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CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" - Transcript - Guns and Immigration

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CROWLEY: Ed Lavandera in Kaufman County for us, thanks very much.

We will continue to follow this story throughout the morning. In fact, we will have an interview later this hour with the mayor of Kaufman to get the very latest.

But right now, we want to switch gears, and joining me is Republican senator, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Senator, thanks for being here. Just off the top, let me ask you, when we see the death of the head of a prison official, two deaths of a D.A. and an assistant D.A., this is a dangerous business, I know, prosecuting bad guys, incarcerating bad guys. Do you think we need to look at the protection of these people?

GRAHAM: Well, anything that would make our law enforcement officers safer. Obviously, this is some criminal enterprise coming after the people who enforce the law. And yes, anything the local community can do to make, you know, life safer for those who carry out the law on our behalf, count me in. This is clearly some type of criminal vendetta here against these people who enforce the law.

CROWLEY: Certainly, it looks that way. Let me turn you to gun control, which we expect to be the first piece of major business when the Senate comes back in a week. Five of your colleagues have joined in saying, listen, we are going to filibuster any kind of gun control bill that might infringe on the Second Amendment.

Let me read you a little from the letter from Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee. It was sent to Senator Harry Reid, the democratic leader in the Senate. "We, the undersigned, intend to oppose any legislation that would infringe on the American people's constitutional rights to bear arms or on their ability to exercise this right without being subjected to government surveillance. We will oppose any motion to proceed to any legislation that will serve as a vehicle for any additional gun restrictions."

Senator Inhofe and Senator Rubio have now joined in that filibuster threat. What do you make of it? Would you join it?

GRAHAM: Well, I'd like to have an open process. The only way I would filibuster a bill is if Senator Reid did not allow alternative amendments. I have legislation with Senator Pryor and Begich, two Democrats, myself, and Jeff Flake, that would change the federal system. There was a lady who pled not guilty by reason of insanity in 2005, in South Carolina, of trying to kill President Bush.

February of this year, she went and bought a gun. And that adjudication was not in the system. She was able to purchase a gun, went to a school, and thank God that gun did not discharge. She's being held for attempted murder, but the four of us have a bill to redefine mental health adjudications to make sure a situation like hers gets into the system.

There's all kind of bipartisan legislation out there that I think would keep guns out of the hands of people who are mentally ill, shouldn't have a gun, and there's some real efforts out there to beef up prosecutions of those who fail a background check.

CROWLEY: If I could, part of the Senator Reid's bill, as we understand it, will be expanding background checks to people who purchase guns at gun shows, which would include those sellers, keeping the paperwork on the buyers. Is that something that you would filibuster?

GRAHAM: Well, I would have an alternative to it. I think what the bill --

CROWLEY: But would you filibuster that? Would it be your intent, if that is part of the bill?

GRAHAM: No. If I get an alternative to it, no, I'd vote against it. This idea of private individuals transferring their weapons and having to go get through a background check makes no sense. Before you'd expand the background check, there are 76,000 people, last year, failed a background check. And less than one percent got prosecuted.

There are 9,000 people in 2010 that failed a background check who are felons on the run, and none of them were prosecuted. So, before you expand background checks to include private individuals, let's put some resources into the current system we have that's clearly broken.

CROWLEY: Does it give you pause --

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Does it give you pause, senator, I just wanted the show you a quick poll here. And the question was to folks, do you favor a federal law that requires background checks on all potential gun buyers. Ninety-six percent of Democrats, yes, 89 percent of independents and 86 percent of Republicans say there should be a background check for all potential buyers. Does that give you pause in opposing that expansion?

GRAHAM: Well, if you ask the question, should a father have to do a background check when they give their son a gun for Christmas --

CROWLEY: But this is a little different. This is about, just if you go to a gun show.

GRAHAM: But, no, that's what the bill does! The bill requires private individual transfers to go through the federal system. The current system is broken. I hope most Americans understand that 80,000 people last year failed a background check and only 66 got prosecuted. Why in the world would you expand that system if you're not enforcing the law that exists today to include private transfers? So, I think that legislation is going nowhere, but, I would like to have a robust debate about improving this system to make sure that people who are mentally ill do not get a gun to begin with. And there's a lot we could do in a bipartisan fashion.

CROWLEY: Right. I've got to get you to immigration reform here, but just to be clear, you think that anything that requires an expanded background check to everyone who sells a gun and keeping that paperwork will not pass the U.S. Senate. Is that correct?

GRAHAM: I don't think so. I don't think it makes any sense. The current system is broken. Fix the current system. Don't expand it to individual transfers. Nothing we're talking about would have prevented Newtown from happening. The guy did not fail a background check.

CROWLEY: Let me turn you to immigration, because we have word that big unions and big business have agreed on a visa plan for these low-skilled, as we call them, workers. The number that can come in, the industries they can come into, how much they can be paid. Is that it? Have you got a deal now?

GRAHAM: Well, I think we've got a deal. We've got to write the legislation, but 2013, I hope, will be the year that we pass bipartisan immigration reform, signed into law with three goals, to do the bill in such a fashion to prevent a third wave of illegal immigration from happening in this country, to make sure that the guest worker program is available to employers who can't find an American worker, once you offer the job at a competitive wage, and turn our chain migration family-based immigration system into a merit- based immigration system with a family component, because we're declining demographic.

We're going to need new workers come into this country in the out years as our population declines. So, stopping that third wave means securing your border and controlling who gets a job in America. I think we've accomplished that in this bill. And I believe it will pass.

CROWLEY: So, as far as you know, has the whole so-called Gang of Eight, four Republicans, four Democrats in the Senate, are they ready? You've all agreed to everything. You've just got to write it up. And do you believe that that bill could pass the House?

GRAHAM: Yes, ma'am. We have -- it's got to be written off. We haven't signed off. There are a few details yet. But conceptually, we have an agreement between business and labor, between ourselves that has to be drafted. It will be rolled out next week. Yes, I believe it will pass the House because it secures our borders, it controls who gets a job.

As to the 11 million, they'll have a pathway to citizenship, but it will be earned, it will be long, and it will be hard, and I think it is fair. And the main thing, the combination of events in this bill will prevent a third wave of illegal immigration and replace a broken immigration with a merit based economic based system to help grow our economy in the future.

I think it will pass both Houses. We're going to need the president's support. I'm proud of the work product and I look forward to rolling it out.

CROWLEY: Thank you so much, Sen. Lindsey Graham on Easter Sunday. Of course, we appreciate it.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

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