CNN's Lou Dobbs allowed Rep. Peter King to advance a misleading Republican claim Dobbs himself had previously repeated on the program -- that Democrats bear responsibility for a controversial provision in the immigration bill passed by the House of Representatives that would make unlawful presence in the United States a felony.
On the April 19 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, host Lou Dobbs allowed Rep. Peter King (R-NY) to advance a misleading Republican claim Dobbs himself had previously repeated on the program -- that Democrats bear responsibility for a controversial provision in the immigration bill, passed by the House of Representatives, that would make unlawful presence in the United States a felony. Media Matters for America has debunked this claim before, noting Dobbs's prior repetition of it.
During a discussion of illegal immigration, Dobbs stated that Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI) -- who sponsored the House bill and later offered an amendment that would have reduced the penalty of unlawful U.S. presence from a felony to a misdemeanor -- “told me on this broadcast that the Democrats were responsible for the fact that the legislation that would create a felony for coming into this country illegally was really a ploy by the Democrats.” Inviting King to confirm the claim, he asked: “Is that true?”
King replied that the claim was "[a]bsolutely true," then advanced an argument put forth by Republicans -- that because 191 House Democrats voted against Sensenbrenner's amendment, they are responsible for the felony provision in the bill.
In response to King's assertion, Dobbs stated that “politics are being played with this on the part of both parties.”
But as Media Matters previously noted, the claim that Democrats bear responsibility for the immigration bill's harsh penalties -- and opposed Republican efforts to soften them -- distorts the stated motives on both sides of the aisle. In fact, many Democrats made clear at the time of the vote that their rejection of the Sensenbrenner amendment was consistent with their opposition to subjecting illegal immigrants to any criminal penalties at all, including those that would have been imposed under Sensenbrenner's amended bill. Republicans, meanwhile, explained that they sought to downgrade the felony designation in order to encourage more prosecutions of illegal immigrants.
As Media Matters also noted, Dobbs himself repeated the misleading Republican claim on the April 12 edition of his program, stating that “Congressman Sensenbrenner himself tried to remove the felony provisions from his bill” but "[t]he move was blocked by House Democrats."
From the April 19 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:
DOBBS: Congressman Pete King is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. He is a co-sponsor of the Sensenbrenner legislation that continues to trigger protests across the country. Congressman Pete King is our guest here in New York tonight. Good to have you with us, Mr. Chairman.
KING: Lou, great to be here. Thank you.
DOBBS: We're -- we're seeing more demonstrations. We're seeing more people focusing on the Sensenbrenner legislation. Congressman Sensenbrenner told me on this broadcast that the Democrats were responsible for the fact that the legislation that would create a felony for coming into this country illegally was really a ploy by the Democrats. Is that true?
KING: Absolutely true. It's always been a misdemeanor to enter the country illegally. We wanted to make it a misdemeanor to stay in the country illegally, because if it's wrong to enter the country, it should be wrong to stay illegally.
So, we -- originally, the bill called for a felony. Jim Sensenbrenner got up on the House floor, offered an amendment to reduce it from a felony to a misdemeanor -- 192 (sic) Democrats voted to keep it a felony. Over 161 Republicans voted to make it a misdemeanor. So, that is a felony because of the Democrats.
Now, their reason for that is -- I think it was obvious. They wanted to put what's called “a poison pill” in the bill, so they could later claim that it's a felony.
DOBBS: So, politics are being played with this on the part of both parties.