Meet the Press   |  March 31, 2013

Flake, Schumer bring Senate talks to MTP

Sens. Chuck Schumer and Jeff Flake visit Meet the Press to update Chuck Todd on the negotiations on bipartisan immigration legislation ongoing in the Senate.

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>>> this easter sunday the culture war over guns, gay marriage , abortion, and immigrati immigration. they're dominating the political debate . after chilling new details emerge from the newtown shooting that left 20 children dead in december, the president responds to some who claim the push for tighter gun control has stalled.

>> the entire country pledged we would do something about it and this time would be different. shame on us if we've forgotten.

>> has the moment for action already passed?

>>> plus, congress is out but a bipartisan group of key senators is preparing to put rg are forward a highly anticipated plan for immigration reform in the days ahead. we'll talk to two members of the so-called gang of eight, democratic senator from new york, chuck schumer , and republican senator from arizona , jeff flake .

>>> and it was a historic week of intense oral arguments at the supreme court as it considered the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. we'll hear from both sides and get insights and analysis on the implications moving forward in a special discussion that includes actor and gay rights supporter rob reiner .

>>> good easter morning. pope francis celebrated his first easter mass it at the vatican encouraging those who have strayed from the faith to return. here at home it's divisive issues as washington grapples with guns, gay marriage and immigration. we have two key members of the so-called bipartisan gang of eight, senators working on a compromise immigration proposal. word coming this weekend that an agreement is near. we'll ask senators schumer and flake about that. first, i want to go around quickly with our first of two political roundtables to frame what's at stake in these debates. joining us the former senior adviser to president barack obama , david axelrod . former congressman and chairman of the national republican campaign committee, former virginia james davis , peggy noonan of the washington street journal. welcome all. we'll talk about two hours of show into one hour. david axelrod on immigration, a lot of republicans don't believe the president wants to sign immigration bill this year. they believe he wants the politics, he wants the political issue because it's been so successful for democrats.

>> i understand their paranoia because it was a terribly difficult issue for them and continues to be. he wants this accomplishment. this is a legacy item for him. there is no doubt in my mind he wants to pass comprehensive immigration reform .

>> tom davis , can republicans even start talking to hispanics on other issues if this issue isn't put behind them no matter how it turns 0 out?

>> first of all, they'll get a vote. you may get like we did it in 2006 , a house version and senate version. at that point everybody will have their talking points . the answer is, sure. i think the conversation will continue and i think you'll have a good republican midterm.

>> you know, peggy, what's been interesting about this week is all of the big polarizing issues of the last two generations cult culturally all popped up in one week, and one had had to do with the supreme court with gay marriage , with abortion. this culture war normally when it comes back is helpful for republicans . is it good for the conservative movement to have these issues out there?

>> i don't know. i think all of these cultural issues as i guess we call them have been major issues in america for almost half a century really. the abortion argument was going on 50 years ago. roe came 40 years ago. it is hard to resolve these issues because they're not just cultural issues. they are moral issues and americans feel differently about them. i think one way or another they'll probably be bubbling out there for a long time, and it's not the worst thing.

>> so maybe a resolution in the law but not in the way people feel. is it also a sign the economy is coming back?

>> it usually is, isn't it, when people can think about other things other than jobs. but, you know, i think some of these cultural issues are being resolved. gay marriage before the supreme court , obviously a hot button issue. but you look at the polls and you see 58% and our poll, "the washington post " poll, in favor of it. 80% of adults under 30. that sounds like a decision rather than a question on that issue.

>> all right. so we've framed the discussion. i want to pause it here. i want to talk about immigration. so joining me now from new york, one of the leaders of the so-called gang of eight, democratic senator chuck schumer . senator, welcome back to "can meat t meet the press." is a deal at hand for immigration reform ? we know about the issue having to do with visas and wages between the business lobby and the labor lobby. is a deal done?

>> well, with the agreement between business and labor, every major policy issue has been resolved on the gang of eight. now everyone, we've all agreed, that we're not going to come to a final agreement until we see draft legislative language and we agree on that. we drafted some of it already. the rest will be drafted this week and so i am very, very optimistic that we will have an agreement among the eight of us next week. senator leahy has agreed to have extensive markup and debate on the bill in april, and then we go to the floor, god willing , in may. i hi we're on track.

>> you were quoted as saying the deal is near, the deal is at hand, and all of that coverage got senator rubio, the republican, part of this gang of eight to say, whoa, whoa, whoa, no deal yet. that we're closer. so is there disagreement between the two of you on how close you are to a deal?

>> no, it's semantics. business and labor have an agreement on the future flow which has been the issue that has undone imfwrags reform in the past. this is a major, major obstacle that's overcome. each of us has to look at the language and approve it. i don't think on the business/labor side there's any disagreement. there's lots of but as and he's correctly pointing out that language hasn't been fully drafted. i don't think any of us expect there to be problems.

>> if you lost senator rubio in this gang of eight, if he walked away from the negotiations, would that put the entire immigration bill in jeopardy?

>> well, first of all, i don't think he'll walk away . he's been an active and strong participant. he's had a lot of input into the bill. obviously his views are not the same as the other seven of us. every one of us has different views, but i expect that we're going to have agreement --

>> but you need it. if you don't have him, this bill is suddenly in jeopardy?

>> i'm not even going to speculate about that. i talked to marco yesterday. we had a great conversation and he is protecting some of the things that he thinks are very important in the bill, but i don't think that will stand in the way of any final agreement. i think we're all on track.

>> you say this issue between business and labor was the last major hurdle, but is border security solved, this issue of metrics and border security solved? i want to play a little bit of what president obama said in an interview with telemundo on that issue.

>> regardless of how much additional effort we put in on the borders, we don't want to make this earned pathway to citizenship a situation in which it's put off further and further into the future. there needs to be a certain path for how people can get legal in this country even as we also work on these strong border security issues.

>> you spent last week on the border with some of your members of the gang of eight including jeff flake who will be on the show here in just a minute. this issue of border security and the metrics involved before launching the pathway to citizenship, that's been resolved?

>> well, i was very glad to go to the border and you see the expansive -- it's huge and the terrain is different in many different places and it gave me, someone from new york city , a real appreciation of the different problems in arizona so, look, we've come to a basic agreement which is that, first, people will be legalized. in other words not citizens but they will be allowed to work, come out of the shadows, travel. then we will make sure the border is secure and we have specific metrics that are in the bill. i'm not going to get into what they are to make sure that happens. and after that happens, there's a path to citizenship and i think there's agreement among the eight on all of us and i think most of the american people agree with that, that we should certainly do -- we made a great deal of progress in securing the border . i'm sure jeff would say that. but i would join him in saying we have to make more progress.

>> i want to ask you about some controversial comments made by a form 0er colleague of yours when you served in the house, alaska republ republican don young , about something he said this week about mexican immigrants. here is what he said.

>> my father had a ranch. we used to hire 50 to 60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes.

>> that derogatory term was something don young had to issue two apologies. the first one thursday night, he said this. i used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in central california . i know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and i meant no disrespect. that didn't seem to suit some people. he issued a new apology on friday night. quote, i apologize for the inaccepts tiff term i used. there was no malice in my heart or intent to offend. it was a poor choice of words. that word and the negleative attitudes that come with it should be left in the 20th century and i'm sorry this has shifted our focus away from comprehensive immigration re reform. does the fact that is in his vocabula vocabulary, does that make senator young fit to serve?

>> i was disappointed in his first apology. it didn't seem full. i hadn't seen the second apology until you read it. there should be a full and complete apology. look, bigotry has always been the poison of america, and we ought to do everything to eradicate it with no excuses or explanation.

>> so that second apology satisfies you.

>> you just read it to me. it seems much fuller than the first one, yeah.

>> i want to move to guns very quickly. we've seen the polling. we know the president came out and urged, noted it was less than 100 days . we've seen the polling that support for stricter gun laws is slipping, was over 50% right after newtown. it's now below 50%. what's possible anymore? in january you said on "meet the press" the expanded background check bill was probably, you called it the sweet spot , which a lot of people interpreted as the only piece of legislation that had a chance of passing. is that still your assessment?

>> well, i wouldn't say the only piece of legislation, but i called it the sweet spot because it would do a whole lot of good and had a good chance of passing. i'm working very hard with both democrats and republicans , pro-nra and anti-nra people, to come up with a background check bill that will be acceptable to 60 senators and be very strong and get the job done. it's very hard. we're working hard and i'm very hopeful we can get this passed.

>> it's a fragile coalition. new york city mayor michael bloomberg is running ads, not just against republicans on this issue, but against your fellow democrats in the u.s. senate including hieidi hide camp in north dakota and other red state democratic senators. is michael bloomberg being helpful to your cause as you try to put this this coalition together?

>> i respect mayor bloomberg 's passion on this and let's not forget the argument -- the ads and the sort of field organization has always been on the other side on the pro-gun side. and so to have a counter there is very helpful. obviously each senator is going to have to make up his own or her own mand and i respect that.

>> but does this hurt your cause as you try to recruit a heidi heidekamp on your side?

>> i have a great deal of respect for that.

>> senator schumer, i have to leave it there. we have a businessy morning and a packed show. i thank you.

>> thank you.

>> happy passover.

>> nice to talk to you.

>>> now for the republican perspective, another member of the so-called gang of eight, jeff flake . senator, welcome. senator, let me start --

>> thanks for having me on.

>> let me start with the same question that i started with senator schumer at the beginning. how close are we to a deal? are you guys there? is it just dotting an "i" and cross i crossing a "t"?

>> we're much closer with labor and business agreeing on the guest worker plan. that doesn't mean we've crossed every i6 or dotted every "t" or vice versa . we're closer, certainly.

>> if there is a deal that you agreed to with this group of eight but you can't recruit more republicans on your side, would you walk away ?

>> we're committed to this. if we can get the language right, and i think that we'll stick together as a gang, and i hope that we can pull some republicans our way. i think a number of them are with us already. i don't want to talk about walking away . i don't intend to do that.

>> how important is senator rubio to the cause? he is seen to the bridge to some of the more conservative members of the senate conference if he wasn't in the coalition? would it hurt your cause to get a large vote?

>> you bet. he's extremely important as senator schumer said, he's had great input, a lot of input into the language already. he's making the point now that we immediate to go through regular order which i certainly support, so he's extremely important to this effort.

>> when you say regular order and i heard senator leahy, the senator of the judiciary committee , would have hearings. there's been a criticism of some other republicans not involved in these negotiations. the fact is we just had two special interest graups negotiate part of this deal. no elected officials were involved in it. is that healthy for this process?

>> well, i can tell you elected officials were involved in this. we were involved every step of the way. but, the point is, every senator has his own or her own franchise here, and we want to see this bill move through regular order. it will be amended in the judiciary committee . it will be amended certainly on the floor. so there will be input. there should be input. it will make it a better product. and certainly if people are going to buy into it, there has to be further input from the senate and obviously the house will move its own bill.

>> senator schumer would not tell us what this metrics and border security , your home state of arizona . you've talked about -- you've said there are two border second sectors in arizona . one is the yuma sector. one is the tucson sector. and you say yuma has got it right. what does that mean, that there is operational control? can you explain what that means in layman's terms to the viewers out there?

>> yes, i was in both the yuma sector and the tucson secotor last week and there is a difference. in the yuma sector, people still get through, but our border patrol and other agents have a reasonable expectation of catching them. that's probably the best explanation of what operational control means. you'll never stop everyone from coming through and you have a lot of commerce, legal commerce, that happens at the border as well. so when people talk about having a sealed border , weigh don't need a sealed border . we need a secure border . that's what we have in yuma . we're quite a ways from that in the tucson sector.

>> and when that is done, that would trigger the pathway to citizenship?

>> yes. first, we've got to get, as you mentioned, some kind of metrics from the department of homeland security . in a recent report that they had, increased apprehensions was used in one part of the report to indicate that we had a better situation and in another part of the report increased apprehensions did -- decreased apprehensions was used to demonstrate the same. so we've had trouble getting a good metrics out of the department of homeland security . we're going to have to have that before we move it further.

>> let me ask you about guns, the background check . is there any part of the extended background check that you would support?

>> sure. i've actually introduced legislation with senator graham, beg itch and senator prior with regard to mental health issues. we do need to strengthen the background check system but universal background checks i think is a bridge too far for most of us.

>> why is that? why shouldn't -- why shouldn't law -- we have to go through tsa checkpoints, law abiding citizens have to do that. what's wrong with law abiding gun owners -- what do they have to hide? what's wrong with going through an expanded background check ?

>> the paperwork alone would be significant. even if there are exemptions for a father passing on a gun to his son or daughter, you'd still have issues with people in a private setting transferring or loaning a gun for somebody -- loaning a shotgun to go on a duck hunt , for example. i think in this universal background check there would be issues with. so i think universal background checks we can scale back and still make significant progress by strengthening our background checks system without going too far .

>> let me ask you on gay marriage could you support a republican presidential candidate some day who supported same-sex marriage?

>> oh, i think that's inevitable. there will be one and i think he'll receive republican support or she will, so i think that, yes, the answer is yes.

>> and where are you on this issue? you say it's inevitable. are you -- lisa called it evolving on the issue. are you evolving, to use her word, on this issue?

>> i believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. i still hold to the traditional definition of marriage.

>> is this something that you thought -- are you thinking abo about? could you imagine changing your position before you left the u.s. senate ?

>> i can't. i tell you, in the past i supported repealing don't ask/don't tell. i supported the nondiscrimination act a as well. but i hold to the traditional definition of marriage.

>> all right. senator jeff flake , i will leave it there. thank you, senator, for coming