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Bill Kristol On The Immigration Bill

Thursday, June 27, 2013

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HH: The immigration bill will pass and die in the House, I think. Joining me to discuss whether or not that happens is Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard. Bill, good to talk with you as always.

BK: Good talking to you, Hugh.

HH: What about my prediction? I think this is dead, dead, dead.

BK: I think that’s right. I think some of us who think it’s a bad bill should probably do a little work to make sure it stays dead, dead, dead, since here in Washington, these bills can emerge, zombie-like, you know, and once it does pass one house, there’s always that risk of, you know, any excuse, the House does anything even well-intentioned, small bills to fix particular aspects of the immigration system, and suddenly you’re in conference, and suddenly, you’re on a path to perhaps a huge amount of pressure on Speaker Boehner to bring it back up, bring the conference report back up in the House, that kind of thing. But I just was on the Hill this morning talking with a top House Republican staffer, and I think they have internalized the notion that no bill is better than a bad bill. They’re not going to get a set of good small bills, and they need to just hang tough and prepare the ground for…if the Senate Democrats are unwilling to accept reasonable reforms, they just need to be willing to say no bill is better than a bad bill.

HH: You know, they could in the House go to the appropriations process and fully fund a border fence, and specify that it be built, and specify that all the studies that the House wanted be done, and then do that through the Approps process, and there’s no danger of a conference at that point. So it doesn’t mean that step one, border security, has to die. But I do think it would be useful, tell me if you think this would happen, if Speaker Boehner were to go out and explain that like me, like you, and like many other Republicans, he earnestly hoped for immigration reform this year, but that the Senate simply wasn’t serious about it.

BK: And that the senators made clear over, and over at the Senate majority, Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer, they will not accept reasonable reforms. For them, it’s all or nothing. And the all is a bad bill, and they’ve ensured that it’s a bad bill by rejecting amendments that were offered in good faith to make it a pretty decent bill, or try to make it a decent bill. So I do think that the earlier the Speaker goes out and makes that clear, he nips in the bud the attempt by the media and others to blame the House, to put a huge amount of pressure on the House Republicans, a lot of the consultant class, the donor class who have all bought into a silly narrative, I think, where you’ve got to pass something, it doesn’t matter what it is. So I think it would be good for the Speaker to kind of put a stake through the heart of this thing earlier rather than later. I also think it would prevent a fair amount of divisiveness among Republicans and conservatives, it would let people move on, it would let people like Marco Rubio say okay, I did my best, I disagreed with some of my conservative friends on this, let me get back to fighting President Obama on X, Y or Z. So I’m not for dragging this out. I’m for putting a stake through the heart of it as soon as possible.

HH: As soon as possible, and I’d like to do so in a way that says to, for example, our friends in the Roman Catholic community, Evangelical community, we hear you, we agree with you, this is not a humanitarian situation. But to pass a bill that does nothing about stemming the tide of people who will simply come into what is the equivalent of servitude is, in my view, just a terrible, terrible postponement of the day we get serious about fixing the humanitarian crisis. Now Bill, yesterday I had Senator John Hoeven on, and it became painfully clear to me and the audience that he really didn’t understand the bill that had his name on it, or at least he believed things about it that first-year law students wouldn’t believe about it. Why is it that the Republicans routinely get their heads handed to them when it comes to drafting legislation?

BK: Yeah, I don’t know. It was a shocking interview with Senator Hoeven, who’s a bright guy.

HH: Yes, he is.

BK: I’ve dealt with him, you’ve dealt with him, and a decent guy. You know, I don’t agree with his amendment, but one would have thought that he and Bob Corker, the two main co-authors who put their credibility on the line, who got a bunch of other Republicans to go with them, and that’s the reason they’re allegedly voting for the bill today, yeah, he doesn’t know the first thing about the provisions that are in his own amendment, leaving aside the rest of the bill, and leaving aside the complicated way in which his 130 pages of amendments interact with the rest of the bill, none of which anyone had any time to read or digest. For me, I mean, I’ve thought the fix was in for a while. I’ve been very skeptical for quite a while, and as you have, while wishing that things could turn out differently. But for me, the moment of truth was when Hoeven and Corker unleashed their amendment, or unveiled their amendment Friday afternoon, last Friday afternoon, and Harry Reid immediately filed for cloture, filled the amendment tree, filed for cloture at 5:30pm Monday. That was not an act of good faith.

HH: No.

BK: And that is not serious to ask people to take 72 hours to study something of this complexity and vote for it. And the fact that Corker and Hoeven and the other Republicans, and the Republicans in the Gang of 8 and other Republican supporters of the immigration bill just went along with that showed me, that was an act, in my view, of bad faith by them. If they wanted to persuade people like us, really, that this improved the bill a whole lot, that what we really now need is to take a fresh look, they would have let us take a look at it and study it. And instead, it was just pure fig leaf to let some Republican senators tell their constituents hey, we toughened the bill up, it’s okay. And for me, it shows a kind of contempt for their constituents. What did someone say about Clinton’s welfare reform proposal? It was boo bait for the bubbas? Don’t you remember that?

HH: Yeah.

BK: This was sort of, I think, in Hoeven and Corker’s minds, sort of boo bait for the Tea Party conservatives who are going to be kind of bought off by a huge amount of tough talk about doubling the number of border agents, and spending a huge amount of money on the fence and all that. And they weren’t serious about it. And I do think that part, people can differ on the issue. God knows the policy issues are complicated. But that, I think, was not an admirable thing for them to have colluded in.

HH: Now Bill Kristol, help me with one thing. I am a huge proponent of the fence, the actual, physical barrier, a static barrier, such as Israel uses, and one that serves the purpose of actually deterring by being double layered and high, and accessible, and all that sort of thing. Why are Republicans so afraid of that, because it’s not a hard thing to construct, and it’s not a hard thing to build. It’s not even that expensive. But they treat it as though it’s a declaration of hostility towards Mexico.

BK: Right, and well, this is actually a problem in Israel. You know, Israel was slow to build the fence in a certain way, given how much terror was coming across. Somehow, they’ve convinced themselves, a lot of Israelis are liberals, too, that something, there was something just bad about having a country that has a fence around it. I mean, of course, I mean, Kirsten Powers said, I think, on Special Report on the panel one night, I think I was on that night, I don’t want to live in a country that’s got a fence around it. And off air, I said to her really? I mean, you live in a house that has no walls, and that the door’s unlocked? I mean, you know, it’s not hostile to people to take some elementary precautions, and this is the case where it would be a favor to everyone, you know…

HH: Yes.

BK: …including people, certainly people; who are trying to get here illegally, and actually a favor to a lot of the illegals who are taken terrible advantage of.

HH: Horrible.

BK: …to put up that fence, just as in Israel and the territories, it’s been a favor to everyone, I would argue, to have that fence up. It’s allowed actually some economic growth in the Palestinian territories, not that the analogy’s really exact, but because there’s been less of a sense that any place, anything, anyone you deal with could be a terrorist incident in the making. So look, I don’t know, but there is something kind of just, people hear the word fence, and it’s as if you committed a horrible faux pas.

HH: Well, last question, later in hour three today, I’m talking with Jonathan Alter about his new book, The Center Holds. And on Page 278, he writes, “For the Latino market, the messenger is often more important than the message.” He goes on to write about Romney’s negative ads rarely had much traction with Latinos, though an Obama spot attacking Romney for opposing Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination seemed to resonate in the Puerto Rican community. There is this backdrop, and 45 seconds, Bill, does the defeat or the refusal of the House to deal with the Senate bill deepen the Republican estrangement from the Latino vote?

BK: I think not. I think they’ve done some foolish things, the Republicans over the years, to estrange themselves. That needs to be fixed. The best way to fix it would be to nominate some excellent Latino candidates, and to really make the case for a bunch of public policies that would help people in the Latino community, as it would help other Americans, especially working-class, middle class Americans. I think that’s a real argument for a much stronger, pro-middle class, pro-Main Street agenda. I don’t think the immigration bill will matter one way or the other, honestly.

HH: Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, thank you very much.

End of interview.

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