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MSNBC "Decision '08" - Transcript


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MS. MITCHELL: When it comes to immigration reform, John McCain continues to say that the status quo is unacceptable. Last year, he and Senator Ted Kennedy were at the forefront of a comprehensive immigration reform bill that ultimately died in the Senate. These days, Senator McCain stresses that border security must come first, but as part of a larger set of reforms. Joining me now, Republican Congressman Peter King of New York, also the ranking member of the House Homeland Security committee.

Congressman King, thanks very much.

REP. KING: You're welcome.

MS. MITCHELL: John McCain's position now is more in tune with you now that he's emphasizing more enforcement. You've been a big proponent of the fence.

REP. KING: Yeah, I do support the fence, and I do support enforcement first. John McCain is at that position now, not even necessarily for political reasons, but he realized that last year you cannot get what was called comprehensive immigration reform through unless you secure the border first. And so he -- for both practical and political reasons, but also for very pragmatic governmental reasons, realizes to make any progress at all in illegal immigration, we have to do enforcement first and then see what happens.

MS. MITCHELL: He was really out of step with his party -- in step with his president on that issue, but out of step with the, you know, larger constituency in the Republican party.

REP. KING: Yeah. As a long-time supporter of John McCain, I can say that John McCain is often out of step with the party. That's part of his charm. He's an independent person. I mean, I support him in the great majority of issues, but also a significant number of issues where many Republicans have difficulties with John's positions. But that's the way he is. And to me, the whole package is, he's a great guy, he's going to be a great president.

MS. MITCHELL: Congressman, this is what McCain said today. Senator McCain was speaking to a Latino advocacy group in Washington, D.C. This is what he had to say today about the budget.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ) (from video): Americans are fed up, and I understand it. And so if we're technically in a recession or not -- I would imagine that we are -- but the major thing is, Americans are hurting and Americans don't like it and we think -- they think the country's in the wrong direction.

MS. MITCHELL: Now, that was John McCain speaking to us on "Morning Joe" today about whether or not the country's in a recession. This is what he said later on today in Washington, speaking again about the budget to the Latino advocacy group.

SEN. MCCAIN (from video): We must not make the mistake of thinking that our responsibility to meet this challenge will end with that accomplishment. We have economic and humanitarian responsibilities as well, and they require no less dedication from us in meeting them.

MS. MITCHELL: Here, Senator McCain is saying that security -- border security isn't enough, that there are other responsibilities to immigrants, legal and illegal, to make sure that this country responds to their needs.

REP. KING: Well, let's make it clear. I mean, we all strongly support legal immigration. I certainly do. I'm the grandson of immigrants, so I understand -- (inaudible) -- and I grew up in an immigrant neighborhood.

But the fact is that our first obligation is to people who are here legally. And we do it to secure the border first. Nobody wants to be inhumane to people who are here illegal, but they don't have the same rights as someone who is here legally. If we start extending to them the same rights, then we encourage more illegal immigration. That's why it's important to secure the border, have workplace enforcement, and then go see in several years what the illegal situation is. Nobody wants to treat them badly. On the other hand, they're not entitled to the same rights as American citizens or lawful immigrants.

MS. MITCHELL: Has the Republican Party sacrificed a great deal politically with the Tom Tancredo really get tough on immigration position that has given up the advantage that George W. Bush had with Hispanics. Among Republican candidates, he did very well among the Hispanic community, and that advantage has really been lost when you look at the matchups now in the polls. The Republicans now are really not -- they don't have the feeling among the Hispanic community that they are at all responsive.

REP. KING: Yeah, part of that could be our fault for not articulating the message better, because on many values issues, Hispanics, it is my understanding they're a lot closer to the Republican Party. President Bush did do well among Hispanics.

I think sometimes the debate does take on a mean edge, but that's certainly not my position. It certainly isn't John McCain's position. But just because we want to enforce the law -- I think we'd be insulting the Hispanic community if we're saying that the only issue they're concerned about is whether or not illegal immigrants are allowed to say when there are economic issues and social issues and cultural issues and there's also issues of war and peace and fighting Islamic terrorism. So these are all issues that we can appeal the Hispanic community on and do it in a way -- when we discuss immigration in a way that all immigrants, particularly Hispanic immigrants, have made tremendous contributions to this country.

MS. MITCHELL: Barack Obama's going to speak to this same Hispanic group, The Latino advocacy group today in Washington. And over the weekend, he was asked what he would say to them. Let's listen.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL) (from video): I want to deepen those relationships by continuing to talk about my track record on issues like comprehensive immigration reform, health care parity. But I also want to listen and learn and make sure that they know I'm not taking them for granted.

MS. MITCHELL: NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll says that right now, Obama has a 62 to 28 percent lead over John McCain among the Hispanic community. How do you change that?

REP. KING: I think by John McCain being who he is, Hispanics -- all Americans are going to start gravitating toward John McCain. Barack Obama says that, he still hasn't gotten the message from last year. He is talking about what would be considered by most Americans to be de facto amnesty. He's using a euphemism for amnesty and he's talking about, as I understood it, giving the same health care benefits and same benefits to illegals as to legals. If that's what he's saying, then that is a clear difference from John McCain.

MS. MITCHELL: Do you have concerns, as some Republicans do, about the McCain campaign organization, that he had all this time while the Democrats were slugging it out in the primary season and he was the presumptive nominee and he's still shaking up his campaign -- you know, Steve Schmidt up, Rick Davis maybe more to the side, up and out. You know, what is taking him so long to figure out his message and who his messengers are going to be?

REP. KING: Well, you know, about a year ago at this time, all of us were giving John McCain his eulogy. His campaign staff was a wreck. The campaign was going nowhere. I was supporting Rudy Giuliani. The one candidate nobody was worried about was John McCain. He ended up beating everyone, and he is where he is now. John McCain is a survivor. John McCain is a long-distance runner. John McCain is going to win by Election Day, and that's what it's all about. He is -- this may not be the perfect campaign, but John McCain doesn't run perfect campaigns. He runs a John McCain campaign, and that's where you do the best you can, you go forward, and the American people (say ?). He's not going to be as smooth as Obama, but he's going to be the real deal.

MS. MITCHELL: "Not a perfect campaign" sounds like a euphemism, so maybe you'd like to see it come together a little more perfect?

REP. KING: No, just based on the last year, he didn't run a perfect campaign last year either, but he won. I mean, John McCain doesn't have to do it by the books. He does it his way. He's a Frank Sinatra politician. He does it his way and gets it done.

MS. MITCHELL: Speaking of his way --

REP. KING: Yeah.

MS. MITCHELL: -- how does he counteract, you know, Obama planning to appear now in Mile High Stadium Invesco Field, 76,000 people. How do you then come back and have the Republican convention and have an acceptance speech that compares at all to what Obama can pull off?

REP. KING: Well, he's not running to be orator in chief, he's running to be commander in chief. And he may be the performer Barack Obama is, but he's a man of substance. He's a real guy. He has a proven record. I mean, anyone who was a POW for five years and did what he did -- he's been in the House and the Senate, taking the tough position he's take. That's what counts to me, not whether a guy -- you know, we can have Madonna, if we just want somebody who can perform before large crowds, or U2.

MS. MITCHELL: I don't think you want to go there right now given what's in the tabloids. (Laughs.)

REP. KING: There you go.

MS. MITCHELL: One other quick question. Veepstakes, who would you like to see as the running mate to John McCain?

REP. KING: Well, I'll leave that up to John McCain. My own choice would be Joe Lieberman, but I don't know if that would be -- I mean, he's a -- again, a guy like John McCain, solid and of substance, but I think it would probably be somebody within the Republican Party. Maybe Governor Romney, he'd be a good choice, Governor Crist, Rob Portman, my old friend from Ohio. He's be a great choice. Governor Pawlenty, I really don't know him, but he gets good reviews from people I talk to who do know him.

MS. MITCHELL: What would happen with the Republican base if John McCain were to choose Joe Lieberman, a Democrat?

REP. KING: That's, you know, probably why he won't do it. But again, it's a long way from now to Labor Day, and that's what we're talking about. We have the whole summer here, so let's see what happens.

MS. MITCHELL: Okay. We'll see what happens. We'll talk to you again soon.

Thanks so much. Good to see you.

REP. KING: Thank you.

MS. MITCHELL: Peter King.


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