Jim DeMint updates on the immigration bill visit from the President today, and looks at primary season coming up.
HH: First, United States Senator Jim DeMint of the great state of South Carolina joins me. Senator DeMint, welcome, always a pleasure to speak with you.
JD: Hugh, it’s always great to be on your show.
HH: Well, give us a look inside the room today when the President sat down with the Republican Study Group for lunch. What happened?
JD: Well, it was one of those meetings I wish every American could have been there, because the President came in, he was very warm, he made it clear he was not there to twist arms but to listen. He made his case very simply that he felt like we needed to do something, but a number of Senators were quick to respond that there were already laws in place that they felt we needed to go ahead and enforce, implement, particularly border security, and I didn’t end up having to say anything, Hugh, because the supporters of the bill basically said we need to do some implementation of other laws before we pass this bill.
HH: Now Senator DeMint, I’ll have Tony Snow on next hour. He’s been out making the rounds, and he’s telling everyone that he expects the bill to come back with a number of changes to it, for a final effort to get it through. I’ve also seen your colleague, Senator Chambliss, a great conservative telling…and a supporter of the bill as it was, that you need a supplemental appropriation of $10-15 billion for border security, fence construction, et cetera. Do you support the supplemental idea prior to an immigration bill getting passed?
JD: Yes, I do, and I don’t see a quick passing of immigration after that. What I think some of the Senators were saying today that I agree with, we need a supplemental bill that funds the border security, and the American people need to see that happening before we get back to how to deal with these illegals who are here.
HH: And so, what would that supplemental entail, Senator DeMint? What kind of ideas get thrown into that?
JD: Well, we’ve actually passed a bill already, Hugh. Last year, we…I mean, this was a border security bill with some barriers and fencing, and high technology, and new border agents, but we never funded it. And I think that’s what a lot of people around the country are saying, hey, you said you were going to give us border security, but you never did it. Why should we believe that you’re going to do it in this new bill? And what it comes down to, most people think we’re going to give amnesty to 12 million people, but we’re not going to follow through on the other things. And I think we need to take a few months, maybe a year, and move on border security, develop the worker ID program, and then deal with the illegals.
HH: Now do you expect Democrats would support a supplemental appropriations first strategy?
JD: Probably not. It was very hard to get border security passed last year, and their intent, Hugh, appears to be, they want a lot of new permanent residents who can eventually vote. And the guest workers, which a lot of our industries need, they don’t support. And the skilled workers that our high tech industry needs, they don’t generally support. And so I think to move ahead with just a funding of security, I imagine they’ll balk on it.
HH: Now Senator DeMint, they…no one eventually gets to vote unless they start down the path. The path doesn’t start. So do the Republicans have the leverage they need to get Teddy Kennedy to move toward seriousness, for example, on probationary benefits? I’ll be talking to Tony Snow about that. 601h is a nightmare. Do you expect that Senator Kyl will get the concessions of the minimum sort, at least, to revive the bill?
JD: Hugh, I don’t think we’ll get any concessions. For instance, I had an amendment last week that would have required these Z visa holders to have a minimum level of health insurance, which is a high deductible policy, so that they don’t shift that cost onto the American taxpayer. You can get a policy like that for about $116 dollars a month on average. It doesn’t cover the first couple of thousand, but it would cover critical illnesses, and real expensive things that people end up in the emergency room with. But that amendment failed, and so we’re just dumping the cost of immigration onto the taxpayer, when we should be making it beneficial to not only the immigrants, but to the American taxpayer.
HH: So stepping back, Senator DeMint, despite the happy talk from Tony Snow on Fox News earlier today, what we’ll hear on this program later, you just don’t see this bill getting out of critical care?
JD: Not anytime soon. I think it would be a real mistake for the Republican leadership up in the Senate to bring it up right away after the resounding defeat last week, and before we do more border security. Hopefully, they won’t make that mistake.
HH: Now I want to switch to politics with you for just a moment, Senator DeMint. You’re one of the leaders of the Romney campaign, and Fred Thompson has a new Rasmussen poll out today showing him tied with Rudy Giuliani who comes on after you, Romney tied with McCain in third place. What do you think of the national race right now?
JD: Well, I think it looks good for Romney. His name ID is lower, he’s been working the states that are first in the primaries, and he’s number one now in Iowa and New Hampshire, and he’s coming up fast in South Carolina. So Romney’s a businessman, he’s a good strategic, thinker, and he’s not trying to cover the whole country right away. So it doesn’t surprise me that Fred Thompson, who’s been an actor, is going to come in higher than Romney. But I think you’ll see Fred Thompson comes in at the highest level he’ll get.
HH: That’s interesting. So you think he’s peaked on day one?
JD: And I think that was true for Rudy, it’s true for McCain, and generally, the candidates who are well known will actually lose ground, while you’ll probably see Romney and maybe some of the second tier gaining.
HH: Now what is South Carolina going do, Senator DeMint? Florida has moved their primary into January. South Carolina’s traditionally had this first in the South slogan. What’s going to happen?
JD: Well, the party chairman has said we might be voting at Halloween, and saying Trick or Treat, but he said regardless, we’re going to be the first in the South. So we’ll do it before Christmas if we have to.
HH: But doesn’t that put you into a collision with New Hampshire? Is there any window between the new Florida date and the standing New Hampshire date where South Carolina can hold their vote?
JD: Yeah, I think there is. I think we’ll probably be a week early, because they, they are, we’ll probably be in the middle of January.
JD: And so it’ll be early.
HH: When does South Carolina send their absentees out in advance of an election, Senator DeMint? That’s a little inside baseball, but it’s always curious. Is it a six week state?
JD: I’m not sure what the time is on that, Hugh. People can pick them up a long time before, and I’m not sure how early they can request them.
HH: Does Senator Thompson have any organization yet in South Carolina? You know the ground pretty well. What do you think?
JD: No, a lot of people are interested in him. I think he’ll have some early support. And I think the race will probably, ultimately, come down to Romney or Thompson.
HH: How very interesting. Senator Jim DeMint, always a pleasure to speak with you. www.mittromney.com if you want to learn more about Senator DeMint’s support for Governor Romney.
End of interview.