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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript - Immigration

Interview

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GREGORY: Let me bring in Congressman Raul Labrador of Idaho, a conservative in the House, tea party supported. Congressman, welcome back. And let me have you weigh in on this particular issue. Why shouldn't this be seen a different way, which is the Obama administration making a real and credible concession to the business community to make sure that this is implemented in a thorough and-- and effective way?

REP. RAUL LABRADOR (R-ID): Well, that's what the Obama administration wants you to believe. I think they want you to think that they're listening to the business owners. And I think you can give them a little bit of credit for that. But the question is what part of Obamacare actually works? Because if you look at-- they've already had to concede on other points that Obamacare is not working. Now they have to do it on the employer mandate. And pretty soon, I think they're going to have to have some questions about the individual mandates. There's nothing about this law that is working in the United States. All businesses are concerned. And it was interesting to listen to Senator Menendez say that this portion of the law was only going to affect about one percent of the businesses. Why is it that Democrats and this administration thought that it was necessary for them to create a law that was actually going to affect one percent of the businesses when most businesses with 50 people and-- plus were actually providing insurance to-- to their employees?

GREGORY: Let me ask you about immigration. President Bush-- former President Bush is expected to speak out about immigration reform this coming week. He could be a very strong voice within the Republican Party after the Senate has passed immigration reform to put pressure on the House. How will you respond to that? And do you think we're going to get a bill in the end out of the House?

REP. LABRADOR: You know, I hope we're going to get a bill. I think immigration reform is necessary. As you know, I have been negotiating on immigration reform now for some time. But my concern with the Senate bill is that they put the legalization of 11 million people ahead of security. The legalization happens first, and then the security happens second. And I think the American people are not going to stand for that. In fact, if you look at this Obamacare debacle that they have right now, this administration is actually deciding when and where to-- to actually enforce the law. And that's what some of us in the House are concerned about. If you give to this administration the authority to decide when they're going to enforce the law, how they're going to enforce the law, and you-- you tell them that it's okay if they decide if there's going to be 20,000 troops or if there's going to be-- I mean 20,000 border patrol agents or it's-- or they get to determine when the border is secure, I can tell you that Janet Napolitano has already said that the border is secure. So what's going to happen is that we're going to give legalization to 11 million people and Janet Napolitano is going to come to Congress and tell us that the border is already secure and nothing else needs to happen.

GREGORY: But Eugene Robinson is the roundtable still here, take-- take this on. I mean, you've got John McCain, who just a few years ago was doing campaign ads saying secure this darn border first…

MR. ROBINSON: Mm-Hm.

GREGORY: …who's saying that Congressman Labrador and anyone who cites insufficient security at the border is just looking for a way to kill this bill…

MR. ROBINSON: Right.

GREGORY: …and that it's not-- it's not a credible opposition.

MR. ROBINSON: Well, if we actually look at what's been going on, on the border, the border is much more secure than it has been in the past. And there are those who argue it will never be-- there will never be an impregnable fortress wall between the United States and Mexico. It's a 2,000-mile-long border. And what the-- the House Republicans seem to be demanding is something that no one can deliver. So what's the point of that? I-- I think-- look, this is-- it seems to me a pretty good compromise from their point of view because they do get 20,000 new border patrol agents and-- and a lot of bells and whistles that weren't there before.

GREGORY: And a long path to citizenship for those who are here illegally. It's a pretty arduous process.

MR. BROOKS: They are here, you know, I've seen a lot of intellectually weak cases in this town. I rarely seen as intellectually a weak case is the case against the Senate immigration bill. The Republican say they want to reduce illegal immigration. The Congressional Budget Office says the Senate bill will reduce it by a third to a half. They said they want economic growth. All the top conservative economists say they'll produce economic growth. They say you want to reduce the debt. CBO says it will reduce the debt. All the big major objectives the Republican stand for, the Senate immigration bill will do. And so the-- the other things they're talking about are secondary and tertiary issues whether we get 86 percent border protection or 90 percent, compared to the big things this bill does, they're minuscule. Mystified by what…

GREGORY: Congressman, respond to David Brooks on that.

REP. LABRADOR: I'm-- I'm sorry, but what-- what I just heard was totally ridiculous. If-- if you listen to what the CBO said, they said that it's going to be between a third and 50 percent reduction in illegal immigration. That means that every five years, we're going to have to do another Reagan amnesty. What the American people want is a secure border. They understand that there is going to be economic growth. And I agree that there's going to be economic growth when you have immigration reform, that's why I'm a big proponent of immigration reform, but for somebody to sit here on national TV and say that that it is actually a weak argument for us to argue that we want something like 90 percent security, I think it's-- it's actually beyond the pale. What we need to do-- look-- look at just one thing. There's two-- two components of the law that we need to-- that we need to change. For example, the-- the ICE agents have told us that if they could work with the local communities, with the local law enforcement agents, they would be much more effective in securing our-- our interior. The Democrats do not want any local enforcement of immigration laws. We do it with drug laws. We do it with all these other things where-- where we have these task forces between the federal-- federal and state and local agencies, and the Democrats do not want to do with immigration. We could do that and we could curtail a lot of the illegal immigration. There's a lot of other things that we can do to make this law stronger.

GREGORY: David-- David, respond to that.

MR. BROOKS: The CBO said that it would reduce it by a-- by a third to 50 percent, and what I hear the Congressman saying is he won't support it unless it's a 100 percent because we'd have to go back and do a Reagan.

REP. LABRADOR: That's-- that's not what I say. Don't-- don't put words in my mouth.

MR. BROOKS: Okay, well, let me say the current law produces this X much illegal immigration. This law cuts it significantly. It's better than the current law generally when something is better than we have got, generally you want to support that thing.

GREGORY: All right, let me take a quick break here and come back and talk more about the politics of this, that's impacting a lot of these House members, even the Senate supporters of this as well. Back with our roundtable and some of these hot button issues right after this.

(Announcements)

GREGORY: This was the scene during the African trip. President Obama and Former President Bush in Dar es Salaam, dedicating the memorial there, laying a wreath at the site of the terrorist attacks back in 1998. Chuck Todd, the pure politics of immigration, I mentioned President Bush because he'll speak out about this, he's been reluctant to do so. He's going to put more pressure. I mean, here you have, you know, a Republican congressman, a conservative columnist arguing the merits of this. This is really a big debate within the Republican Party.

MR. TODD: This is a total huge debate in the Republican Party. And the question is does President Bush's voice enhance the argument of sort of the business wing of the Republican Party, which is the ones that are pushing to get this done in a pragmatic way, who simply look at this issue with Hispanics and say, jeez, let's just get this issue behind us, or does he make it worse? You know, how politic-- you know, one of the reasons he's slowly gotten back into positive territory in his poll numbers is he's not gotten involved in politics. This is a step in the politics. Let me tell you something else, David. White House, now I have-- they had been so confident that they were going to sign immigration reform this year. For the first time I-- I am hearing that there is some doubt seeping in, that they think that maybe the House won't act. What they need is they need an-- they need something to sort of force Boehner to like at the last minute bring it to the floor the same way that the fiscal cliff deal happened. The problem is there's no trigger at the end of this year. There isn't the end of this Congress. There isn't this. So I don't know how this happens by the end of this year and suddenly now the White House doesn't see a path to how this happens...

GREGORY: Right. Fire is all around them, no real second-term agenda when they have to deal with all these problems.

MS. MITCHELL: And immigration was going to be the one thing that they could have pointed to. And I think that conversation with John Boehner and the president, the president doesn't have a whole well of trust in Boehner saying, you know, hang with me, I can get this done by the end of the summer. Boehner still doesn't have the support and you heard what-- what Congressman Labrador has been saying, they don't have a Marco Rubio on the House side who can try to work around the edges…

MR. TODD: It was supposed to be Paul Ryan.

MS. MITCHELL: …and bring it together.

MR. TODD: It was supposed to be Paul Ryan…

MS. MITCHELL: And he's gone silent I think.

MR. TODD: But you know what, Paul Ryan has never been brave on the political front.

GREGORY: Well, but…

MR. TODD: Always been brave on policy but never on politics.

MR. ROBINSON: There are Republican constituencies out there, the business community center that are pushing for immigration reform. And-- and you have to imagine that the House Republicans, even the tea party-backed Republicans are going to hear from-- from people in-- in their districts and-- and people from whom they raise funds.

GREGORY: Well, and Congressman, there is you, somebody who's been pushing-- I mean, you're an immigration lawyer. You've been pushing for reform. I'll paraphrase something that you were quoted as saying in June in the National Journal, that we've got to fix the system and that Hispanics essentially have stopped listening to Republicans. Isn't that a bigger concern than some of these policy differences that you have with David Brooks or others who would support the Senate legislation?

REP. LABRADOR: I actually think if we don't do it right politically it's going to be the death of the Republican Party. If we do it right, I think it's going to be good for us. But if we don't do it right, what's going to happen is that we're going to lose our base because we're still going to have a large number of illegal immigrants coming into the United States. And the Hispanic community is not going to listen to us because they're going to always listen to, at this point, to the people that are offering more, that are offering a faster pathway to citizenship, all those things. So, I think we lose on both grounds if we don't do it right. However, if we do it right, if we actually cut down illegal immigration by a large percentage, if we actually do it in a way that actually brings more legal immigrants to the United States-- one of the problems with the Senate bill that we haven't talked about is that the non-ag guest worker portion of the Senate bill is actually starts out at 20,000 guest workers per year. Think about that. I've had some congressmen say do you mean 20,000 per county, 20,000 per state? And it's not, its 20,000 non-ag guest workers per year for the entire United States. You're not-- you're not going to cut back illegal immigration by only bringing 20,000 guest workers to the United States.

GREGORY: Let me-- and there was another moment of the week that before I run out of time, I want to get to. And it had to do with two first ladies, a current and former, talking about life in the White House. Michelle Obama making some comments. It got a lot of attention. I'll play a portion of it and get some response.
(Videotape; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania/Tuesday)

MS. MICHELLE OBAMA: I've just found it just a very freeing and liberating…

MS. COKIE ROBERTS: Hmm. No…

MS. OBAMA: …opportunity.

MS. ROBERTS: No-- no state prisoner?

MS. OBAMA: No. No, they-- there are prison elements to it, but it's a really nice prison. So--

MS. LAURA BUSH: With a chef.

MS. OBAMA: You know, you can't…

MS. BUSH: Yeah.

MS. OBAMA: …complain. But there-- there-- there is definitely, you know, elements that are confining.

MS. ROBERTS: And-- and she said that…

MS. OBAMA: It's-- it's a-- a great privilege. So while people that are sort of sorting through our shoes and our hair-- whether we cut it or not, you know…

MS. BUSH: Whether we have bangs.

MS. OBAMA: Whether we have bangs. Who-- who would have thought?

(End videotape)

GREGORY: Andrea, White House is prison.

MS. MITCHELL: And-- and I'm so glad you played the whole thing because it was Cokie Roberts quoting from Martha Washington, I believe. She'd written a book on first ladies who described it as a prison, and that's what Michelle Obama was responding to…

GREGORY: Right.

MS. MITCHELL: …in a-- in (Unintelligible) way and also giving some serious thought to how it's such a privilege to be first lady. And, of course, the, you know, blogosphere-- the conservative blogosphere took off on Michelle Obama describing is it as a prison, which is not what she did.

MR. DIONNE: And she said it's a…

GREGORY: But…

MR. DIONNE: …very nice prison and that was a very honest answer.
GREGORY: No…

MS. MITCHELL: The chef said…

GREGORY: Yeah.

MR. TODD: No, I-- I thought it was only supposed to be us reporters that complained of the prison confines of-- of the White House. Look, I do think it was interesting to-- to see the two of them. And-- and you do-- you know, Michelle Obama has never been ecstatic about how life is like in the White House. This was a-- this was a professional woman, had her own business career and all this stuff and suddenly it's gone. But she's gotten-- she's gotten more comfortable.

GREGORY: All right. A quick break here. My thanks to Congressman Labrador as always. We'll speak to you soon. And we'll be back here in just a moment.

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