Despite reversal, NY Times claimed McCain's advocacy for border security first is not a "change[]" in "his basic position"

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

A New York Times article about Sen. John McCain's speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference asserted that on the issue of immigration, McCain "has not changed his basic position." Similarly, National Public Radio's Mara Liasson stated, "McCain hasn't changed his position on providing illegal aliens with a pathway to citizenship, but he now has a new approach: secure the border first." In fact, McCain's current support for securing the border first represents a reversal of his prior position.

In a February 8 New York Times article, reporters Elisabeth Bumiller and David D. Kirkpatrick wrote that during Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) February 7 speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), he addressed "his efforts last year to pass legislation that would have loosened immigration laws." Bumiller and Kirkpatrick added: "McCain has since said he would secure the nation's borders before putting some illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship, but he has not changed his basic position." Additionally, in a February 8 report on CPAC for National Public Radio's Morning Edition, senior political correspondent Mara Liasson claimed that "McCain hasn't changed his position on providing illegal aliens with a pathway to citizenship, but he now has a new approach: secure the border first." In fact, McCain's current support for securing the border first represents a reversal of his prior position on the question of whether security can be disaggregated from other provisions in comprehensive immigration reform legislation. In March 2006, McCain asserted that "[w]hile strengthening border security is an essential component of national security, it must also be accompanied by immigration reforms," adding that without reforms, "people will risk their lives to cross our borders -- no matter how formidable the barriers -- and most will be successful."

Further, in the Times article, Bumiller and Kirkpatrick wrote that "[c]onservatives fault Mr. McCain for what they consider a long list of transgressions," noting that he "once call[ed] certain evangelical leaders 'agents of intolerance.' " McCain called Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson "agents of intolerance" during his 2000 presidential run. However, the Times did not mention that McCain stated on the April 2, 2006, edition of NBC's Meet the Press that he no longer believed Falwell was an "agent of intolerance." Subsequently, McCain delivered the commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University in May 2006.

In his February 7 speech to CPAC, McCain asserted that "[o]n the issue of illegal immigration, a position which provoked the outspoken opposition of many conservatives, I stood my ground aware that my position would imperil my campaign." After claiming that "we failed" on immigration, McCain stated: "I accept that, and have pledged that it would be among my highest priorities to secure our borders first, and only after we achieved widespread consensus that our borders are secure, would we address other aspects of the problem in a way that defends the rule of law and does not encourage another wave of illegal immigration."

Similarly, in a January 27 appearance on Meet the Press, McCain claimed that he would secure the border first, and only after that would he pursue other changes to immigration laws:

McCAIN: The lesson is they want the border secured first. That's the lesson. I come from a border state. I know how to fix those borders with walls, with UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles], with sensors, with cameras, with vehicle barriers. They want the border secured first -- and I will do that. And, as president, I will have the border state governors secure -- certify those borders are secured. And then, we will have a temporary worker program with tamper-proof biometric documents, and any employer who employs someone in any other circumstances will be prosecuted.

By contrast, in a March 30, 2006, Senate floor statement, McCain said: "While strengthening border security is an essential component of national security, it must also be accompanied by immigration reforms." He added: "[A]s long as there are jobs available in this country for people who live in poverty and hopelessness in other countries, those people will risk their lives to cross our borders -- no matter how formidable the barriers -- and most will be successful." He then explained why he thought a temporary worker program was necessary to deal with this "reality": "Our reforms need to reflect that reality, and helps us separate economic immigrants from security risks. We need to establish a temporary worker program that permits workers from other countries -- to the extent they are needed -- to fill jobs that would otherwise go unfilled." From the statement:

McCAIN: The Border Security provisions under the Leader's bill and the Judiciary Committee's bill provide sound proposals to promote strong enforcement and should be part of any final bill. However, I do not believe the Senate should or will pass an "enforcement only" bill. Our experiences with our current immigration system have proven that outdated or unrealistic laws will never be fully enforceable, regardless of every conceivable border security improvement we make. Despite an increase of border patrol agents from 3,600 to 10,000, despite quintupling the Border Patrol budget, and despite the employment of new technologies and tactics -- all to enforce current immigration laws -- illegal immigration drastically increased during the 1990s.

While strengthening border security is an essential component of national security, it must also be accompanied by immigration reforms. We have seen time and again that as long as there are jobs available in this country for people who live in poverty and hopelessness in other countries, those people will risk their lives to cross our borders -- no matter how formidable the barriers -- and most will be successful.

Our reforms need to reflect that reality, and help us separate economic immigrants from security risks. We need to establish a temporary worker program that permits workers from other countries -- to the extent they are needed -- to fill jobs that would otherwise go unfilled.

From the February 8 New York Times article:

Conservatives fault Mr. McCain for what they consider a long list of transgressions: voting against a big tax cut and a Constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, championing campaign finance laws that put advertising restrictions on independent organizations, pushing an immigration overhaul that many conservatives call amnesty for illegal immigrants, and once calling certain evangelical leaders "agents of intolerance."

Mr. McCain's plea for support reflected the Conservative Political Action Committee's growing centrality to the Republican Party. It was founded decades ago by a small band of Barry Goldwater supporters who railed from the outside against the Republican Party of Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford.

But since the election of Ronald Reagan, the group has become an increasingly central focal point for party activists, a symbol of how much the lines have blurred between the conservative movement and the Republican Party. Mr. McCain was the only Republican primary contender to skip last year's conference. His absence earned him barbs throughout the conservative media, and his advisers have since said his decision was a mistake.

In his noticeably conciliatory remarks, Mr. McCain cataloged his record, which he said included support for tax cuts, a near quarter-century opposition to abortion rights and enthusiasm for judges who "take as their sole responsibility the enforcement of laws made by the people's elected representatives." He reminded the group that he had defended Mr. Bush's troop escalation in Iraq and vowed, if he became president, never to sign a bill that contains earmarks, the pet spending projects that lawmakers pursue in Congress.

He did not mention his bill to overhaul the nation's campaign finance system, which conservatives regard as an assault on free speech, but he did address his efforts last year to pass legislation that would have loosened immigration laws. Mr. McCain has since said he would secure the nation's borders before putting some illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship, but he has not changed his basic position.

"I stood my ground, aware that my position would imperil my campaign," Mr. McCain said.

He added: "While I and other Republican supporters of the bill were genuine in our intention to restore control of our borders, we failed, for various and understandable reasons, to convince Americans that we were. I accept that."

From the February 8 edition of NPR's Morning Edition:

LIASSON: McCain argued that he and conservatives agree more than they disagree. He pointed to his opposition to abortion, his desire to appoint conservative judges. Above all, he said, he intends to win the war in Iraq.

McCAIN [audio clip]: There is no other candidate who appreciates this more than I do just how awful war is. But I know that the cost in lives and treasure we would incur should we fail in Iraq will be far greater than the heartbreaking losses we have suffered today. And I will not allow that to happen.

LIASSON: But he didn't gloss over all those issues where conservatives believe he has been a heretic or worse.

McCAIN [audio clip]: I have held other positions that have not met with widespread agreement from conservatives. I won't pretend otherwise, nor would you permit me to forget it. On the issue of illegal immigration, a position which -- [crowd boos]

LIASSON: McCain hasn't changed his position on providing illegal aliens with a pathway to citizenship, but he now has a new approach: secure the border first.

Outside the ballroom, where McCain spoke, Ryan Hayden of Magnolia, Texas, says every four years, he gives money and time to help Republicans win the White House. But this year, if McCain is the nominee --

HAYDEN: I will do neither of those. I mean, I'm a conservative first, and I'm a Republican second.

Posted In
Immigration, Border Security, Immigration Reform
Network/Outlet
The New York Times
Person
Elisabeth Bumiller
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.