Ignoring Obama's actual statements, CNN and Fox News claimed Obama "waffled" on driver's licenses

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

CNN's Anderson Cooper and Gloria Borger, and Fox News' Megyn Kelly claimed that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) "waffled" during the Democratic presidential debate on the issue of driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. In fact, Obama stated: "Look, I have already said, I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety and that driver's licenses at the state level can make that happen." When debate moderator Wolf Blitzer asked him to respond "yes or no" to the question, "Do you support driver's licenses for illegal immigrants?" Obama answered, "Yes."

Following the November 15 Democratic presidential debate, CNN host Anderson Cooper and CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger claimed that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) "waffled" on the issue of driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants during the debate. Neither Anderson nor Borger offered any support for their claim that Obama had "waffled" on the issue and ignored Obama's statement during the debate reasserting his prior support for allowing licenses for undocumented immigrants. Obama said: "Look, I have already said, I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety and that driver's licenses at the state level can make that happen."

Additionally, Cooper claimed that "[a]fter not answering yes or no whether he supports a driver's license for illegal immigrants, he [Obama] did kind of give a longer answer," and aired a clip of Obama saying: "What we have to do is create a comprehensive solution to the problem. Now, I have already stated that as president I will make sure that we finally have the kind of border security that we need. That's step number one. Step number two is to take on employers. Right now, they -- an employer has more of a chance of getting hit by lightning than be prosecuted for hiring an undocumented worker." That clip, however, was actually from Obama's answer to the question that preceded debate moderator and CNN host Wolf Blitzer's questions about driver's licenses.

Similarly, on the November 16 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Politico editor-in-chief John Harris claimed that Obama "hadn't decided where he wants to be" on the driver's license issue, and said that he "did try and do a tap dance." Co-host Megyn Kelly responded: "Yeah, he waffled a bit last night." Neither Kelly nor Harris quoted from Obama's answer, and Fox News did not air any video of Obama's comments on driver's licenses during the segment.

CNN political contributor James Carville, identified by CNN as a former Clinton White House official but not as a supporter of Hillary Clinton for president, responded to Cooper's question -- "[D]id it interest you that Barack Obama kind of seemed to waffle on the question about supporting driver's licenses for illegal immigrants?" -- by saying: "Yeah, a little bit, it did. I mean, you had to know this question was coming."

From CNN's post-debate coverage:

COOPER: Back with our panel, former presidential advisers David Gergen and James Carville, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger, and CNN political contributor J.C. Watts, also a former congressman. Immigration a major talking point in this debate, which led to some dodging of some questions. James Carville, did it interest you that -- that Barack Obama kind of seemed to waffle on the question about supporting driver's licenses for illegal immigrants?

CARVILLE: Yeah, a little bit, it did. I mean, you had to know this question was coming. It wasn't like the question had come out of left field or something like that. It was a big issue in the previous debate. Any -- any debate prep would have had this. And I was a little surprised. His answer, if you look at the whole thing, it sort of made sense, but it was sort of convoluted in coming out, and particularly when they were trying to attack Senator Clinton for saying, you're trying to have it both ways. It looked like he -- he could have been a lot more concise in his answer.

I was -- I pick up on your point, and I was a little surprised that he wasn't a little more prepared and a little more concise on that.

COOPER: After not answering yes or no whether he supports a driver's license for illegal immigrants, he did kind of give a longer answer. Let's play some of that.

OBAMA [video clip]: What we have to do is create a comprehensive solution to the problem. Now, I have already stated that as president I will make sure that we finally have the kind of border security that we need. That's step number one. Step number two is to take on employers. Right now, they -- an employer has more of a chance of getting hit by lightning than be prosecuted for hiring an undocumented worker.

COOPER: Gloria Borger, his long answer basically stands in stark contrast to Hillary Clinton, who just said, no, she no longer -- she doesn't support driver's licenses for illegal immigrants.

BORGER: Right. And she knew she had to do that. And Wolf made it very clear that this was kind of just a yes-or-no answer. And what was sort of ironic was that Obama had come out at the beginning of the debate attacking Hillary for taking two weeks to come up with her position on driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, and then he still waffled and was very unclear at this debate.

That's the difference between a very experienced candidate, which you have in Hillary Clinton, and one which you don't in Barack Obama.

The Obama clip Cooper aired, however, was not in response to the issue of driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. It was actually from Obama's response to CNN anchor Campbell Brown's "more general[]" question about immigration that preceded Blitzer's specific questions about whether Obama supports driver's licenses for undocumented workers. Obama responded to Blitzer's questions by saying, in part: "Look, I have already said, I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety and that driver's licenses at the state level can make that happen." Moreover, Obama answered, "Yes," when Blitzer later asked him to respond "yes or no" to the question, "Do you support driver's licenses for illegal immigrants?"

From the November 15 debate:

BROWN: All right, let's talk about the issues. Senator Obama, I want to ask you about immigration. It's an important issue in this state in particular. There are between 100,000 to 200,000 illegal immigrants here in Nevada. And you supported various benefits for illegal immigrants, including driver's licenses and in-state college tuition. What do you say to those Americans who say they are losing out because you would give benefits to people who broke the laws of this country, who came here illegally?

And then more generally, as president, where do you draw the line when it comes to benefits for illegal immigrants?

OBAMA: I would say that they're justified in feeling frustrated because this administration, the Bush administration, has done nothing to control the problem that we have. We've had 5 million undocumented workers come over the borders since George Bush took office. It has become an extraordinary problem. And, the reason the American people are concerned is because they are seeing their own economic positions slip away. And, oftentimes, employers are exploiting these undocumented workers. They're not paying the minimum wage. They're not observing worker safety laws.

And, so what we have to do is create a comprehensive solution to the problem. Now, I have already stated that as president I will make sure that we finally have the kind of border security that we need. That's step number one. Step number two is to take on employers. Right now, an employer has more of a chance of getting hit by lightning than be prosecuted for hiring an undocumented worker. That has to change. They have to be held accountable.

[applause]

And when we do those things --

[applause]

When we do those things, I believe that we can take the undocumented workers, the illegal aliens who are here, get them out of the shadows, make sure that they are subject to a stiff penalty, make sure that they're learning English, make sure that they go to the back of the line so they're not getting an advantage over people who came here legally. And when we do that, I think that we can, instead of shedding all this heat, start shedding some light on the problem, and we can once again be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. That's what I intend to do as president of the United States.

BLITZER: All right. I want to just press you on this point, because it's a logical follow-up, and then I want to go and ask everyone. On the issue that apparently tripped up Senator Clinton earlier, the issue of driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, I take it, Senator Obama, you support giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. Is that right?

OBAMA: When I was a state senator in Illinois, I voted to require that illegal aliens get trained, get a license, get insurance to protect public safety. That was my intention.

[applause]

And -- but I have to make sure that people understand. The problem we have here is not driver's licenses. Undocumented workers don't come here to drive.

[laughter]

They don't go -- they're not coming here to go to the In-N-Out Burger. That's not the reason they're here. They're here to work. And so instead of being distracted by what has now become a wedge issue, let's focus on actually solving the problem that this administration, the Bush administration, has done nothing about it.

BLITZER: Well, let's go through everybody because I want to be precise. I want to make sure the viewers and those of us who are here fully understand all of your positions on this barring -- avoiding, assuming -- there isn't going to be comprehensive immigration reform.

Do you support or oppose driver's licenses for illegal immigrants?

OBAMA: I am not proposing that that's what we do.

What I'm saying is that we can't --

[laughter]

No, no, no, no. Look, I have already said, I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety and that driver's licenses at the state level can make that happen.

But what I also know --

BLITZER: All right --

OBAMA: But what I also know, Wolf, is that if we keep on getting distracted by this problem, then we are not solving it.

BLITZER: But -- because this is the kind of question that is sort of available for a yes or no answer.

[laughter]

Either you support it or you oppose it.

From the November 16 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:

KELLY: You know, the interesting thing about that debate on the driver's licenses is that at the last debate, Hillary Clinton was asked about it, she waffled on whether she was for it or against it --

HARRIS: Right.

KELLY: Then she came out and said she was for it, then she came out again and said she was against it, then Wolf Blitzer had them do a yes-or-no answer, are you for it or against it? And again she said, "No, I'm against it." But there was no follow-up, John. Wolf didn't really press her on that. Some people are saying she scored a lot of points last night because perhaps the moderators weren't tough enough on her in terms of following up. What's your take on that?

HARRIS: Well, look, the other campaigns are saying exactly that -- saying that CNN gave her a bit of a pass on that. She definitely has zig-zagged on this issue, but she clearly is where she needs to be - she's decided where she needs to be on this issue, which is a flat no. Obama, surprisingly, hadn't decided where he wants to be on that. He did try and do a tap dance.

KELLY: Yeah, he waffled a bit last night. Then there was Edwards, who was sort of pursuing his attack dog role that he's taken on as of late.

Posted In
Immigration, Effect on Social Services
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel, CNN
Person
Gloria Borger
Show/Publication
Anderson Cooper 360, America's Newsroom
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.