Press Conference with Republican Senators on Border Security

Interview

By:  Lindsey Graham
Date: Nov. 7, 2007
Location: Washington, DC

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SEN. GRAHAM: Okay. You ready?

You get two for the price of one today. (Laughter.) We're all moving to France. (Laughter.)

You ready?

Well, the purpose of this news conference is to express our disappointment and dismay that our Democratic colleagues have taken $3 billion of emergency funding to secure our borders out of the Defense appropriations bill. The amendment that I offered, supported by all my colleagues here, passed 95 to 1. Only in Washington would that be a mixed signal, but we are very committed to seeing this money put back in the bill and get this fence built so we can move on with immigration reform.

And with that I'll turn it over to Senator DeMint, who's got to leave here in a second.

SEN. DEMINT: Thank you. Thank you for letting me jump in front of all these other leaders here in the Senate.

If there's one message that came out of the immigration debate, really from everyone -- or I think the united Republican Party and people all over the country, is that we need to secure our borders and achieve operational control if any immigration reform is going to be effective. And that is the one point that we all moved forward on, and you can -- by the vote results of Lindsey Graham's amendment -- virtually unanimous -- and if you look out across the country, it was clear that Americans want us to establish control of our borders and move forward with a legal immigration program that works.

The Democrats appeared to be cooperating when this was added to the bill. Most of them voted for it, and it is very disappointing that, as we see this developing and coming out of conference that this very important funding of our borders was taken out.

So all of us are here today united. Many of us had different opinions of the immigration bill, but we all agree that the starting place is border security. And so we would encourage our Democrat colleagues to cooperate with us and the country to put this money back in to continue securing our borders.

Thank you, Senator Graham.

SEN. GREGG: Well, first off, thank you, Lindsey, for offering this amendment. And the success of this amendment reflects the commitment of at least the Republican members of the Senate to getting something done about the border. You know, securing the border is not rocket science. It's a simple exercise of putting the resources necessary in order to stop the flow of illegal immigrants across the border and allow people to come into the United States legally. That's all it's about.

This bill put in place those resources and was totally appropriate to the defense bill, because, let's face it, the first element of national defense is making sure that our country is secure. And a big part of our security as a nation is knowing who's coming in and who's leaving this country and making sure that they're doing it legally.

And so I thank you, Lindsey.

And hopefully Senator Graham will consider maybe taking this bill back, this language back, and offering it on a motion to recommit the entire defense bill, which takes a super-majority, but, heck, he had 95 votes last time. He ought to be able to do it again.

SEN. GRAHAM: Good idea. We'll do that. John?

SEN. KYL: I mentioned this just a moment ago, and my colleagues haven't had a chance to speak, so I'll just make one point here. There is no question about where the American people are on the issue of securing our border and ensuring that people can't smuggle drugs into the country, that criminals can't come in. Bear in mind that between 10 (percent) and 15 percent of the people who illegally cross the border are people with criminal records, serious criminal records, and the terrorists can't get in.

These are matters of national security. It's our first obligation as a Congress. And yet you see in the DOD bill the Democrats taking this critical funding out of the bill. Now, they had their political reasons to do that, but those political reasons, I suggest to you, don't begin to rise to the level of the anger of the American people when they realize what the Democrats have done here.

Put this to a vote of the American people and see how they vote on what this Democrat majority has done.

SEN. CORNYN: I just want to thank Lindsey for offering the amendment and his leadership in getting this press conference together. You know, I was sitting there thinking. I was listening to my colleagues. Talk about misplaced priorities. In the same week, the leadership of the Democrats have taken out $3 billion for the number one domestic issue, which is border security, and put back in $1 million for a museum to Woodstock. That just does not make any sense to me at all, but that's exactly what happened.

And if you watched the debate last week, you saw the intensity of the immigration issue. People in the United States of America want the borders secure. I commend Senator Graham for what he's done. I'll steadfastly stand behind it. I'll vote for it again and again until we finally get secure borders.

Thank you, Lindsey.

SEN. DOLE: Let me just say, I find it incredible what has happened. If there's ever been an issue that has been important in my office in the few years that I've been here in the Senate, it is this particular issue; more calls on this issue than any other. The phone system in the United States Senate went down. It is clear across the country that the American people want to secure our borders first. They want to enforce our laws. And this really is an amazing thing that's happened today.

So I stand very strongly behind Lindsey in the desire to get this funding back. In fact, I think, in addition to the $3 billion, we need to be looking for what more we can find to ensure that our borders are secure.

And in terms of enforcement, some of that money goes to 287(g). I've been working with sheriffs across North Carolina for those who have self-identified themselves because of their criminal activity, to try to focus in on that aspect. And some of the funding would go to help to provide tools to assist our local sheriffs and others.

And so I'm very strongly behind what you're doing and pleased to be here this morning to express my views.

SEN. MEL MARTINEZ (R-FL): Well, I was one of those that thought that we could do comprehensive immigration reform and do it all at once. The fact is we couldn't. It didn't work. It didn't happen. And why didn't it? Because people did not have the confidence that this government was either committed or competent to secure the border.

The fact is that we've got to get that right.

This is the money that's necessary to get that right, to secure the border so we can move on to do other aspects of immigration reform that this country desperately needs to do. But it begins with border security, and I would add also interior enforcement.

Just as important as border security is the money in this bill for interior enforcement, which has to do with providing the kinds of secure ID so that employers can be then held to task for who they hire. And so we are moving towards a legal workforce if we get this money to then have a secure ID that employees must show and a system to allow employers to verify the status of those that they seek to employ.

Between the border security and the interior enforcement, those two elements have got to be corrected, have got to get -- we have to get them right, in order to give the confidence to the American people that we can move forward to do the other aspects of immigration reform that I think are so needed and so important.

So Lindsey, thank you. And I look forward to finding a way to put this money back, because it's needed. We've got to get it done so we can get our border right before we do the rest of the immigration reform.

SEN. SESSIONS: Thank you.

And I would just have to agree with Mel on the question that the American people do not have confidence in us, and that's the real reason we had so much difficulty this summer. And what happened with this legislation is exactly why they have no confidence in us. Ninety-four to one we vote on roll-call vote to fund monies necessary for the fence, for Border Patrol agents and that sort of thing. Then it goes to conference behind closed doors, where nobody's watching. Out comes the bill and zero provided for it.

We also voted -- at least my amendment was accepted -- that would have funded the National Guard for an extended period of time, more than currently expected. That was cut by at least two-thirds, and perhaps maybe more than that, the way we're trying to calculate it.

And I remember earlier in the year I offered an amendment to the minimum-wage bill that said that if a federal government contractor utilized illegals knowingly to do federal government work, that they would be debarred. It was accepted. And, of course, when it came to conference, it was stripped out.

So what we've got is a failure of will on the part of Congress. The American people sense that. They don't trust us. And really they shouldn't, because we haven't earned their trust.

SEN. CHAMBLISS: The vote on Lindsey's amendment was 94-1. In Georgia, 94-1 is pretty overwhelming. I think the American people spoke loud and clear through their members of the Senate on that particular amendment. And for the Democrats to now strip this provision out, I think, shows where they're coming from when it comes to truly enforcing border security and truly making an effort to stop illegal immigrants from coming across that border. And it's unfortunate that not just illegal immigrants who are coming here to seek work, but also illegal immigrants who are terrorists are now going to be given a better opportunity to come across that border.

I look forward to working with these folks to make sure that we figure out some way to get this restored and give the American people the confidence that they deserve that we truly mean it when we say we're going to enforce the border.

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, we're not on the fence about the fence, I guess, is the message here.

Q Are you guys really serious that after all the ways you've packaged legislation over the last 12 years that the simple fact that the Democrats want to get the Homeland Security bill signed by having the fence there is really that outrageous?

SEN. GRAHAM: I think it's outrageous for the Congress to miss an opportunity to restore confidence with the public on an issue that matters to every American.

Q Do you have any doubt that this money is going to be in the Homeland Security bill?

SEN. GRAHAM: I've got a lot of doubt now. I didn't before. But I have a lot of doubt that what Jeff is saying is right. I think all of us do. It's just not the money for the border. It's other policy provisions that we're taking out.

This is a coming together of bad policy and bad politics. To remove this money at this time in our nation's history speaks volumes, and it sends all the wrong messages to the American people. We should act together, first available opportunity, to secure our border. This is the first available opportunity, and they punted.

I'll let Jon finish that.

SEN. KYL: Let me make a point. The Democrats are playing chicken with President Bush on a matter of national security, and that's wrong. In order to force him to accept an additional $4 billion in spending one year over his budget, they combine it in that bill with this $3 billion and then, in effect, blackmail him or threaten him or challenge him to either veto the bill and be against all these things or accept the additional spending. Now, that's the kind of partisan politicking that should stop around here.

Q You support -- (inaudible) -- Bush --

SEN. KYL: President Bush.

SEN. MARTINEZ: You mean the president.

Q Our president, in his messages regarding the veterans' spending bill, says you guys can go ahead and do the extra veterans' money, but you have to cut money somewhere else. Do you believe that principle should apply to this fence that you want? Is that the only area in the budget where that -- (inaudible) -- would apply?

SEN. KYL: Well, it's not the only area. In this very defense bill, there is emergency spending. And it's over, I think, $3 billion. And that's how this is treated. It's $2.9 billion for FEMA for emergencies. It includes $3 billion to HUD for Katrina-related expenses. In other words, it's not the only emergency spending. And when you're talking about national security, I think you can make a pretty good case for emergency spending.

Q (Inaudible) -- Rule 28 authority to take that out of the conference report?

SEN. KYL: I don't know what kind -- first of all, we're focused on the DOD bill. We're not talking about the HHS bill at this point.

Pardon?

Q The money you just talked about in the DOD bill.

SEN. KYL: Yes. It was in the DOD bill. It's not there now.

Q (Inaudible.)

SEN. KYL: Okay, now you're talking about a CR. We're talking about the conference report on the defense bill.

Q (Inaudible) -- $3 billion remains in the DHS appropriations bill and President Bush vetoes it, will you stand with Democrats to override the veto?

SEN. KYL: Well, that's the kind of political game of chicken -- you know, it's kind of the "gotcha" game that I think that they're trying to pull here. And national security and border security are too important for that kind of game-playing. We don't have to get into that. That's our point.

The question you asked was, are we really all that serious being up here making this point when there's an alternative way to get the money? The alternative way to get the money is through game-playing that either forces the president to veto a bill or accept $4 billion in extra spending. What kind of a choice is that?

Q I'd like to know if any of you are concerned about Julie Myers becoming the head of ICE in light of this Halloween party situation, or if any of you will move to block her at this point.

SEN. KYL: Does anybody know anything about it?

SEN. GRAHAM: You got me. I don't know. I should watch the news.

SEN. KYL: As I said before, I think she's done a credible job, and I don't know of anybody who doesn't agree with that.

SEN. CHAMBLISS: Did she disguise herself as Lindsey Graham on Halloween, or what?

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, that probably could do it.

SEN. CHAMBLISS: That would be scary.

Q (Inaudible) -- Halloween party dressed in dreadlocks, darkened face and prison stripes, and she judged that Halloween costume to be most original and awarded it as part of -- (inaudible). Some employees complained that it was offensive, and then she apologized.

Q And then Secretary Chertoff has also apologized.

SEN. GRAHAM: Sounds like they should have, yeah.

Q (Inaudible) -- put on paid leave. So people are asking, if the employee was put on paid leave, shouldn't Julie Myers be held accountable as well? (Inaudible.)

SEN. GRAHAM: Given what you've said, I'm glad they apologized. It was very inappropriate. I have a lot of confidence in Secretary Chertoff to discipline his force.

To end on this --

Q Sir, this is a Senate confirmation.

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah. Yeah, well, we'll -- I'm not going to make a decision based on this kind of dialogue. I'll look at it a little closer.

The bottom line is, I really would like to get something done on this issue, because we're hurting as a nation. We have a broken immigration system. Everything about it doesn't work, including the border.

And just to my colleagues on the other side, if we did this together now, all boats would rise politically. I've tried to stand up for the comprehensive approach, much to my detriment. I still believe in it. But our nation needs solutions. We have a lot of problems that are going unanswered because we're playing these stupid games among ourselves.

We're at 20-something percent because we deserve to be there. This is a chance to show the public that we haven't all lost our minds, that we can still find common ground on something essential to American national security; that's securing our borders. When you vote 94-1 and 95-1 and it doesn't happen, then how does the American public ever expect anything to get done up here?

So to Senator Gregg, who's been pushing this for years, to Senator Sessions, we've had our differences on this issue. It's been emotional. And we're starting over again. And I'd like to start over in a way that the American people will at least listen to us.

Our country is really under siege on many fronts, and this is one area where we can pull America together. Republicans, independents and Democrats would really appreciate their Congress securing their border. And let's don't let this opportunity pass.