While discussing immigration on CNN's Larry King Live, a group of the cable channel's political reporters and contributors, which host Larry King called "the best political team on television," touted President Bush's support for the bipartisan Senate bill that would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and suggested falsely that his position on immigration has been consistent. In fact, before Bush came out in support of the Senate bill, he had praised a competing House bill and, according to the House bill's author, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, pushed for the inclusion of some of its most controversial provisions, including one making it a felony to be in the United States illegally and another making it a felony to provide assistance to illegal immigrants.
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On the May 22 edition his CNN program, Larry King hosted a roundtable discussion featuring several of the cable channel's political reporters and contributors -- which, repeating an assertion frequently made by Situation Room host Wolf Blitzer, he called the "best political team on TV" -- to discuss a number of current issues, including the 2006 midterm and 2008 presidential elections and the recent debate over immigration reform. While discussing immigration, however, several of the panelists touted President Bush's support for the bipartisan Senate bill providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and suggested falsely that his position on immigration has been consistent. In fact, before Bush came out in support of the Senate bill, he had praised a competing House bill and, according to the House bill's author, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), pushed for the inclusion of some of its most controversial provisions, including one making it a felony to be in the United States illegally and another making it a felony to provide assistance to any illegal immigrants.
During the discussion, CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley asserted that Bush "really does believe in his heart of hearts" that the Senate bill sponsored by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and John R. McCain (R-AZ) "is the right thing to do." CNN chief national correspondent John King agreed: "Candy's dead right. This is what the president believes. He believes this issue." Blitzer also characterized Bush as being "basically with Kennedy, with McCain, with Senator [Charles] Hagel [R-NE], [Sen.] Mel Martinez [R-FL]. He's basically with the bipartisan bill, the compromise that's been worked out in the Senate."
Blitzer went on to note the difference between the Senate and House bills but did not note that when the House passed its version in December 2005, Bush "applaud[ed] the House for passing a strong immigration bill," and touted it as "help[ing] us protect our borders and crack down on illegal entry into the United States." Only later did Bush take a position in support of the Senate's approach.
As Media Matters for America has noted, in several recent instances, media figures -- many of whom repeatedly criticized Democrats for any similarly perceived shift -- have failed to point out Bush's varying positions on immigration reform.
From the May 22 edition of CNN's Larry King Live:
LARRY KING: Tonight, can the president catch a break on Iraq or immigration and bounce back in the polls? Will Republicans run away from the president in the midterms? Do Democrats have a campaign slogan besides, "We're not the GOP"? Plus, the FBI raids a congressman's office and finds a big stash of cold cash at his home. Is there a culture of corruption on Capitol Hill? That and more with the inside scoop on Washington's hot-button headlines from the best political team on TV -- next on Larry King Live.
CROWLEY: Look, I think that, you know, John's right. Overwhelming numbers of Americans believe there ought to be some pathway to citizenship. The problem here is that the very voters that George Bush needs to come out and vote are turned off by this. So, it's -- it's reverse politics. I mean, you've got to believe that this is something George Bush really does believe in his heart of hearts is the right thing to do, because it hurts him politically, because the conservatives are upset about it. And those are the people that come out and vote in midterms.
LARRY KING: This -- the -- the Senate bill, is that the bill the president supports.
BLITZER: Yes. The president basically --
LARRY KING: That's his bill, the Kennedy --
BLITZER: He's basically -- he's basically with Kennedy, with McCain, with Senator Hagel, Mel Martinez. He's basically with the bipartisan bill, the compromise that's been worked out in the Senate. And he's probably going to get his way in the Senate. The question is the House version, which has already passed, is very different. It's basically just a, you know, protect the border. There's no real guest-worker program, no path toward citizenship. So, what they have to do is then go into a conference -- the House and the Senate -- see if they can forge some sort of common ground, which is not going to be easy, given where the conservatives are in the Congress.
LARRY KING: John, this is nothing new for the president. This has been always the way he's believed --
JOHN KING: Larry, they were having meetings on September 10, 2001, to try to move this issue forward as soon as possible. And then September 11th came, and this debate, immigration debate, became hostage to the post-9-11 fallout and the changing political climate in the country. As for what happens right now, Candy's dead right. This is what the president believes. He believes this issue.
LARRY KING: And always has.
JOHN KING: He has since his days as governor of Texas. And, so, he's doing this despite the political risks in his own party.