basis of suspicion. there has to be eminent threat. the department will be in charge of it, not the cia. more transparency. third, there's going to have to be some very, very sensible, special initiatives, like a special court whenever lethal force is used. but i think to protect our national security , because there are still threats there, it has to be used. more congressional oversight probably makes sense, although there has to be some confidentiality and secrecy. but i think he's made important reforms there, too.

>> yes. they talk about preference for capture as well. the speech left a lot of things unclear. we still don't know what constitutes intent or imminent threat . did you hear substantive changes to the drone policy?

>> well, i did see a lot of good changes. obviously you want to carefully define what am imminent threat is. on the past it was on basis of suspicion. that has been reformed. the attorney general sent a letter to congress that outlined the use. alex , what has to happen is -- i know transparency is important but some of these documents have to be classified and limited for special use because for national security protections and i think the president did take those steps that protect our civil liberties , an independent panel to look at civil liberties associated with a lot of these panels. you know, the cia has done a good job on issues like this but their job is to keep things secret. now there will be more transparency in the department of defense .

>> in your role as former new mexico governor, you know about this. i'm talking about immigration here. earlier this week the senate judiciary committee , what is your take on the bill?

>> i think it's a good start. i'd like to see more flexibility on the path to citizenship. it takes 13 years, a lot of hoops. at the same time, i recognize that there has to be more border security . i'm a former border governor. there's some initiatives in that bill but it's an important start and the president has handled this issue well. the problem is going to be not in the senate. i think the senate bill will come out basically in good shape. what's been passed by the committee. it's when you go to the house and the house republicans, i don't know what they want to do. they may want to move piecemeal, put too many restrictions on border security so the path to citizenship becomes very difficult. but i think they are taking huge political gamblie to a huge bill but with hispanic voters which they did horrible. there are moderate republicans that are moving in the right direction. so let's hope it works out.

>> we're going to irs. we know that the white house chief of staff , dennis mcdonough decided not to inform the president about what was happening there in ohio. do you think that was the right tactic, keeping the president shielded from the information?

>> alex , i don't have all of the information on that. i did read an account that the reason the white house council did not raise it with the president was she was afraid that the president would be open to attacks that he tried to influence the investigation. and obviously that's probably a sensible legal call, was it the right political call, not having the president in the loop, it probably doesn't look good. but i think the portland and the administration have moved forward with personnel changes, with investigations. you know, this is -- look, a lot of administrations have these problems, these scandals. i've seen presidents from nixon and johnson and clinton and ford, the bushes, this happens with every administration and you can't expect the president, alex , to know everything, every step the bureaucracy does. there has to be accountability, though. here, i think what was happening, the white house staff , the council wanted to protect the president from allegations that maybe he was trying to politically influence the investigation. that's what i saw and i think this white house council made the right legal call.

>> all right. former governor and secretary richardson, thanks for your