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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript - Immigration Legislation and Guns

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CHUCK TODD:
Good Easter morning, Pope Francis celebrated his first Easter mass as leader of the Roman Catholic church this morning at the Vatican, encouraging those who have strayed from the faith to return. Here at home, it's divisive cultural issues that have returned to the forefront as Washington grapples with battles over guns, gay marriage, and immigration.

We have two key members of the so-called bipartisan "Gang of Eight," senators working on a compromise, immigration proposal, word coming this weekend that an agreement is near. We'll ask Senators Schumer and Flake about that in just a moment. But first, I want to go around quickly with our first of two political roundtables to frame what's at stake in these debates. Joining us, the former senior advisor to President Barack Obama, now an NBC contributor, David Axelrod, Former Congressman and Chair of the National Republican Campaign Committee, Former Virginia Congressman Tom Davis, Gene Robinson of The Washington Post, Peggy Noonan of The Wall Street Journal. Welcome all. We're going to try to--

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:
Good morning (UNINTEL).

CHUCK TODD:
--pack about two hours of show into one hour. David Axelrod, on immigration, a lot of Republicans don't believe the president wants to sign an immigration bill this year. They believe that he wants the politics, he wants the political issue-- because it's been so successful for Democrats, true or false?

DAVID AXELROD:
Well, I understand their paranoia, because it was a terribly different issue for them and continues to be. He wants this accomplishment. This is a legacy item for him. There's no doubt in my mind that he wants to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

CHUCK TODD:
Tom Davis, can Republicans even start talking to Hispanics on other issues if this issue isn't put behind them, no matter how it turns out?

TOM DAVIS:
Well, first of all, they'll get a vote. Either you may get-- like we did in 2006, a House version, a Senate version that are very, very different and not reconciled. But each-- at that point, everybody will have their talking points. And the answer is, sure I think the conversation will continue. And I think you'll have a good Republican midterm.

CHUCK TODD:
You know, Peggy, what-- what's been interesting about this week is-- all of the big polarizing issues of the last two generations culturally-- all popped up in one week, and one of it had to do with the Supreme Court with gay marriage, with abortion. This culture wars, normally when it comes back, it's something that's helpful to Republicans. Is it good this time for the conservative movement to have these issues out there?

PEGGY NOONAN:
I don't know, yeah-- I think-- all of these cultural issues, as I guess-- we call them, have been major issues in America for almost half a century, really. The abortion argument was going on 50 years ago, Roe came 40 years ago. It is hard to resolve these issues because they're not just cultural issues. They are-- they are moral issues and Americans feel differently about them. So I think one way or another, they'll probably be bubbling out there for a long time and it's not the worst thing.

CHUCK TODD:
So maybe a resolution in the law, but not in the way people feel. But is it also a sign the economy is coming back, Gene--

EUGENE ROBINSON:
Well, it usually is, isn't it, when-- when people can think about other things-- other than jobs. But, you know, I think some of these cultural issues are being resolved. I mean, we-- you know, gay marriage before the Supreme Court, obviously a hot-button issue. But you look at the polls, and you see 58% in our poll, Washington Post Poll in favor of it, 80% of adults under 30. That sounds like a decision rather than-- than a question on that issue.

CHUCK TODD:
All right, so we've framed the discussion, I want to pause it here. I want to talk a little bit about immigration. So joining me now from New York, one of the leaders of the so-called "Gang of Eight," Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer. Senator, welcome back to Meet the Press, let me get to the news of the morning. Are we-- is a deal at hand for immigration reform? We know about this issue having to do with visas and wages-- between the business-- lobby and the labor lobby. Is a deal done?

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:
Well, with the agreement between business and labor, every major policy issue has been resolved on the "Gang of Eight." Now, everyone, we've all agreed that we're not going to come to a final agreement until we see draft legislative language and we agree on that. We drafted some of it already, the rest of it will be drafted this week.
And so I am very, very optimistic that we will have an agreement among the eight of us next week. Senator Leahy-- has agreed to have extensive-- markup and debate on the bill in April. And then we go to the floor in-- God willing, in may. So I--

CHUCK TODD:
You were--

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:
--think we're on track.

CHUCK TODD:
You were quoted as basically saying, "The deal is near, the deal is at hand." And all of that coverage got Senator Rubio, Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, who's part of this "Gang of Eight," to say, "He-- whoa, whoa, whoa, no deal-- yet." That we're closer, so w-- is there a disagreement between the two of you--

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:
No, no, no, I think it was--

CHUCK TODD:
--on how close we are to a deal?

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:
It's semantics. Business and labor have an agreement and on the future flow, which has been the issue that has undone immigration reform in the past. So this is a major, major obstacle that's overcome. Each of us has to look at the language and approve it. But I don't think on the business labor side, there's any disagreement.

There's lots of u-- but as Senator Rubio correctly says, we have said we will not come to final agreement till we look at all of the legislative language. And he's correctly pointing out that that language hasn't been fully drafted. There'll be little kerfuffles. But I don't think-- any of us expect there to be problems.

CHUCK TODD:
If you lost Senator Rubio in this "Gang of Eight," if he walked away from the convers-- from the negotiations, would that-- put-- in the entire immigration bill in jeopardy?

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:
Well, first of all, I don't think he'll walk away. He's been an active and strong participant, he's had a lot of input into the bill. Obviously, his views are not the same as the other-- seven of us. Every one of us has different views. But I expect that we're going to have agreement-- among the eight--

CHUCK TODD:
But you need it. If you don't have them, this bill-- is suddenly in jeopardy.

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:
You know, I'm not even going to speculate about that. I talked to Marco yesterday-- we had great conversations. And-- he is protecting some of the things that he thinks are very important in the bill. But I don't think that'll stand in the way in any way of any final agreement.

CHUCK TODD:
All right--

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:
I think we're all on track.

CHUCK TODD:
You say this issue between business and labor was the last major hurdle. But is border security solved? This issue of metrics and border-- solved? I want to play a little bit of what President Obama said in-- in an interview with Telemundo earlier this week on that issue.

(Videotape)
PRESIDENT OBAMA:
Regardless of-- how much additional effort we put in on the borders-- we don't want to make this earned pathway to citizenship-- a situation in which it's put off-- further and further-- into the future. There needs to be a certain path for how people can get legal in this country, even as we also work on-- these strong border security issues.
(End videotape)

CHUCK TODD:
You spent last week on the border with some of your fellow-- members of the "Gang of Eight," including Jeff Flake, who will be on the show here in just a minute. This issue of border security and the metrics involved before launching the pathway to citizenship, that's been resolved?

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:
Well, I was very glad to go to the border. And you see the expansive, and it's huge, and the terrain is different in many different places. And it gave me, someone from New York City, a real appreciation of the different problems in Arizona. So look, we've come to a basic agreement, which is that first, people will be legalized. In other words, not citizens, but they'll be allowed to work, come out of the shadows, travel.

Then, we will make sure the border is secure. And we have specific metrics that are in the bill. I'm not going to get into what they are, to make sure that that happens. And after that happens, there's a path to citizenship. And I think there's agreement among the eight on all of us, and I think most of the American people agree with that, that we should certainly do-- we made a great deal of progress in securing the border, I'm sure Jeff would say that. But I would join him in saying we have to make more progress.

CHUCK TODD:
I want to ask you about some-- controversial comments that were made by a former colleague of yours when you served in the House, re-- Alaska Republican Don Young, about something he said this week-- about Mexican immigrants. Here's what he said.
(Videotape)

CONGRESSMAN DON YOUNG:
My-- my father had a ranch, we used to hire 50 to 60 wetbacks. And-- to pick tomatoes.
(End videotape)

CHUCK TODD:
And that derogatory term was something that-- Don Young had to issue two apologies. The first one on Thursday night, he said this, "I used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in central California. I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays. And I meant no disrespect."

Well, that didn't seem to suit some people, so he issued a new apology on Friday night, quote, "I apologize for the insensitive term I used. There was no malice in my heart or intent to offend. It was a poor choice of words. That word, and the negative attitudes that come with it should be left in the 20th century. And I'm sorry that this--it shifted our focus away from comprehensive immigration reform." Senator Schumer, the fact that that was in his vocabulary, does that make Congressman Young fit to serve?

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:
Well, I think he issued an apology. I was disappointed in his first apology. It didn't seem full. I hadn't seen the second apology until you read it. He d-- he-- there should be a full and complete apology. Look, bigotry has always been the poison of America and we oughta do everything to eradicate it with no excuses or explanations.

CHUCK TODD:
So that second apology satisfies you?

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:
Just-- you just read it to me, it seems much fuller than the first one, yeah.

CHUCK TODD:
All right, I want to move to guns-- very quickly. We've seen the polling. We know the president came out-- and-- and urged and noted, it was less than a hundred days. We've seen the polling that support for stricter gun laws is slipping. It was over 50% right after Newtown, it's now below 50%. What's possible anymore?
In January, you said on Meet the Press that the background check bill and expanded background check bill was probably, you called it the "sweet spot," which a lotta people interpreted as the only piece of legislation that had a chance of passing. Is that still your assessment?

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:
Well, I wouldn't say the only piece of legislation. But I called it the "sweet spot" because it would do a whole lot of good and had a good chance of passing. I'm working very hard with both Democrats and Republicans, pro-N.R.A. and anti-N.R.A. people to come up with a background check bill that will be acceptable to 60 senators and be very strong and get the job done. It's very hard. We're working hard and I'm very hopeful that we can get this passed.

CHUCK TODD:
It's a fragile coalition-- New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is running ads not just against some Republicans on this issue, but against your fellow Democrats in the U.S. Senate, including Heidi Heitkamp-- in North Dakota and some other red-state Democratic senators. Is Michael Bloomberg being helpful to your cause as you try to put this coalition together?

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:
Well, look-- I greatly respect-- Mayor Bloomberg's passion on this. And let's not forget, the argument-- or the ads and the sort of field organization has always been on the other side, on the pro-gun side. And so to have a counter there is very helpful. Obviously, each senator is going to have to make up his own or her own mind, and I respect that.

CHUCK TODD:
But does this hurt your cause as you try to recruit--
(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:
--a Heidi Heitkamp on your side?

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:
As I said, each senator is going to make up his or her-- her own mind and I have a great deal of respect for that.

CHUCK TODD:
All right, Senator Schumer, I have to leave it there. We have a big morning--

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:
Just--

CHUCK TODD:
--and a packed show. So I thank you.

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:
Thank you--

CHUCK TODD:
Happy Passover.

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:
--Chuck, nice to talk to you.

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