A veteran of covering Washington, Palmer weighs in on the Boston bombings, efforts to pass immigration reform and the defeat of gun control measures.
POLITICO’s Anna Palmer
Tavis: It’s been a difficult and traumatic few days, with the massive hunt for the Boston Marathon bombers, efforts to pass new immigration laws, and a defeat in Congress of any gun control measure, which, as we know, never even got to the floor of the Senate for real debate.
Joining us now to talk about the intersection of all of these major issues is senior journalist for POLITICO, Anna Palmer. She joins us now from Washington. Anna, good to have you on. Thanks for your time.
Anna Palmer: Thanks for having me.
Tavis: Let me start, let’s jump right in and start with the connection that some have tried to make that some of us find troubling, and yet the connection’s being made anyway between the immigration bill that is about to be debated and what happened in Boston.
There are those who are suggesting that what happened in Boston, given who these two suspects were, are, one dead, of course, the other still living, that that’s going to have an impact on the immigration debate. Your sense of that conversation?
Palmer: Absolutely. What we’re already starting to see is opponents of the immigration reform bill come forward, use this as an opportunity to say let’s slow down, wait a minute. These people came into the country as legal permanent residents, so what does that mean for our current immigration laws as well as what this might mean for the future in terms of security and other things.
I think what we’ve started to see a little bit more, though, today and kind of over the weekend as well, was some of the proponents, some of the Gang of Eight, certainly those members.
And even today Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who’s taking a more active role on immigration reform, say actually if you want to try immigration reform to this, what happened in Boston, this actually is another means for why we need to have this debate, why we need to improve the laws in this area.
Tavis: So your sense is that there are now voices coming even from the right that will mute that kind of conversation?
Palmer: Certainly. There are definitely Republicans, Senator Marco Rubio from Florida, one of the lead negotiators on the Senate Gang of Eight bill, has come forward since the Boston attacks and has said this is really a false attack on the kind of right-wing groups who are really opposed to any kind of reform moving forward, and to try to use this as that is just a stalling technique and inappropriate use in terms of talking about immigration reform.
Tavis: So since we’re here, let me advance, then. Give me your overview, and then we can pick this apart, give me your overview of where we are at the moment with the immigration debate.
You mentioned the Gang of Eight. We know, of course, some days ago and said they’d reached an agreement. So as you’re on the Hill tonight, where is this debate headed? Where are we now in this conversation?
Palmer: It’s really the beginning of this conversation. What happened for the last couple months, the Gang of Eight was meeting, they were kind of having these secret negotiations. The bill has been unveiled. It’s 800-some pages long, and now you’re starting to have some of the early hearings in the Senate and Judiciary Committee, where they’re going to have a lot of panelists, you’re going to have a lot of discussion about the different planks of the immigration reform proposal, from border security to a pathway to citizenship.
Then it’s going to have to go over, they’ve got to figure out what they’re going to do in the Senate, and also what’s going to happen in the House, which has still not produced its own proposal, even though there’s been months and months of work on it.
So it’s definitely a stretch I think is probably the best way to put it for the August timetable that the president and others put forward in terms of trying to get something done.
Tavis: Let me crash through that August timeline. Last week on this program we had Senator Bernie Sanders, and I’ll come to the gun control debate, or lack thereof, in just a moment.
But he was on this program last week, and I said to him, I asked of him the same thing I’ve asked of others, and that is why it is that Americans should believe that something meaningful on immigration reform will, in fact, get done by August, or even after August, in the year 2013?
Why should we believe something is really going to get done when months ago we all believed that there’d be an assault weapons ban? We certainly believed that there would be background checks. That did not happen.
Yet after Sandy Hook, I think every American would have told you that something is going to happen now that we see our babies being gunned down at school in front of us, and it just didn’t happen.
So tell me why you believe that in August or even slightly after August something will get done on immigration reform, that the president will get something on his desk?
Palmer: I’m not certain that immigration reform will get done. I do think the odds that it gets done were always better than gun legislation, because if you look at what happened in the election in November, Republicans really were staring at their Latino voters just in spades going over to the Democrats on all levels.
There’s been a real soul-searching that I’m sure you’ve talked about a lot in terms of the public soul-searching that Republicans have been trying to do, and I think they’re looking at their electoral map, certainly at the presidential level.
But even in the Senate, and they know that they need to woo Hispanic and Latino voters, and the one way to do that is to try to get immigration reform passed.
Tavis: So I think I just heard you say very diplomatically that this is all about politics. It’s not so much about doing the right thing for the right reason, it’s that people are looking at electoral maps and figuring out they ain’t got no choice. Is that what I heard you say?
Palmer: Well, I think if you look at the gun debate and you look at the Democrats who decided to not vote for background checks, you see North Dakota, you see Montana, you see some states and members who are up for a very tough reelection in 2014 and 2016, and they’re definitely looking at the electoral map and in terms of where they think the voters in their states are.
Tavis: The senator from North Dakota, and I’m blanking on her name right now, the -
Palmer: Senator Heidi Heitkamp.
Tavis: There you go, thank you. Because you’re from North Dakota, so I knew you would know this.
Palmer: I am. I have to know my home state and senator for sure.
Tavis: Yeah, it slipped my mind just that fast. I don’t know if you saw Maureen Dowd’s piece in “The New York Times” on Sunday, but she took her to task – took her to task, and quite frankly took the president to task for not doing what it took to get her.
She wasn’t the only one, but Maureen really drilled down on her and how, in fact, that she could vote the way that she voted. Since you’re from North Dakota, I know you don’t live there now, but give me your sense of her vote on this particular issue, and beyond her, to the point you made a moment ago, the Democrats that the president could not count on this time around.
Palmer: I think what you saw and what we saw up on the Hill in particular was that really the National Rifle Association is very, very good at getting the grassroots movement out, so getting calls in to members’ offices.
So if you talk to someone like Senator Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota, she said she met with people on both sides of the issues. They were obviously victims of the Sandy Hook, the families there, trying to make that personal plea.
But in terms of – what she said is she really thought about it and had heard so much from people in her state on this issue that she felt like she had to take the vote that she did.
I heard that over and over again from members of Congress and their staff, saying the polls, the president says there’s polls that say 90 percent of Americans believe that we need to have gun control and gun legislation, but I’m hearing two to one at least from people who are Second Amendment rights advocates.
Tavis: That raises another question, and I think it was a brilliant question that Maureen Dowd, again, raised, and she’s not the only one, but she certainly raised this in her piece on Sunday. It got my attention, and I’ve had this conversation countless times myself, with myself and with others.
That is to the point you make now about 90 percent. If there are polls and studies and surveys that showed, and I’ve seen them, so it know this is true, if there are polls and studies and surveys that show that 90 percent of the American people want, or would have wanted, still want, some sort of background check.
It raises the question how the president lost on this issue. I can’t imagine you could tell me anything in my life that I have a 90 percent chance of doing – running a marathon, winning a woman’s heart – you can’t tell me that I’ve got a 90 percent chance of doing anything and I lose that. I just can’t figure that out.
So you’re on the Hill. Give me your sense of how the president could stare at numbers that said that 90 percent of the people were with him, and he could not find a way to beat, to berate, to campaign, to go to the states of these senators like North Dakota and elsewhere, and take his message directly to the American people and get this done.
How do you lose a fight when 90 percent of the people are with you? That’s the question Maureen raised in her piece. What’s your thought about it?
Palmer: I think when you look at some of the states where these senators are from – Alaska and Montana in particular, those senators, Senator Begich and Senator Max Baucus are up for reelection in 2014, I don’t know that the president has a whole lot of sway in those states in terms of actually giving cover for someone like that.
I also think the issue that you’re seeing is 90 percent of Americans in these polls state that they are supportive of more gun control laws, but it hasn’t yet been proven that that is an issue that will turn an election. So unlike the NRA, the rifle association, who has been successful in ousting people historically, this will be really interesting to see in terms of 2014.
Will the Mayors Against Illegal Guns that’s funded by Michael Bloomberg, will they have success? Because they now have the money behind them to make an example out of a member of Congress. So maybe you have gun legislation that will be even more aggressive that could happen in 2015, for example.
Tavis: So Harry Reid, the majority leader, Anna, has basically said we’re going to take a break from gun control. He did not say this is over, it’s done, we lost. Parse those words for me. Are we really taking a break, or is this thing done, it didn’t happen, and we’re on to something else now?
Palmer: It is very hard to see a path forward for gun legislation unless there is something that very dramatically happens. Certainly the gun control advocates are saying we’re going to continue this fight, we’re going to make the senators who voted against us feel accountable. We’re going to try to switch votes.
If there were something to happen or if one or two of those senators were to come forward and say, “You know, I’ve changed my mind on this.” Senator Reid has that opportunity still. He can use a procedural measure to bring it back up again, but it’s unlikely, I think, that that will happen certainly in the next couple of months.
Tavis: So I’ll close on this note, back to your fine work at POLITICO, what are you specifically and your colleagues at POLITICO going to be looking at as this immigration debate moves forward to give us some sense of whether or not we are going to get something done, whether we’re not going to get something done, the difference in the Senate bill and the House bill, whether it can pass the House.
What are you specifically keeping your eye on with regard to any direction that we might take, any sense we might take from the direction this debate is headed?
Palmer: I think we’re focusing a lot on what is happening in terms of the far right with the conservative movement and talk radio. They haven’t really gotten the steam that they did last time around in 2006/2007, and so that’s kind of a marker, an indicator of how revved up the Republican base is on this.
I also think we’re looking very closely at what Senator Marco Rubio is going to be doing. So far he has stayed very supportive of the effort. So keeping members like that on board is going to be hugely important in terms of getting this passed in the Senate.
I think the other thing in the House that we’re really looking at is how might they put together a deal. A big package seems like it’s pretty unlikely at this time, but could they pass maybe three different bills that they put together into a final package that could somewhat mirror what’s happening in the Senate?
Those are kind of three things that I think are going to be very key in terms of this actually getting done by August, or even in the couple months after that.
Tavis: So I lied. A very quick and final, final exit question, which is – and your answer now makes me think of this right quick, and we could do a whole show on this – but your take on whether or not the dysfunction in Washington and the partisanship in Washington makes it almost impossible these days to get any kind of comprehensive bill done, be it gun control, be it immigration.
You can get smaller things done, but is Washington situated these days, the politics of Washington, are they situated in such a way where anything comprehensive is almost impossible to get passed?
Palmer: I definitely think that the partisanship has a huge impact, but one of the things, a bright spot on immigration reform so far has been a real kind of joining of four Democrats and four Republicans. Whether or not that will continue to the debt debate, for example, in the next coming months, I think that’s highly unlikely, because the politics just aren’t there.
Tavis: Anna Palmer from POLITICO, we appreciate your insights on the program tonight. Good to have you on.
Palmer: Thanks so much.
Tavis: Thanks, Anna.
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