NPR's Mara Liasson asserted that Sen. John McCain, "while never abandoning his commitment to legalization, has begun emphasizing the importance of securing the borders." In fact, McCain's current position -- that "we've got to secure the borders first" -- is not just a change of "emphasi[s]"; it is at odds with his prior position that border security could not be disaggregated from other aspects of comprehensive immigration reform without being rendered ineffective.
In a July 9 report on Sens. Barack Obama's and John McCain's position on immigration, NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson asserted that "Obama took a swipe at McCain, who, while never abandoning his commitment to legalization, has begun emphasizing the importance of securing the borders." In fact, McCain's current position -- that "we've got to secure the borders first" -- is not just a change of "emphasi[s]"; it is at odds with his prior position that border security could not be disaggregated from other aspects of comprehensive immigration reform without being rendered ineffective.
As Media Matters for America has documented, 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." Asserting that "[o]ur reforms need to reflect that reality," McCain said, "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."
Liasson has previously discussed McCain's record on immigration without noting his flip-flop.
From the July 9 broadcast of NPR's Morning Edition:
STEVE INSKEEP (co-host): It's Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep. When Republican presidential candidate John McCain steps before Latino voters, one of his strengths is his record on immigration reform. McCain favored a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and he paid a heavy political price for that. His opponent, Barack Obama, looks at that same record and sees a weakness for Senator McCain. Obama emphasized McCain's record as both candidates spoke before a meeting of Latino leaders. It was called LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens. NPR's Mara Liasson reports.
LIASSON: On immigration reform, Obama and McCain are very similar. Both favor a path to citizenship for undocumented workers. Last year McCain took on his own party to push a bill in the Senate that did just that -- it didn't pass -- and yesterday McCain explained why.
McCAIN [audio clip]: Many Americans with good cause didn't believe us when we said we would secure our borders, so we failed in our efforts. We must prove to them that we can and will secure our borders first, while respecting the dignity and rights of citizens and legal residents of the United States of America.
LIASSON: Obama spoke later in the day and took a swipe at McCain, who, while never abandoning his commitment to legalization, has begun emphasizing the importance of securing the borders.
OBAMA [audio clip]: I want to give Senator McCain credit because he used to buck his party on immigration. He fought for comprehensive immigration reform. One of the bills that I co-sponsored, he was the lead. I admired him for it. But when he started running for his party's nomination, he abandoned his courageous stance, and said that he wouldn't even support his own legislation if it came up for a vote.
LIASSON: Obama is referring to this Republican primary debate when LA Times reporter Janet Hook pressed McCain repeatedly.
[begin audio clip]
HOOK: If your original proposal came to a vote in the Senate floor, would you vote for it?
McCAIN: It won't -- it won't. That's why we went through the debate --
HOOK: But if it did.
McCAIN: No, I would not, because we know what the situation is today. The people want the borders secured first.
[end audio clip]
LIASSON: McCain committed the cardinal sin of politics: he answered a hypothetical question. And that allowed Obama to exploit McCain's ongoing political difficulty with this issue. McCain is still caught between the Republican Party's conservative base, which vehemently opposes a path to citizenship for illegals, and Hispanics, who generally favor comprehensive reform. In his speech yesterday, Obama said he had reached across the aisle to fight for the same bill as McCain, but South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who worked with McCain on the immigration compromise, says Obama is exaggerating his role in the bipartisan efforts that lead to the bill.
GRAHAM [audio clip] Senator Obama came in a couple of times, had a few good ideas, did the photo op, then when the bill came to the floor he folded like a cheap suit.
LIASSON: To the McCain campaign, Obama is trying to get credit for a bipartisan comprise that he supported but also tried to torpedo by sponsoring or voting for labor union-backed amendments that, if passed, would have weakened support for the bill. Yesterday's sparring just underscored the importance of the Hispanic vote this year. During the Democratic primaries, Obama lost this vote to Hillary Clinton, indicating he might have a problem with Hispanics, but current polls don't show that at all. In the latest Wall Street Journal poll, he leads McCain among Hispanics by nearly two-to-one. Still, voters like Carolina Peña came to LULAC yesterday undecided.
PEÑA [audio clip]: I actually voted for Obama in the primaries. I think I just kind of jumped in the bandwagon and sort of voted because I really like his personality and I always say I like him with my heart and I like McCain with my head.
LIASSON: Peña's family waited five years to immigrate legally from Ecuador. She knows all about the political risks McCain took with his own party on immigration.
PEÑA [audio clip]: He has had kind of a long record, a commitment, to this population, which is very important. As far as Obama, I haven't seen very much: I haven't heard too much either.
LIASSON: Hispanic voters make up only 9 percent of the national electorate, but in battleground states like New Mexico, they are as much as 37 percent. And that's why Obama said yesterday, "This election could very well be decided by Latino voters." Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.