TOPICS > Politics

Republicans Tackle Immigration in New Hampshire Debate

June 6, 2007 at 6:25 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: The 10 announced Republican presidential candidates stood together on the stage at St. Anselm’s College last night. But on the contentious issue of immigration, John McCain stood alone.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: For us to do nothing is silent and de facto amnesty.

JUDY WOODRUFF: McCain is cosponsor of the immigration bill now being debated in the Senate, but the other nine had little if anything positive to say about it. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R), Massachusetts: This bill, unfortunately, has at least one provision that’s a real problem. It’s the Z visa. And what it allows is people who’ve come here illegally to stay here for the rest of their lives, not necessarily as citizens. They have to wait 13 years to become citizens.

That’s not the point. The point is, every illegal alien, almost every one, under this bill gets to stay here. That’s not fair to the millions and millions of people around the world that would love to come here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: California Congressman Duncan Hunter.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), California: And let me tell you, this is a disastrous bill. And if John McCain is right in saying that this is a national security issue — and it is, border enforcement — then the Hunter bill, which was signed by the president on the 26th of October, mandating 854 miles of double fence — it’s been six months, and they’ve done 11 miles.

So this administration has a case of the slows. And I think they slowed the fence down so that they could come out with the amnesty at the same time, put the two together, and the Bush-McCain-Kennedy bill would then be accepted by conservatives and liberals alike.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson.

FORMER GOV. TOMMY THOMPSON (R), Wisconsin: Unless you secure the border, it is not right to give 12 million individuals who have illegal rights into this country status before that border is protected. There should be no amnesty. And this bill, no matter how you cover it, is an amnesty bill. And the people in this country do not believe in that bill, and they believe very much that the best hope for us is to have a secure border.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo.

REP. TOM TANCREDO (R), Colorado: What we’re doing here in this immigration battle is testing our willingness to actually hold together as a nation or split apart into a lot of Balkanized pieces. We are testing our willingness to actually hold onto something called the English language, something that is the glue that is supposed to hold us together as a nation. We are becoming a bilingual nation, and that is not good.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), Former Mayor of New York: The problem with this immigration plan is it has no real unifying purpose. It’s a typical Washington mess. Everybody compromises, four or five compromises, and the compromises leave you with the following conclusion. The litmus test you should have for legislation is, is it going to make things better? And when you look at these compromises, it is quite possible it will make things worse.

The organizing purpose should be that our immigration laws should allow us to identify everyone who is in this country that comes here from a foreign country. They should have a tamper-proof I.D. card. It should be in a database that allows you to figure out who they are, why they’re here, make sure they’re not illegal immigrants coming here for a bad purpose, and then to be able to throw out the ones who are not in that database.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Giuliani’s answer prompted McCain to respond.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Rudy, you just described our legislation, so I’d be glad to have further conversation with you, because it does account for people who are here illegally, it does have an employment verification system, and it weeds out those who shouldn’t be here, and it gives others a chance to remain in this country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Debate moderator Wolf Blitzer of CNN also asked the candidates about the war in Iraq. Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore defended the U.S. military operation as a necessary step to secure both the Middle East and the U.S.

FORMER GOV. JIM GILMORE (R), Virginia: The interest of the United States is in creating as much stability as possible in the Middle East. There is a very great danger to this country, our interests in Israel, our interests in energy, and in other ways.

There’s a giant danger of the Middle East becoming an unstable place. Saddam Hussein was unstable, and so taking him out was good there, but we certainly didn’t anticipate the further instability that was to come out.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator McCain used the opportunity to admonish Senator Hillary Clinton, who, two nights earlier at a Democratic debate, put the blame for the war on President Bush.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: And when Senator Clinton says this is Mr. Bush’s war, that this is President Bush’s war — when President Clinton was in power, I didn’t say that Bosnia, our intervention there, was President Clinton’s war. When we intervened in Kosovo, I didn’t say it was President Clinton’s war.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who voted against the original authorization of force in Iraq, was the only one of the 10 arguing U.S. troops should be withdrawn immediately.

REP. RON PAUL (R), Texas: The sooner we come home, the better. If they declare there’s no progress in September, we should come home. It was a mistake to go, so it’s a mistake to stay. If we made the wrong diagnosis, we should change the treatment.

So we’re not making progress there, and we should come home. The weapons weren’t there, and we went in under U.N. resolutions, and our national security was not threatened.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The debate also touched on hot-button issues such as evolution, religion and abortion. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was asked about his rejection of the evolutionary theory of human life in an earlier debate.

FORMER GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE (R), Arkansas: Well, let me be very clear. I believe there is a God. I believe there’s a God who was active in the creation process. Now, how did he do it, and when did he do it, and how long did he take? I don’t honestly know, and I don’t think knowing that would make me a better or a worse president.

But I’ll tell you what I can tell the country: If they want a president who doesn’t believe in God, there’s probably plenty of choices. But if I’m selected as president of this country, they’ll have one who believes in those words, that God did create.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Romney, meanwhile, was questioned about a recent poll showing some voters would not support him because he is a Mormon.

MITT ROMNEY: I believe in God, believe in the Bible, believe Jesus Christ is my savior. I believe that God created man in his image. I believe that the freedoms of man derive from inalienable rights that were given to us by God.

And I also believe that there are some pundits out there that are hoping that I’ll distance myself from my church so that that’ll help me politically, and that’s not going to happen.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On the question of the most significant moral issues facing the country, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback discussed the fight to outlaw abortion and its importance within the Republican Party.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), Kansas: And I’m pro-life, and I’m whole life. And one of the things I’m the most — the proudest about our party about is that we’ve stood for life. We’ve been a party that has stood for a culture of life.

And it was in our platform in 1980, and it continues today. And with that respect — and I have respect for my other colleagues — that’s why I don’t think we can nominate somebody that’s not pro-life in this party, because it is at our core.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just as Rudy Giuliani, whose views are pro-choice on abortion, was asked to respond to a Catholic bishop’s criticism, stormy weather in New Hampshire intervened.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN Anchor: How does that make you feel when you hear words like that from a Catholic bishop?

RUDY GIULIANI: Well, a Catholic bishop, any religious — issues of moral…

WOLF BLITZER: That’s the lightning that’s having an effect on our system.



RUDY GIULIANI: You’re going to leave me alone, John. Well, I guess I’m here by myself. Look, for someone who went to parochial schools all his life, this is a very frightening thing that’s happening right now.

McCain alone on immigration

Dan Balz
The Washington Post
In many ways, the immigration issue is to the Republicans what Iraq has been to the Democrats. An issue that is very divisive...and one in which there's no easy solution or simple compromise.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Republican candidates aren't scheduled to debate again until August, in Des Moines, Iowa.

And now some analysis from Dan Balz. He is chief political reporter for the Washington Post. He was at the Democrats' debate in New Hampshire on Sunday night, and he was there for the Republicans last night. He joins us from Manchester.

Dan, that light moment at the end was one of the few in the debate, but, overall, what did you learn from this gathering?

DAN BALZ, Political Reporter, Washington Post: Well, we learned a couple of things, Judy. One is that, in many ways, the immigration issue is to the Republicans what Iraq has been to the Democrats. An issue that is very divisive, that will be a continuous part of their ongoing battle for the Republican nomination, and one in which there's no easy solution or simple compromise.

We saw that again last night. Now in this case, on that stage, as you said, Senator McCain stood alone. He has put himself in a position where he is allied with President Bush on the issue of immigration, but against a good, sizable part of the Republican base. It's a problem for him.

He's able to talk about how he can reach across the aisle and work with Democrats. That may help him in a general election if he wins the nomination, but his position on this is causing him problems in the nomination battle.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, overall, was he hurt by this last night?

DAN BALZ: I don't know that he was hurt by this last night. I think that there were differing views of how well he performed. I think there's no question that the immigration issue itself hurts him in the Republican nomination battle.

There were a number of people, however, who thought that he held up pretty well, that he looked more like the McCain of old, a person who says, "I'm going to give you straight talk whether you like it or not." So I think the views on that were mixed, in terms of his performance last night.

I think overall, Judy, that this debate did not in any significant way change things. The one element of this debate is that there was Fred Thompson, who is about to become a candidate, not yet on the stage, and I think all of the candidates recognized that. I think we're in a little bit of a limbo, and this debate kind of revealed that.

An absent elephant in the room

Dan Balz
The Washington Post
All of these debates at this point are not, in a sense, game-changing. They're not fundamentally altering the dynamic of the race.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, how does that affect the outcome, then, of a debate? If you've got the absent elephant in the room, if you will, how does that affect whether the debate makes a difference or not?

DAN BALZ: Well, all of these debates at this point are not, in a sense, game-changing. They're not fundamentally altering the dynamic of the race. But what they are doing is they are beginning to give people who are paying some attention to this race an idea of how these candidates think, how they handle themselves on their feet, where they differ on particular issues, and what they would do on issues.

There's a lot of things that these candidates have not yet had a chance to talk about. These debates give them a chance to do it. And as they are standing there one next to the other, it gives people a chance to weigh how they may handle a general election, how they might stand up in a tough fight, and where they might try to lead the Republican Party.

There are obviously differences among these candidates. They are conservative, but in different ways, and in the case of Mayor Giuliani, not conservative on the issues of abortion and gay rights.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So setting aside Fred Thompson, who's going to be announcing, we're told, within the month, early July, you're saying essentially the three front-runners, McCain, Romney and Giuliani still are front-runners. Any of the others in the second tier, or whatever you want to call it, those who are not in the front three, did they distinguish themselves? Did they move themselves to the forefront any last night?

DAN BALZ: I think Governor Huckabee, former Governor Huckabee, continues to hold up well in these debates. He had several good moments last night, both in the introductions when he told people he is also from Hope, Arkansas, which, of course, is where Bill Clinton was from, and said, "America, I hope you'll give us a second choice."

In the answer that you showed about evolution and creationism, I think he handled that question very, very effectively. He has shown through all three of the debates that he has something to say and that he has a particularly effective way of saying it.

Now, he's handicapped, obviously, in the way that all of these other candidates are handicapped, by a difficulty in raising money and in convincing people that he can really get the nomination. But I think, of all of the others, he continues to show some promise in being able to rise above that lower tier.

But I think, realistically, there are three leading candidates at this point, and the polls and the buzz, if you will, suggest that it will be a four-person top tier, when Senator Thompson enters the race sometime later this summer. So that's a pretty crowded field in a top tier, so it's hard for the others to break through.

Criticism of President Bush

Dan Balz
The Washington Post
I think what surprised everybody was that there was even personal criticism of [President Bush] last night.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Dan, I was struck by how much criticism there seemed to be of President Bush by these Republican candidates. Does that have a bearing on this race? What does that say to you?

DAN BALZ: Well, I think everybody was struck by that, Judy. I know I was, as we were watching the debate unfold, and as I kind of replayed it once the debate had ended. And I talked to some Republicans today, some of whom were there last night, and I think they were stunned, also.

I think there are two things going on. One is, nobody wants to directly criticize President Bush, particularly if they are serious about winning the Republican nomination. But they know, as one person said to me today, that if this race is about the last eight years, the Republican nominee is going to have a very difficult time winning. They want to make it about the next four, so they need to begin to put some space between what President Bush has done and what they would do.

But I think what surprised everybody was that there was even personal criticism of him last night. Former Governor Tommy Thompson, who was on the stage, was asked, how would you use President Bush if you became president and he were the ex-president? It was a question similar to the one that was asked of the Democrats about how they would use Bill Clinton. And they kind of jumped all over themselves to say they would put him to use in a significant way.

Governor Thompson, the initial thing he said coming out of his mouth was, "Well, I certainly would not send him to the United Nations." And I think that people were shocked that a former cabinet officer would be as blunt as he was.

There was criticism of the president on his handling of Iraq. Governor Huckabee said that the administration had bungled Katrina. There was criticism, obviously, of the immigration bill. And there was criticism, also, of spending that conservative Republicans think has been out of control during the Bush presidency.

So this has happened earlier than people expected. And I think, in some of the comments, Tommy Thompson's and Congressman Tancredo's comments last night, was more personal in its criticism of the president.

The shape of the race

Dan Balz
The Washington Post
What we have is a long summer in which McCain, Giuliani, Romney, Thompson and the others will be kind of jostling for position.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Looking ahead, Dan, where does the Republican race go from here? They don't meet again in a debate, I guess, until August. Today, there was the news that both Rudy Giuliani and John McCain are now saying they're not going to participate in a Republican Party-sponsored straw poll in Iowa in August. Does that say anything about the shape of this race?

DAN BALZ: Well, that straw poll has usually been a significant factor in winnowing the field, although it tends to knock out the weaker candidates rather than the strong candidates. At this point, it will be a much less significant event.

So what we have is a long summer in which McCain, Giuliani, Romney, Thompson and the others will be kind of jostling for position. People will be looking at the second quarter fundraising reports that come out at the end of this month or early in July. They'll be particularly looking at how much Senator McCain has raised.

But I would expect at this point there will not be tremendous movement in the polls, with this exception. I think that it's likely that Fred Thompson will get a boost in his support once he formally enters the race. That has been the case certainly when Rudy Giuliani got in the race earlier this year, and a lot of Republicans who are in the campaign already anticipate that will happen. But we may not begin to get any clarity on this Republican race until some months from now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Dan Balz of the Washington Post, we're always glad to have you help us watch them jostle. Thanks.

DAN BALZ: Thank you, Judy.