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

Interview

By:  Kirsten Gillibrand Mike Lee
Date: April 14, 2013
Location: Unknown

DAVID GREGORY:
And we are back with our roundtable. Joining me this morning, Republican Senator from Utah, Mike Lee and Democratic Senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand, columnist for The New York Times, David Brooks, Washington correspondent and anchor for BBC World News America, Katty Kay, and NBC News Chief White House correspondent, our political director, Chuck Todd, who might just have to take over at any time. Thank you all (CHUCKLE) for being here.

Senator, let me begin with you and get some reaction to Senator Rubio. Senator Lee, on immigration, what is the bottom line here? Are there going to be poison pills that ultimately kill this legislation? Or do you see it surviving?

SEN. MIKE LEE:
I don't know. It's something that might well survive the Senate with a few Republican votes that appear to be on it. It could get through, especially if a few others join it. What we don't yet know is the details, the fine print of the bill. Some have suggested it could be as-- as long as 1,500 pages. We have yet to see it. I look forward to seeing it.

DAVID GREGORY:
What are you concerned about as you hear Senator Rubio?

SEN. MIKE LEE:
What I'm most concerned about is the fact that I think we need to undertake this in a step by step fashion. I agree with 70 or 80% of what they've been talking about. But I think we're best served if we start with border security and move onto decent modernization, the entry/exit system. We can get those things passed. There's broad-based bipartisan consensus for those things. It'll be a lot easier to deal with the 11 million once those are in place.

DAVID GREGORY:
But is the pathway to citizenship the real deal breaker for you?

SEN. MIKE LEE:
The pathway to citizenship, right now, before those other element are in place, is the deal breaker for me. It's not necessarily something that would be a deal breaker down the road. I just think we need to get the other things in place first. It's a matter of sequencing.

DAVID GREGORY:
And so I mean some of that is very process-y. But Senator Gillibrand, it seems that what conservatives want it a real down payment, literally and figuratively, on border security, before they're willing to open up the pathway to citizenship peaceably.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
I think this conversation's so important. Because the bottom line is immigration reform will strengthen our economy, strengthens our security, and really honors our tradition as Americans that this country was founded on immigrants. It's the richness and the diversity that strengthens our country.

DAVID GREGORY:
But what's different now than when President Bush pursued this, when Senator McCain, when he was for the idea of a pathway to citizenship, what has changed fundamentally that can get conservatives to a place they don't appear to be, which is to support the pathway to citizenship?

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
I think the national debate has changed. The country has shifted. And we know that if you have comprehensive immigration reform, you're going to strengthen the economy. You're going to have more people pay into the system, paying into Social Security, paying their taxes.

You're going to raise wages so you have more people invest in their local communities in our small businesses. We want to see economic growth. This is an economic engine. And again, I mean we believe that diversity strengthens our nation. It's what our country was founded on. So this comprehensive approach and this really balanced approach that does really focus on national security issues, as well, is something that I think will garner long term bipartisan support.

DAVID GREGORY:
We're talking about immigration, but we're also talking about the gun debate this weekend. Saturday Night Live had a pretty poignant, with a laugh, criticism of what is being debated about these background checks. Here's a portion of their open last night.

(Videotape)

Jay Pharoah (as President Obama): Good evening, my fellow Americans. As you know, over the past few months, I have made gun control legislation a top priority in my administration, which is why I'm so excited to announce that this week, the Senate voted 68-31 to begin debating the idea of discussing gun control. Let me say that again, they've agreed to think about, talking about gun control. Amazing!

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator Gillibrand, isn't that really the problem? Despite all the emotion, despite the push, despite the public opinion polls, not a lot is about to be accomplished here?

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
I disagree. I think moving forward on this debate is so important because we have Republicans who say this is important for the country. And we have gun reform legislation that is bipartisan already. We have a background check bill that is now bipartisan. We have an anti-trafficking, anti-straw-purchaser bill that I helped to write that is bipartisan.

We have a lot of bipartisan support on mental health investment. I think we have a very good start on beginning to crack down on gun crime. And the bottom line is the families of Newtown, the families all across America who lost children every single day to gun violence, they deserve a vote. They deserve an answer. They deserve leadership--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
All right, but--

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
And that is what is happening.

DAVID GREGORY:
It appears they'll get that, Senator Lee. Do you think what is called Manchin/Toomey here in Washington, which is an expanded background check bill, can it pass the Senate?

SEN. MIKE LEE:
It remains to be seen whether it can pass the Senate. It was introduced just the other day. It was interesting, it wasn't introduced until after we had voted to proceed to the bill. You know, following the tragedy at Sandy Hook, Americans have been rightfully focused on how to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future.
But unfortunately, the proposals we've seen would serve primarily to limit the rights of law-abiding citizens while doing little, if anything, to actually prevent tragedies like this from occurring in the future. So Toomey/Manchin does contain some carve-outs. But we know that today's carve-outs are tomorrow's loopholes. And that's of concern to us. This bill, I believe, would do more to limit the rights of the law-abiding than it would to actually prevent violent crime. And that's why I can't support it.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
And I disagree. Because there's so much in thee bills that have nothing to do with law-abiding citizens, they have specifically work to do with criminals. So for example, my anti-trafficking-straw-purchasing bill, in New York State, 85% of the weapons used in crimes come from out of state, and 90% of those weapons are illegal. So you're talking roughly nine out of ten of these guns used in crimes are being trafficked by straw-purchasers with the intent on selling them directly to gangs. And David, there's 30 people who die every single day because of gun violence. We have to answer--

DAVID GREGORY:
Let me get-- I want to--

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
--the pleas of their parents and the communities that are suffering.

DAVID GREGORY:
I want to get everybody involved here. But there is-- this is a tough vote for members of your own party, for fellow senators. Even you, as a Congresswoman from upstate New York, talked about guns much differently and the power of the gun lobby back in 2008 in your campaign website. It had this: "Congresswoman Gillibrand grew up in a family of hunters and strongly supports the rights of all hunters and gun owners. She's been an ardent opponent of legislation that will curb the second amendment for responsible gun owners, and currently has a 100% voting record with The National Rifle Association." You were touting that back in 2008 as a Congresswoman from a more conservative area. This is tough for Democrats.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
But that's why I know this bill will work, and this compromise will work. Because it is making sure that you protect second amendment rights while not undermining second amendment rights by saying, "Criminals have to go through a background check before they can buy that weapon," or, "Straw purchasers and traffickers can't be stemming these guns-- "

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
But the NRA doesn't believe that. The NRA does not agree.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
This is not about the NRA. This is about families. This is about America. 70% of NRA members like the background check bill, like the straw-purchase bill. They even support things like assault weapons ban. So if you're talking about people, and you're talking about America and what Americans want, Americans want these reforms. You just saw that mother who lost her child. You cannot do nothing in the face of that tragedy.

DAVID GREGORY:
David Brooks, from immigration to guns to the budget. Do you see the parties finding mutual self interest to get something done?

DAVID BROOKS:
Yeah. If you woke up this week, you would be under the illusion we're in a functioning democracy. (LAUGHTER) You know, things are working well, especially on immigration. And I've got to salute the Gang of Eight. The gang, so far, in the Senate, haven't worked so well.

But they're actually working well. The administration gave them space. I think Marco Rubio's a hero. You know, he said earlier today he's not thinking about the politics. I hope he's thinking about the politics. The politics are going to be tough for him if he runs for the president with this. But it's heroic what he's doing.
And so it's senators acting in prudent and courageous ways that we've seen this way. And I think that's true on guns, but especially on immigration. So this has been a good week for those of us who watch these.

DAVID GREGORY:
Chuck Todd, question for the senators, or comment on what he's saying?

CHUCK TODD:
Well, I would just say, I mean I agree with-- I do think the difference between immigration and guns is, in immigration, I think the emotion's been taken out of it. And that's why you're seeing, I think, a whole bunch of people attack it as public policy rather than getting-- the gun issue, because it's so emotional, I think actually makes it harder.

But Senator Lee, I guess my one question is do you not believe the metric that they're going to have with the border security? Do you not believe-- because that supposedly, that has to-- there's going to be an amount that they have to come up with and say, "Okay, the border is secure. Then the path to citizenship begins." Do you just not believe that's going to be the case?

SEN. MIKE LEE:
You know, it's not so much that--

CHUCK TODD:
Because that's what you were just arguing for.

SEN. MIKE LEE:
Right.

CHUCK TODD:
And that's supposedly in that bill.

SEN. MIKE LEE:
I mean it's not so much that I don't believe the metric. It's that I think it's a matter of political reality. And also is a matter of the practical implementation of these laws. We can pass things right now that would deal with border security, and that will implement the entry/exit system, and will update and modernize our visa system. We can get that done. There is broad-based bipartisan support for all those things in both houses of Congress. We can get that done.

There is a lot less consensus on what to do with the 11 million. So what I'm saying is let's get those things done right now. We will deal with the 11 million once those things are done. And I think we'll be able to convince a lot more people to support addressing the 11 million that way.

DAVID GREGORY:
Katty?

KATTY KAY:
On the immigration question, it seems that if the border security can be secured, there is no reason for the Republican Party nationally not to jump on board on this. And actually, aren't we looking in your party at conflicting pools between House districts and House races and what is clearly right for the Republican Party in terms of presidential and even Senatorial politics?

What November revealed about the changing demographics of this country is something that is clear from a policy-party point of view, but which, when you talk to individual members of the House, it's still going to be the sticking point. I mean I would love to agree with David that we are at a time of, you know, functioning government.
I mean America had got to the stage where it was almost ungovernable recently. But I wonder, when these things get out of the Senate and into the House, are we going to hit that roadblock again where individual Congressional districts, whether it's on the immigration or whether it's on gun control, are still going to gum up the process?

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
But Katty, to your point, you know, if you're just saying that border security's the most important issue, we've come a long way on broader security. President Obama's made a big commitment on that. He has 21,000 boots on the ground to do the work. They have aerial surveillance technology that they've never had before. They've done a lot. The number of confiscations that have taken place have continued to decrease over time because they're just getting it done.

So I think to say you can't do immigration reform before you do border security I think is not only a red herring, but so short-sighted. Because, again, immigration is such an economic issues. As you said, if you're taking the emotion out of it, it's a huge economic engine. If you want to put the emotion back in, I'm happy with that, too. (CHUCKLE) Because I like The Dream Act. And I think these young children who were brought here by their parents should be able to live the American dream.

KATTY KAY:
But it gets used by House members in the hundred House districts where there isn't an immigration-- a cause for having immigration reform, there are not big Hispanic voters, then that gets used. It gets used as the reason to gum up the process.

SEN. MIKE LEE:
If there's one thing we learned from the last comprehensive immigration debate we had in 2007, it's that when we play politics with this area of the law, everyone loses. We stalled out further immigration efforts for, effectively, six years. What I'm saying is not necessarily that you have to do border security first because it's the most important. These are all important issues.

What I'm saying is that it's a matter of sequencing. You've got to deal with border security. You've got to have an entry/exit system. And you've got to update and modernize our visa system so that it works. And that way, we'll be in a better position to implement and enforce whatever laws we have--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
I've only got a couple minutes left. I want to throw the budget out here, as well, during its part over Washington's deal with-- David Brooks, the criticism from Republicans of President Obama was that he wasn't taking entitlements seriously. Now he's talking about reducing the benefits of Social Security over time. And here was a key Republican who had called upon him to do that this week, and his response to the President's budget was the following.

(Videotape)

Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR): His budget really lays out kind of a shocking attack on seniors if you will.

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:
(LAUGHTER) Here's the head of the Republican Committee to Reelect Republicans in the House saying, "We asked you to do this, but now you've done it, and why are you going after seniors?"

DAVID BROOKS:
Well, that was opportunism on stilts. (CHUCKLE) But I think he was more or less alone. I talked to some House leadership people. And they're still, "We should do reform." And so I think what Obama did is the right thing to do, but it was too small.

Essentially, we've got this widening inequality problem. We've got wave stagnation. 52% of the kids born out of wedlock to moms under 30-- are born out of wedlock. And discretionary spending, all the domestic programs, health, education, welfare, that's going down to Eisenhower levels under this budget.

So I wish you'd be a little more aggressive on entitlements so we can be spending the money on young families instead of affluent seniors. And he does do that. He gets-- he goes-- takes a tiny step in that direction--

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
Well--

DAVID BROOKS:
--but not a big enough one.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
I think you make a good point. And then the quickest way to pay down the debt and reduce the deficit is create a growing economy. That's why the investments matter to David. Because, for example, investing in universal Pre-K makes a difference. Investing in high-tech manufacturer, research and development, makes a difference. Increasing the minimum wage makes a difference. Those are all priorities in the President's budget that are about economic growth. But I think he goes a long way to entitlement reform, particularly in the Medicare/Medicaid area, where they're harmonizing rebates.

SEN. MIKE LEE:
Senator--

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
--that's smart. But I do not--

SEN. MIKE LEE:
--you say "against the Social Security--

(OVERTALK)

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
But I do not agree with the Social Security cuts. And the reason why I don't agree with the Social Security cuts is because why, why, why are we cutting benefits for seniors and veterans where Social Security is not a driver of the debt?

DAVID GREGORY:
But--

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
It's just, for me, it's the wrong priority.

DAVID GREGORY:
Let me get, I want to get a comment from Chuck, too, about 20 seconds left here, to sort of--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:
No, I mean, you know, watching what happened with Greg Walden, okay, the White House, it couldn't have gone any better for them. Because here they were, about to take incoming on the left. This is exactly what Republicans thought was going to happen. The minute they wanted-- they desperately wanted the president to put (UNINTEL PHRASE) on the pad paper. Go own it, b they thought, yeah, one of the side benefits will be left, and he'll have this divisive fight. And then Walden does what he did. It gave the president a "walk away free from the talks" card.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right, I've got to leave it there.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
But he doesn't want to walk away from the talks.

DAVID BROOKS:
I don't think he does. But if he's not-- but now he's got--

DAVID GREGORY:
All right.

DAVID BROOKS:
--he can claim that they're not--

DAVID GREGORY:
I've got to get a break in here. Thank you all very much. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, my voice is going to get remarkably better, as you're going to hear my special conversation that I taped on Friday about the legacy of baseball legend Jackie Robinson and what his story of struggle means today. Joining me, the woman who stood by his side through all of it, his wife of 26 years, Rachel Robinson, as well as documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. We'll also here from Harrison Ford, who stars in the new Robinson film 42, playing the man who made Robinson's story possible, all coming up after this short break.