MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: Should the United States consider an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq? And what should be done about allegations the president authorized the release of highly sensitive intelligence information to refute critics of the war? With us: the man who challenged George W. Bush for the presidency in 2004, Senator John Kerry, Democrat from Massachusetts.
Then, immigration. Should we build a fence on our southern border? And what should happen to the 11 million illegal immigrants now living in the United States? With us, three members of Congress with very different views:
Representative Henry Bonilla, Republican from Texas; Representative Luis Gutierrez, Democrat from Illinois; and Representative J.D. Hayworth, Republican from Arizona.
But first, the man who received 48.3 percent of the popular vote in 2004 in his race against George W. Bush. John Kerry is back on MEET THE PRESS.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA): Well, I’m glad to be here. I thought it was 49.2, but that’s OK. Who’s counting?
MR. RUSSERT: Forty-eight-point-three, but who’s counting?
You wrote an interesting essay this week talking about our situation in Iraq.
SEN. KERRY: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: And here’s what appeared in The New York Times: “Iraqi politicians should be told that they have until May 15 to put together an effective unity government or we will immediately withdraw our military. If Iraqis aren’t willing to build a unity government in the five months since the election, they’re probably not willing to build one at all. The civil war will only get worse, and we will have no choice anyway but to leave.” In five weeks, pull the troops out if the situation is status quo.
SEN. KERRY: Tim, it’s unconscionable that any young American is dying because Iraqis, five months after an election, are dithering and squabbling and cannot find the ability to compromise and come together in a democracy. Our kids didn’t die for that. Our kids didn’t go over there to do that. Our soldiers have done their job. They’ve given them several elections, three elections. They’ve given them a government, the opportunity to have a government. And now is the time to get tough. You have to set a deadline because they only respond to deadlines, is what they’ve proven.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Joe Biden, your fellow Democrat in the Senate, said this about your proposal: “The problem with John’s plan is it sets a date, but it doesn’t tell you what happens when the rest of the world falls apart - when you have the Turks and the Iranians in Iraq and there’s a regional war. He doesn’t tell you that part.”
SEN. KERRY: Well, actually I disagree with Joe. I do set forth what you need to do in that part because there’s a complete absence of diplomacy here, Tim. I mean, you remember the times of Henry Kissinger, shuttle diplomacy, an incredibly engaged effort to try to get resolution in the Middle East? Do you remember Jim Baker moving around, talking, unbelievable engaged effort to help build a coalition for Desert Storm? You don’t see any of that taking place here. There’s a complete absence of real diplomacy.
MR. RUSSERT: The secretary of state went to Iraq and suggested that Prime Minister Jaafari step aside and allow someone else to emerge.
SEN. KERRY: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: An Iraqi said, “We resent that American interference.”
SEN. KERRY: That’s not the way to do it, Tim. What you need and what I’ve suggested is that you have a date in the accordslike summit where you bring all the parties together—and I mean all the parties. You need to bring Iraq’s neighbors together. Khalilzad has now been authorized to talk to the Iranians. Bring the Iranians, bring the Syrians, bring the Jordanians, the Saudis, the Egyptians and others. You have a conference at which you have the United Nations, the Arab League and all of the factions. And you sit there, and you pound out the differences.
Now, it may be that ultimately you can’t find a resolution on the constitutional issues and you have to embrace something like Les Gelb’s original proposal, the former head of the Council on Foreign Relations, who said you may have to divide it up into three parts. I don’t know the answer to that today. What I do know is unless you get that conference, unless you combine that with the threat of withdrawal and unless you set a date to move forward, it’s not going to happen.
MR. RUSSERT: But Senator...
SEN. KERRY: You continue with the squabbling that’s taking place.
MR. RUSSERT: ...if you pull out all American troops in five weeks, you could have the Iranians come into Iraq.
SEN. KERRY: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: You could have the Syrians come into Iraq. You could have thousands more of al-Qaeda come into Iraq.
SEN. KERRY: No.
MR. RUSSERT: You could have militia...
SEN. KERRY: No. Mm-mm.
MR. RUSSERT: ...of, of the Shiites vs. militia of the Sunnis. You could have complete chaos, a haven for terrorism all around the world, and the country will fall apart.
SEN. KERRY: Tim, that’s not what I’ve suggested. And it’s really important to look at what I’ve proposed. The first step is you’ve got to have a government. Our troops are trapped in the middle of a civil war and our troops can’t do anything about a civil war, so you have to sit here intelligently and analytically and say, “OK, if we’re in a civil war, what are we going to do?” Well, part of the reason we’re in a civil war is we don’t have a government five months after an election. And if they can’t put a government together under the threat that the United States is going to withdraw, they’re not going to do it. Then they want the civil war, then they have to fight their civil war. And as General Casey has said, nothing our troops can do will change—this can’t be won militarily, it has to be resolved politically, and there’s no significant effort on the political side to resolve it.
MR. RUSSERT: So if they don’t put it together in five weeks, let them have...
SEN. KERRY: Well, you—it’s...
MR. RUSSERT: ...let them have their civil war.
SEN. KERRY: But, but stop for a minute. It’s going to take you at least five or six months to go through the process of withdrawal, it just does. Jack Murtha is correct about that.
Secondly—let me put this to you, our goal is to train 272,000 security forces. The president’s policy, supposedly, is to stand down as they stand up. Well, the administration has been bragging that we’ve trained 242,000, we’re only 30,000 away from the goal we supposedly have as our final goal. If it’s true that we’ve trained 242,000, where are the troops that are standing down? The president’s policy is to stand down as they stand up; they’ve stood up, supposedly, 242,000, we’re not standing down.
Secondly, the fact is that I have recommended, as Jack Murtha has, and others, that you have an over-the-horizon capacity. You don’t withdraw completely from the region, you don’t leave it exposed to the Iranians and others. And all of this has to happen with this date and accordslike summit taking place at the same time. The absence of diplomacy in this effort is, is, is negligence. I mean, it’s stunning, and you cannot begin to resolve Iraq unless you have that kind of diplomatic effort. That’s—you get the stakeholders—if, if in—if, if the Jordanians, if the Saudis, if others, are truly concerned about the region, and they are, if they’re concerned about chaos, and they ought to be, then the threat of our withdrawal is what is going to finally get them to step up and be involved. But the United States has to lead that effort, and we’re not leading it.
MR. RUSSERT: But by setting a specific date for withdrawal—and you say immediate withdrawal—it is a, a change in your thinking. Now, if you go back to March of ‘04...
SEN. KERRY: Absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: ...’04, this is what you said. “Kerry says, he is committed to finishing the mission. ‘My exit strategy is success,’ he says, ‘a viable, stable Iraq that can contribute to the stability and peace in the Middle East.’” And then a month later, you offered this.
(Videotape, April 14, 2004):
SEN. KERRY: I think the vast majority of the American people understand that it is important not just to cut and run. And I don’t believe in, in a cut-and-run philosophy. I think that would be very damaging to the war on terror, it would be very damaging to the Middle East, it would be very damaging to the longer term interests of the United States.
MR. RUSSERT: And last January of, of last year, I asked you specifically about...
SEN. KERRY: Yeah, I remember.
MR. RUSSERT: ...what you are now proposing. Let’s watch.
(Videotape, January 30, 2005):
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe there should be a specific timetable of a withdrawal of American troops?
SEN. KERRY: No.
MR. RUSSERT: No. Now you’re saying yes.
SEN. KERRY: There’s no change. Yes, I am saying yes. And what I said back then was based on the fact that the presumption of everybody, Tim, was that we were fighting al-Qaeda principally and that we were looking at the, at the, at the war on terror. The fact is that 98 percent of the insurgency has now been transformed into Iraqis, into indigenous population of Iraq. There are probably less than 1,000 foreign jihadists there. And in my most recent trip to Iraq, it became very, very clear to me, as it has to others, that the Iraqis themselves will not tolerate the jihadists staying on their land.
So the key here is you now have a civil war. This is the third war in Iraq. The first war was the war against Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction. The second war was the war against the jihadists with the president’s statement, “It’s better to fight them over there than here.” We accepted that. And under those premises, we didn’t want to be automatically moving. Now we have no choice, because the administration did none of the other things that I also recommended at that point in time, including, may I add, this concept of bringing together the parties in the region and having a major diplomatic resolution.
If you talk to, to leaders in the region and others here in the United States, who look at this issue carefully—experts—they will tell you that Iran is delighted that we’re in Iraq. They love it. And we’re going to strengthen our hand with Iran when we get out of there. We’re going to strengthen our hand with Russia, we’re going to strengthen our hand with China, we’re going to strengthen our hand in the Middle East. And I think it is now imperative to be clear about forcing the Iraqis to stand up on their own. And General Casey, incidentally, has said the large number of American forces there is reducing the willingness of Iraqis to do that.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me go back to October of 2002, when you stood up on the floor of the Senate and said Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, biological, chemical, the means to deliver them perhaps to the U.S., potentially nuclear weapons, and then voted to authorize the president to go to war. Your running mate, the man you selected to be the next president of the United States, John Edwards, was on this program. He wrote an op-ed piece first in The Washington Post, and he wrote this: “I was wrong. Almost three years ago we went into Iraq to remove what we were told - and what many of us believed and argued - was a threat to America. But in fact we now know that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction when our forces invaded Iraq in 2003. The intelligence was deeply flawed and, in some cases, manipulated to fit a political agenda. It was a mistake to vote for this war in 2002. I take responsibility for that mistake.” Was it a mistake for you to vote for the war in 2002?
SEN. KERRY: Absolutely. I’ve said so many times, many times since then.
MR. RUSSERT: And you take responsibility for it?
SEN. KERRY: You better believe I take responsibility for it. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m here today, Tim. You know, last night, late at night, I went down to the Wall, the Vietnam Wall. I was amazed by the numbers of people there, 10:30, 11:00 at night, it’s incredible. You walk down that ramp, and as you go down it gets deeper and deeper, and the wall gets higher and higher, and you see these names after names after names; thousands, tens of thousands. They were added to that wall. They died after our leaders knew the policy wasn’t working. And I believe I have a moral responsibility, as we all do in America, to get this right for our soldiers.
Our soldiers have done their jobs. They can’t resolve this issue. This is not to be resolved militarily, it can’t be done from a Humvee or a helicopter. It has to be done politically, diplomatically. You’ve got to resolve the difference between Shia and Sunni. You’ve got to give the Sunni enough power to be safe. You’ve got to give them a source of revenue. You’ve got to reconcile these differences. And Ambassador Khalilzad, who’s a good man, and struggling to do this, cannot do it alone. The absence of the president, the absence of real leadership, the absence of this diplomatic effort is the key, and I refuse to be a member of the United States Senate and add people to the next wall for Iraq because we didn’t do what was necessary to protect our troops.
MR. RUSSERT: Of all the votes you’ve cast in the Senate, is the vote in favor of the war in Iraq in October 2002 the one you would most like to take back?
SEN. KERRY: Profoundly.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Iran. Headlines in The Washington Post today:
“U.S. is studying military strike options on Iran.” And in this article it says the United States is contemplating the use of tactical nuclear devices against Iran. Would you support that?
SEN. KERRY: No. I think that it—that is, that is another example of the move-from-the-hip—shoot-from-the-hip, cowboy diplomacy of this administration. For the United States of America, at a time when we’re already trying to wrestle with Iran and the, the proliferation of nuclear weapons—and North Korea, that is not paying attention to the six-party talks, partly because of what’s happening in Iraq, and they don’t need to—for us to think about exploding tactical nuclear weapons in some way is the height of irresponsibility. It would be destructive to any nonproliferation efforts, and the military assessment is it won’t work. That even this bombing strategy itself would not work. Once again, the administration is not engaged in the real kind of diplomacy—now, when President Clinton had to deal with Bosnia, sat down with Yeltsin, persuaded him that it was in the interest of Russia even to be involved there, I think that—you know, you—we, we’ve got to have leadership that stops proceeding so unilaterally, and in, in such a, a, you know, sort of overtly militaristic way, and start putting people together to resolve this.
MR. RUSSERT: But the, the Iranians have said, “Get out of our life. We, we are going forward with our program no matter what you do.”
SEN. KERRY: Yeah, but what you don’t have...
MR. RUSSERT: So you seem to be accepting the Iranians having a nuclear bomb.
SEN. KERRY: No, I’m not accepting it, and I’ve said point blank that you leave that option on the table for the end, but I don’t think using tactical nuclear weapons still makes sense. But you leave the military option on the table. But it’s a terrible option fundamentally, and they know it and everybody else knows it. What you really need here is China and Russia to join with the United States and others in serious sanctions, ultimately if that were necessary. And in the meantime, you’ve got to have a more realistic approach to President Putin. I think we should have been tougher with respect to the G8 conference. We gave them something for nothing. And the point is...
MR. RUSSERT: You mean to boycott it? Would you boycott it?
SEN. KERRY: I think it’s difficult now to boycott, but I wouldn’t—I would consider leveraging that, certainly, and I think that it’s important for the president to have thought that through ahead of time. Are we going to go there and not get their help with respect to Iran? I don’t think that makes a lot of sense.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the whole release of declassified intelligence information. In the trial of “Scooter” Libby, the special prosecutor said that Mr. Libby put forward this notion that President Bush authorized Vice President Cheney to provide him information to help refute war critics. The attorney general of the United States was asked about this at a congressional hearing as to the legal foundation for it, and this is what he had to say.
(Videotape, House Judiciary Committee Hearing):
MR. ALBERTO GONZALES (U.S. Attorney General): I think the president has the inherent authority to decide who in fact should have classified information and if, and if the president decided that, that, that a person needed the information, that he could have that information, sure.
I believe the president would have the authority to simply say, “This information’s no longer classified for the purpose of sharing it with this person.”
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): Does the president have to make a finding that declassifying something is—does not injure the national security, or can he do it for political reasons?
MR. GONZALES: The president has the constitutional authority to make the decision as to what, what is in that national interest of the country.
REP. NADLER: For whatever reason he feels like.
MR. GONZALES: He has the authority under the Constitution to make that determination.
REP. NADLER: OK.
RUSSERT: Do you agree with that legal reasoning?
SEN. KERRY: I think it’s time for the attorney general to start standing up and protecting the Constitution and the country, and not the politics of this administration. The fact is, on, you know—I mean, on one side, this is the first evidence we’ve had that the president was actually in the White House loop. On the second side, it is wrong for the president of the United States, who has the right, obviously, to declassify material, to declassify it selectively in order to buttress phony arguments to go to war, and not declassify the counter arguments. And it is wrong for the president to do it in a way that attacks people politically. That’s what this was for. This was not a declassification in order to really educate America. This was a declassification order to mislead America, in order to mislead them about that yellow cake from Nigeria, the uranium material, and in order to buttress their phony argument about the war. And I think it’s a disgrace. The fact is...
MR. RUSSERT: But it’s not—it’s not illegal.
SEN. KERRY: Well, the president has the right, obviously, to declassify. Whether he has the right to declassify for these kinds of political purposes, I don’t know. Let me read you what his father said. Do you know what his father said? George Herbert Walker Bush said in 1991 at the dedication of the George Bush CIA headquarters, he said, “Even though I’m a tranquil guy now at this stage of my life, I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious of traitors.”
MR. RUSSERT: But there’s no one suggesting...
SEN. KERRY: George Herbert Walker—no.
MR. RUSSERT: ...there’s no one suggesting that President Bush revealed the name...
SEN. KERRY: No, absolutely nothing. But one thing led to another, Tim. This administration did reveal the name. We know repeatedly now from the Fitzpatrick documents that not only Scooter Libby but Karl Rove and others told the name to people. They were using the name, and, and I’m—I just think all Americans are tired of this. We now have evidence in a court in San Francisco that documents show that they were eavesdropping through I think it was AOL, that they were getting into American accounts. So there’s now evidence, not just of foreign eavesdropping surveillance, but of domestic eavesdropping surveillance on a blanket basis.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Russ Feingold, your Democratic colleague from Wisconsin, said the president should be censured for his eavesdropping program because he did not seek authority that Feingold insists is demanded by statute. Would you vote to censure President Bush?
SEN. KERRY: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: What would be the penalty?
SEN. KERRY: The penalty is the censure itself, is the reprimand by the United State Congress for action that is inappropriate.
MR. RUSSERT: Did he violate the Constitution?
SEN. KERRY: He violated the law, in my judgment.
MR. RUSSERT: Is that impeachable?
SEN. KERRY: Well, I think this impeachment talk is a waste of time. I don’t want to go down that road. What I want to do is get to the things that really matter to Americans. You know, all this, this politics is driving people nuts. Now a censure for inappropriate behavior is appropriate, but you know what they really want us to do? They want us to get something done for America. This is a country that—I mean, I saw this when I was running for office. There’s a great optimism in America. There’s a great sort of tenacity in the American people. And they’re sick and tired of the bickering in Washington. They want us to do health care for Americans. They want us to get the deficit down. They want us to...
MR. RUSSERT: Health care. Governor Romney, Governor Romney did it in Massachusetts.
SEN. KERRY: And it’s terrific. Well, Governor Romney, I hope, will sign the bill that the legislature’s been working on for quite a few years. And...
MR. RUSSERT: Bipartisan. Let me show you what’s happening in Washington. Let me show you what’s happening in Washington. This is The Washington Post, hardly an organ for Republican views.
SEN. KERRY: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: This is their editorial about immigration reform. And here it is: “Democrats - whether their motive was partisan advantage or legitimate fear of a bad bill emerging from conference with the House - are the ones who refused, in the end, to proceed with debate on amendments, which is, after all, how legislation gets made. The unfortunate result is that the momentum toward balanced reform my be lost. ‘The Democratic leadership played politics with the prospect of 10 million immigrants getting on a path to citizenship,’ said Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigration group. ‘It seems that Democratic leaders wanted an issue, not a bill.’” Your colleague, Ted Kennedy, said the politics got in front of the policy. Why not have a vote on these issues?
SEN. KERRY: Yeah. But let me tell you whose politics. You always, historically—I’ve been here 22 years now, Ted Kennedy’s been here 44 years—you reach agreements that are bipartisan, where you get a majority in the Senate that is in favor of something, and that majority of the Senate agrees on many occasions that there will not be outside amendments that change with that agreement is. That’s what happened. They reached an agreement, and Senator Frist and the Republicans were unable to hold their part of the agreement. There’s nothing new in the—in the, in a, you know, in the majority of the Senate coming to agreement on a piece of legislation. And I believe that if Senator Frist and the Republicans had not had their own internal squabble, we would have had an immigration bill that would be done today based on the agreement that a majority of the Senate came to.
MR. RUSSERT: And the Democrats didn’t play politics at all?
SEN. KERRY: Well, the Democrats were not going to allow amendments that were going to undo the agreement that had been reached. That’s a normal procedure in the United States Senate. And I think it was a valid one. When you shake hands on an agreement, you say, “We’re delivering on this agreement.” And it happens all the time in the Senate, that people band together and don’t allow amendments to undo what the majority reached as an agreement.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think it can be put back together?
SEN. KERRY: I hope it can. We desperately need to do this for the country and all of us.
Look, the system is broken. Americans are right to be frustrated about people crossing the border illegally. People are being hired illegally. Companies are breaking the law every single day. We need to crack down. But we also need to understand that kids who’ve been born in the United States of an illegal immigrant are American, and we’re not going to be a country that separates people who’ve been here for 20 years and paid their taxes and have been good members of a community and stayed out of trouble and contributing to the well-being of our country. And so we have to have a balance, Tim, and that’s what I think people are finding. That’s part of the optimism and the sort of broadly shared values of this country which people would like to see Washington reflect, rather than this bickering.
Look, I will offer to the president—they have never, ever called me and asked me, “What should we do in Iraq?” Maybe they’ve read my speeches and they know what I’ve said. But we’ve never had a conversation. This should be bipartisan. We need to find a solution for our country. This is not about politics. It’s about our soldiers, it’s about our nation, it’s about our vital national security interests. I believe if we get tough together with the Iraqi government, we can get a real government. I believe we can withdraw our troops and stand up the, the, the Iraqi forces, and I believe, ultimately, we have to get the stakeholders of the region to be part of this. If we don’t, this administration is courting disaster.
MR. RUSSERT: Are you going to run for president in ‘08?
SEN. KERRY: I don’t know. I’ll tell you this. It was an unbelievable privilege to be the nominee of my party. And the issues that I fought for, Tim, every one of them—health care for Americans, jobs here, a more competitive America, a stronger America, to be safer in the world—all those issues are as alive today as they were when I ran and I’m looking at it hard.
MR. RUSSERT: When’s decision time?
SEN. KERRY: Sometime the end of this year.
MR. RUSSERT: The Boston Globe, your hometown paper, did an article on this subject. They quoted Don Fowler, the former chairman of the Democratic Committee, and he said in the party, “Many in the party remain upset about Kerry’s inability in 2004 to refine his policy positions into a coherent vision, a shortcoming that crystallized with his statement that he voted for Iraq war funding before he voted against it.” Fair criticism?
SEN. KERRY: Well, as I said in the debate with the president, I made a mistake in the way that I talked about the war, but the president made a mistake in going to war. Now, which is worse? I could have done a better job in the campaign explaining what I meant. I voted against it because I believed we should pay for it, and because they didn’t have a plan. And our mistake was one of a campaign strategy of not going out and explaining that. I voted out of principle, and I will continue to vote out of principle.
I have a short plan for America, Tim, and I—you know, it’s called, “Tell the truth, fire the incompetents, get out of Iraq, have health care for all Americans.” These are pretty simple messages, and they’re worth fighting for today.
MR. RUSSERT: Joe Klein has a new book out, and he writes in Time magazine today that when you heard about the prison torture at Abu Ghraib, your instinct was to say something, but your political consultants urged you to take a focus group. And the focus group came back with a mixed message, and therefore you remained silent, never raised the issue in your acceptance speech or any of the three presidential debates. Is that true?
SEN. KERRY: I know nothing about a focus group being ordered, I had no knowledge of it, didn’t order a focus group to be ordered, and I did speak out on Abu Ghraib. I asked for Donald Rumsfeld to resign. I called for his resignation, I talked about not having accountability up and down the line. I talked about the fact that in Abu Ghraib, the, the, the soldiers at the lower end were paying the price, not the people at the higher end. And I talked about its immorality in any number of locations.
MR. RUSSERT: What was the biggest mistake you made, the most important lesson you learned from the presidential race?
SEN. KERRY: Tim, I can go down that road and we can spend a lot of time talking about it. I, I—let me just say this: I made some mistakes. I know what they are and I take responsibility for them. My campaign, I take responsibility. I think the most important thing would have been to spend more money, if we could have, on the, you know, advertising and responding to some of the attacks. But we...
MR. RUSSERT: The swift boat ads?
SEN. KERRY: Yeah, but we—people forget, we had a 13-week general election; they had an eight-week general election. We had the same pot of money. We had to harbor our resources in a different way, and we didn’t have the same freedom. I think the biggest mistake was probably not going outside the federal financing so we could have controlled our own message.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator John Kerry, we thank you for joining us and sharing your views.
SEN. KERRY: Thank you, sir.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, immigration. The debate continues in the halls of Congress, and all across the country. Three congressmen with very different views are next, debating immigration.
MR. RUSSERT: The debate over illegal immigration after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Welcome, all, to MEET THE PRESS. Let’s go right to it.
Immigration. The House has passed the bill, the Senate is gridlocked. This is how the House bill—named after its primary sponsor, Congressman Sensenbrenner—from Wisconsin, is described, “The [Sensenbrenner] bill passed in the House in December. Focused exclusively on security and enforcement, it has sparked protests nationwide. The bill treats an illegal alien’s mere presence in the country - currently only a civil violation - as a felony punishable by a year and a day in jail and establishes mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders. Its sweeping language would make giving even humanitarian assistance to an illegal immigrant a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. Fines for an employer who hires illegal immigrants ... would be increased to $5,000- $25,000. Criminal penalties for repeat offenders could include a minimum of a year in jail up from a maximum of six months. Among the border enhancements: a 700-mile double fence along part of the 2,000-mile frontier with Mexico.”
Congressman Gutierrez, what’s wrong with that?
REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ (D-IL): Well, I think the bill misses the point. We do need enforcement, but we also need compassion. We need a comprehensive bill, one that takes into account that there are 11 million undocumented workers currently in the United States. And those that have come here to work, to contribute, paying their taxes, I think they should be able to earn a legal pathway towards permanent residency and, should they decide, towards citizenship. It’s the right thing to do.
Let me just say that we need to be comprehensive. Enforcement is important and our border is important. And I guess when I look at it, I say to myself, “The Congress of the United States, the federal government, doesn’t have the political will, nor could it ever really commit the requisite resources to deport 11 million people. So therefore, the only sane, sensible, compassionate thing to do is to integrate them fully into the fabric of our society. These undocumented immigrants are our neighbors, our co-workers, their children go to school with our children, they drive on the same expressways, they play in the same play yards as our children do. They’re part of the fabric of our society, and they’re necessary to the economic well-being of our country. So let’s include them. I agree enforcement is key and security is key, but let’s do it comprehensively, let’s do—let’s have a holistic approach to this situation.
MR. RUSSERT: Congressman Bonilla, you voted for the Sensenbrenner bill, do you really want to cut off humanitarian assistance to illegal immigrants?
REP. HENRY BONILLA (R-TX): Well, we have a crisis along the Mexican border right now, a state of emergency as declared by a bipartisan group of Texas House members just last fall. You know, we’ve had almost 200,000 OTMs—the government categorizes OT “other, other than Mexicans”—along the Mexican border. We have infiltrators coming in from the Mideast, from China, gang members from Central America that are moving into communities across the country. The drug cartels are, are confronting law enforcement along the border. The governors of, of New Mexico and Arizona have declared a state of emergency. Governor Perry, in my opinion, in Texas, the only reason he hasn’t done it is because he’s of the same political party as, as George W. Bush. We have, again, our, our ranchers along the border can no longer go out and even check on their cattle without having armed guards. We have an absolute crisis down there. A lot of us want to support a guest worker plan down the road, but first and foremost we have to secure the border.
MR. RUSSERT: But if an illegal immigrant is working on a farm or a ranch in Texas, and cuts his arm or hand off they should not be given medical assistance, and they would be fined, whoever treated them, for violating the law that you voted for.
REP. BONILLA: The plight of many illegal aliens—and by the way, of course, our hospitals are compassionate and will continue to serve people who need help—but the plight...
MR. RUSSERT: Would that be breaking the—would that be breaking law?
REP. BONILLA: It probably would be, but the hospitals are not going to be held accountable. But first and foremost, the plight of a lot of these illegal aliens, a lot of people want to—the demonstrators and critics—want to blame our country for their problems. You know, these dysfunctional, oppressive, in many cases, governments where these people flee, flee from are the, the ones that are responsible for the unfortunate situation these people are in, and they’re not doing a darned thing to help their own people.
MR. RUSSERT: Congressman Hayworth, let me bring you into the conversation. Eleven million illegal immigrants. You voted, you voted against this bill saying it wasn’t tough enough. Let’s go to Arizona. A high school kid comes in—comes to your congressional office and says, “My mama and my papa are from Mexico, but I was born here. I’m an illegal—I’m legal, I’m an American citizen. Why do you want to send my mama and papa back to Mexico?”
REP. J.D. HAYWORTH (R-AZ): You know, Tim, I’m so glad you asked that question, because it gives us the chance to clear up one of the common misperceptions, and that is under the law when a deportation hearing goes on the judge has to take into account the sentiments of a legal citizen. And so that student’s comments would be taken into account in a deportation hearing. But moreover, I write about...
MR. RUSSERT: But you’re against birthright citizenship.
REP. HAYWORTH: Well, well, that’s what I want to talk about because here’s how absurd the situation has got. And I write about it in my book, “Whatever it Takes.” There’s a situation where an illegal was convicted of assault. He is in prison and he maintains his hope is that he will be able to stay in America because he fathered an illegitimate child. The fact is, the 14th Amendment was passed and ratified by the states to guarantee citizenship for freed slaves, not the children of foreigners, and we need to take a realistic look at the notion of birthright citizenship.
MR. RUSSERT: But realistically, is it possible to deport 11 million people out of America?
REP. HAYWORTH: Tim, we didn’t get into this situation overnight, and we’re not going to solve it overnight. The fact is, laws follow human nature. That’s why I called for enforcement first, because when you for—enforce existing laws and close loopholes that both unscrupulous employers and illegals are, are utilizing right now, when you do that, human nature for everybody, regardless of national origin, kicks in. And when people say, “Well, wait a minute. The magnet of employment illegally has dried up. And, and the social services are not there. Maybe I’ll relocate back home.” We have press accounts of Mexican citizens who work here illegally returning to their homeland for family celebrations and for holidays. The sad fact is, we have a porous border. This is first and foremost and always about national security in a time of war, and the longer we neglect our borders, north and south, and our ports of entry, the more our nation is in peril.
MR. RUSSERT: Congressman Gutierrez, Thomas Tancredo, the congressman from Colorado, said “The illegal immigrants are a scourge that threaten the very future of this nation.”
REP. GUTIERREZ: And I—let me just share with, with my colleagues here today, look, if you’re here as an immigrant to this country and you’re violating the law, I’ll be the first one to look for measures to deport you. But if you’re here working, if you’re here contributing, I look at this and I say to myself a couple of things. Who picks the tomatoes in Florida? Who picks the grapes in California? Who does most of the agricultural work? Well, eight—first and foremost it’s immigrants. And the vast majority of them, according to our own Justice Department, according to our Department of Labor, are undocumented workers. That’s the kind of work that they come here to do and to contribute, and they contribute in so many aspects of our economy that they’ve become an essential part. So what we’re saying is, let’s do it comprehensively, J.D., so that we can have the kind of border security that you and I agree is essential. But if you’re going to have border security, then what about—the Cato Institute estimates that millions of people come to this country on legal visas and overstay those visas every year. So 40 percent of the undocumented, of the 11 million, didn’t come across the border. What we need to do is to fix a way that we have a biometric card, that we have a way that’s enforceable so that employers know who’s coming here and working in this country.
MR. RUSSERT: Nick Kristof, the liberal columnist in The New York Times, writes today and quotes two studies saying that illegal immigration holds down wages for Americans and in fact, increases the unemployment rate for Americans because the illegal immigrants will do work for a lower wage.
REP. GUTIERREZ: And I’m ready to say that once you incorporate them fully into the fabric of our society, I fully expect that wages will increase, but as long as our Labor Department—and I think this is very important, Tim. Our Labor Department says that each year during the next five years, we will create half a million low-wage, low-skill, very-little-training jobs. Those kind of jobs are going to continue to be created in our economy. The question is, as we have a more sophisticated, more educated work force, who’s going to do that work? The same people that have always done that work, Tim, new immigrants to this country who are ready to take those jobs, bring themselves up by their bootstraps and then their children and future generations have a better opportunity in this country.
MR. RUSSERT: Congressman Bonilla, you are the grandson of a Mexican migrant farm worker. These are the pictures America saw with demonstrators in the street. Some of them are holding Mexican flags. Not U.S. flags, but they’re waving Mexican flags. There they are, person after person. George Skelton in the Los Angeles Times wrote a column which said this, “Democratic consultant Darry Sragow puts it this way: ‘The Mexican flag visually says, “I’m not one of you. I’m from there.” If you wave the American flag, you’re saying, “I’m one of you. Please help me.” The other message says, “I’m going to get in your face.”’” Do you agree with that?
REP. BONILLA: Well, I think when you come here and wave a Mexican flag in our face in a country that’s giving a lot of these people an opportunity that they’ve never had before, I think a lot of Americans are insulted, whether they’re first-, second-, third-, fourth- or fifth-generation Americans. Again, let’s remember that if I went to Mexico and wanted to demonstrate and wave the American flag, you’d be arrested and they’d throw the key away and lock—and you’d never be heard from again.
Again, a lot of these countries from which these people come are fleeing oppressive governments that have never given them an opportunity. I get so sick and tired on occasion from hearing from Mexican officials who talk about how illegals are treated in this country when in fact, they don’t do anything to lift a finger to improve economic conditions for people when they’re in their country. And then when we arrest them, in many cases on this side, they don’t lift a finger to try to take them back when we want to deport them.
MR. RUSSERT: Should the, should the demonstrators lose the American flag—or the Mexican flag?
REP. GUTIERREZ: Here’s what I say. I come from Chicago. St. Patrick’s Day, there’s lots of Irish flags, but we color our river green. We celebrate the diversity. In terms of this debate and this discussion, what I have done, I have gone on the radio, I have gone on TV and I have said, “Check the Mexican, Polish, Irish flags at the coat check. Make sure that you do not give up your essential message, which is that you’re proud to be here in this country and that you embrace that flag.”
Moreover, Tim, hundreds of thousands of legal immigrants, permanent residents, serve in our armed forces and have died and have shown a lot of valor and a lot of courage and paid the ultimate tax to this country with their lives. And I think we should balance that. I think what you’re seeing is kind of a visceral reaction to Sensenbrenner that said, “You’re all criminals and we want you to each tell on each other and deport each other and help the government.” And this criminalization has really brought about this kind. So I would say, check—I understand why you’re bringing them up. I understand the celebratory nature of it, but it doesn’t help in this debate.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me quote from your book, Congressman Hayworth, “I cannot agree with the president’s approach to illegal immigration. We must not surrender to the illegal invasion of our country. A guest worker plan is unfair to American workers and would lead to a permanent underclass of workers separated from the rest of Americans by language, culture and income.” Then let me quote to you from the former chairman of the Republican Party, Ed Gillespie, who writes this, “The Republican Party cannot become an anti-immigration party. Our majority already rests too heavily on white voters, given that current demographic voting percentages will not allow us to hold our majority in the future. Between 2000 and 2004, President Bush increased his support in the Hispanic community by nine percentage points. Had he not, John Kerry would be president today.” Is—are your views risking a broad Republican Party and frankly, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, states that could go Democratic in 2008, because of the perception of your policies?
REP. HAYWORTH: No. I will tell you quite the contrary is true, Tim. As I write in my book, let’s take a look back to 2004. Proposition 200 on the ballot in Arizona, to deprive illegals of social benefits, and it passed overwhelmingly. And as the Arizona Daily Star reported, it passed with a majority of Hispanic votes as well. The fact is, Hispanics voted in greater numbers for Proposition 200 than they did for President Bush, who received 43 percent of the Hispanic vote in Arizona.
But also understand this: We make a mistake politically when we assume the myth of the monolith, that everyone who has a Hispanic last name instantly embraces the notion of illegal immigration. That is not the case, and the fact is we have to have a policy—you know, from the political point of view on this, Tim, you don’t have the have the legislative legerdemain of Lyndon Johnson to understand the one thing everybody agrees on right now is enforcement. That is what should be done, that is what the American people want. You know, you talked earlier...
MR. RUSSERT: Why not do both?
REP. HAYWORTH: Well, because this is not a traditional situation where you can take one from column A and one from column B and live happily ever after. I, I, initially in my book, I was a guest worker advocate. But the more I looked at the problem, Tim, the more I realized that a guest worker plan at this point in time is the wrong plan at the wrong time for the wrong reason, because it puts the cart before the horse, and we end up with a situation like we had in 1986 with the last amnesty: widespread document fraud and an increase in illegal immigration. We do not want to set up a 21st-century caste system enshrined in American legislation that separates and puts a subclass into our society separated by language, culture and substandard income.
MR. RUSSERT: Here’s how the American people feel, according to Time magazine: Building a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border, favor 56 percent, oppose 40; deporting all illegal immigrants back to their home countries, favor 47, oppose 49.
Should majority rule and, and build a fence, but also not deport the illegal immigrants that are here? Put them on a path by paying fines, paying back taxes, learning English and go to the back of the line for a green card?
REP. BONILLA: Well, that is something that I think, across the board here, we want to do. But again, to dealing with border security, is an issue that—it’s like having a fire in the back of your house that you need to put out first before you talk about who, who you’re going to let in the front door.
Now let me add something to what J.D. was talking about. This issue of border security is not about, about ethnicity. I sit there on occasion with 10 or 12 sheriffs from my district, many of which are Democrats with last names like Reyes, with last names like Herrera and Lucio. And they are crying out for border security as well. So again, this is not an issue about being anti-Mexican...
MR. RUSSERT: So do both.
REP. BONILLA: We can. But again, first deal with the crisis at hand, and then deal with the guest worker issue. I support that, and we, we need to put a plan in place to, to not only take care of the workers that need these jobs, but the employers who need to fill the jobs. But again, when you have something that’s a—it’s an acute situation, that’s threatening national security with, again, the people that I mentioned earlier that are infiltrating our country and invading our, our nation, we need to deal with that first.
MR. RUSSERT: But if the president and the Senate both come up with a bill that does both, could you accept it?
REP. BONILLA: I could accept it if there is first some progress made on border security. And let me say categorically that as it stands now, unless we do see some progress, the House of Representatives will not take up a comprehensive bill.
REP. GUTIERREZ: Let me—let me just say this: The first thing, when Senator Kennedy, McCain, I, Kolbe and Flake drafted the legislation, and introduced it, the first bicameral, bipartisan approach, comprehensive approach to immigration reform, first thing we did, if you read the first sections of our bill: enforcement, enforcement, enforcement, enforcement. And then when we gave a pathway to legalization for undocumented workers, the first thing we said was you’ve got to pay a $2,000 dollar fine; B, you have to give us your fingerprints. We want to make sure that no one that’s been arrested and convicted of a felony is allowed a pathway to stay here in this country. We want people who have followed the law.
And then we said pay your back taxes, but more importantly, read our legislation. If the American public could only see—when we introduced it last year we said we want you to learn English, we want to you learn about civics classes so you can learn about our Constitution, so that you can weave yourself fully into the fabric. That’s a pathway.
Lastly, let’s remember, we have 11 million undocumented workers living in the United States. We don’t know who they are, we don’t know where they send their kids, we don’t know where they live. Shouldn’t we allow them to come out of the shadow of darkness, so that we have more security in our nation?
MR. RUSSERT: Before we go, Congressman Hayworth, you are locked in a very tight reelection battle with the former mayor of Tampe, a fellow by the name of...
REP. HAYWORTH: Tempe.
MR. RUSSERT: Tempe. Fellow by the name of Harry Mitchell. One of the issues that has emerged is your relationship with Jack Abramoff, the Washington lobbyist. The Center for Responsible Politics says you’re number one in receiving money from Abramoff or his associates. Do you regret having interacted with Abramoff, and will you in fact give all that money back?
REP. HAYWORTH: You know, I’m so glad you raised that, because I took the step of writing the tribes that support me. We should point out, when I was elected to Congress, I have more American Indians in my district, nearly one out of every four of my constituents was American Indian, I’m part of a Native American caucus, the co-chair. The real story would have been if the tribes were not supporting me. But you know what I did? I wrote the tribes who enlisted Abramoff and his associates as lobbyists, I said, “Do you want your campaign contributions back?” And they said, “No.” They said, “You have consistently stood up for the sovereign rights of Native peoples, and we respect that, whoever our advocate is in Washington.”
MR. RUSSERT: But perception, corruption big issue this year.
REP. HAYWORTH: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Arizona Republic also pointing out you have a PAC called TEAM set up, raised over $600,000 dollars from special interest groups, many who have legislative interests before your committee, and your wife received over $100,000 dollars, nearly 20 percent of the PAC, in salary. Is...
REP. HAYWORTH: Over—gosh, over almost a decade.
MR. RUSSERT: But...
REP. HAYWORTH: If we, if we took your salary, Tim, over 10 years, it’d probably be more than that, a lot more than that, I’m sure.
MR. RUSSERT: But I’m not a public official who oversees legislation.
REP. HAYWORTH: Oh, but you’re up for public scrutiny.
MR. RUSSERT: Would, would, would the perception of that cause you to perhaps abolish your PAC?
REP. HAYWORTH: You know what’s interesting, Tim? Perception and reality. I welcome the chance to talk about this issue just as I welcomed the chance today to talk about the number one issue in America, illegal immigration. Ultimately, the voters will decide on all these issues. And they’ll decide from this framework, not the unfair blanketing and stereotyping or the most dramatic case people can make. I’ve done nothing illegal or unethical. The fact is following the law should apply to every American. That’s why I embrace enforcement first here, because reality must be followed, not simple perception or talking points. And the fact is, at the end of the day, I believe I will be reelected, I welcome the support of Arizonans, and despite the wishful thinking of many, I’m going to be around for a while.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, Harry Mitchell, the former mayor of Tempe, has a different view.
REP. HAYWORTH: And I know he appreciates your plug this morning, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, we’re going to—no, you’re here to talk as well.
REP. HAYWORTH: Well, thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: We’re going to, we’re going to follow this race...
REP. HAYWORTH: Good.
MR. RUSSERT: ...Haywood vs. Mitchell, very closely.
REP. HAYWORTH: Thanks. Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Congressmen, all, thank you. We’ll be right back.
REP. BONILLA: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Don’t forget, you can now watch the entire hour of MEET THE PRESS whenever, wherever you want. Our MEET THE PRESS webcast posted each Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern on 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.