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Mark Steyn dissects Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott’s floor speech today on the immigration bill.

Friday, June 8, 2007
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HH: It is also a day that will go down in legislative infamy. It appears that we are only hours away before cloture is agreed to on the immigration bill, despite the obvious desires of the party. I based that on statements made by Trent Lott earlier today. To discuss those statements, the bill, and just generally what is going on in this country, Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn, joins me, www.steynonline.com. Mark, it appears as thought Senate Republicans are intent on taking the party over the cliff.

MS: I think that’s true. I think in fact, people like Trent Lott are in large part responsible for the debark last November, in that he embodies, both in his generally witless remarks, but also in the idea that he forms part of this permanent governing class, everything that he Republican base came to loathe about the Republican Congress. And speaking about republicanism in the small R sense now, I think what they’re trying to with this bill would, is actually an abomination in terms of small R republican government. This is simply not the way you citizen legislators pass responsible, wide-ranging, profoundly expensive and transformative legislation.

HH: That is exactly what they’re going to do with a jam down vote today. Cloture failed earlier today, but it has been rescheduled for later in the afternoon, and my expectation, based upon these comments which we’re now going to review, is that it will pass. Here is the Republican Whip, Trent Lott, speaking earlier today, cut number one:

TL: If anybody in America likes where we are with illegal immigration and legal immigration, if they think what we’ve got now is good or tolerable, fair or responsible, then fine. Let’s try and kill this bill. Kill it with amendments. Kill it with the debate. Vote it down. I don’t think that is responsible. This is one of the biggest issues facing this country and the question is do we have the courage, tenacity and the ability to get anything done anymore. If we can’t do this, we ought to vote to dissolve the Congress and go home and wait for the next election…

HH: Mark Steyn, your reaction to cut number one?

MS: Well, I’m favor of that last bit, voting to dissolve the Congress and go home, because I do think that no legislation is better than hastily drawn legislation, sloppily drawn legislation, with massive unintended consequences. And as we’ve seen, even from the kind of blowhards who were first to attach their names to this thing, a lot of them, including John McCain, who’s actually campaigning, and so finding himself having to answer questions on this, a lot of these guys hadn’t even, didn’t even know what they’d endorsed. So the idea that somehow it’s a great thing that Congress is just passing so-called comprehensive bills, regardless of whether any of these Senators have read them, I don’t think that’s a good idea. And if he wants to vote to dissolve Congress, then Amen.

HH: Cut number two, as we get deeper in the psyche of a member of the Senate. Trent Lott, cut number two.

TL: Can we do anything anymore? I don’t like a lot of these amendments. I don’t like a lot of what is in the bill. I was in and out of the meetings, but I was not one of the people that worked in the so-called Grand Bargain. Some people are acting now like it was a sinister operation. I don’t believe so. Everybody knew there was an effort underway. Republicans were involved. Democrats were involved. The Administration was involved. Conservatives, liberals, agriculture, everybody. Now we are going to pick it to death. I just don’t think this is responsible. I am getting calls, but I would say to my constituents, “Do you have no faith in me after 35 years? That I’m just going to buy a pig in a poke here? Or be for something that’s bad?…”

HH: Mark Steyn, do you think that will allay the concerns of his constituencies, and appeal to experience?

MS: Well, actually, I also agree with the last bit of that clip. I have no faith in him after 35 years. And I think actually these lifetime legislators, Trent Lott is a very good example of why that is not generally bad thing, and not in the spirit, by the way, of America as foreseen by the founding fathers. But the fact of the matter is, he’s right in a very narrow sense, that a legislator doesn’t simply respond to polls. He owes his constituencies judgment, not simply the fact that he looks at the numbers, and does what the numbers say. But in this situation, you have a situation where both parties in a two-party system are at odds with the vast majority of the American public. And if bipartisanship means that the two parties agree to gang up on the citizenry of this country, then I’d rather have none of it.

HH: Cut number three.

TL: Last year I voted against what we came up with because I didn’t think it got better. It got worse. But we have an obligation to try and we should not get all in a twit because we made one mistake or we don’t get the one we wanted. Look I voted for amendments that passed and amendments that failed. I voted for bills Bush…get over all of that. This is a big issue. This is the United States Senate, the great deliberative body. Are we going to belie that description, or are we going to step up to this challenge and try and get it done right? We should vote down cloture now.. Cloture shouldn’t have been filed. You can’t ram the Senate. You can’t ram the minority around here. This won’t work. All it does is make people get madder and it takes longer…

HH: I think as people listen to this, Mark Steyn, they’re getting madder.

MS: I think so. I think so. I think if the Republican Party want to reduce their base to undetectable levels, I think it would be a great idea to send Trent Lott on a nationwide tour of country Republican parties, because this is exactly what the Republican base doesn’t want to hear. It doesn’t want some puffed up grandee from the world’s greatest deliberative body, which by the way is a lot of nonsense by any reasonable measure, the Senate is a low-grade deliberative legislature. Its deliberations are a joke. And Trent Lott doing that pathetic speech is a very good example to it. He’s standing on the floor of the Senate talking to nobody. It’s a sham. It’s a C-SPAN sham, the United States Senate. He couldn’t command any decent legislature with that level of rhetoric. And considering the number of fully paid staffers that the good voters of Mississippi pay for, you’d think he could find one who could write him a decent speech better than that self-serving drivel.

HH: I hesitate to keep playing this, because it gets worse, but we could hear your head explode. Let’s keep going on. Cut number four.

TL: So we’re going to have a vote on cloture and we’re going to defeat cloture because more amendments are legitimately pending. But I’m serving notice that I’m going to be a part of trying to help to find a way to get to a conclusion, to a vote. Vote it up. Vote it down. But to try and kill it with all these amendments, you know, that are being thrown up here for the purpose of killing it to me is not an appropriate way to proceed….

HH: Now Mark Steyn, I have written at Hughhewitt.com, this is the reverse of the way the Democrats ran their opposition. And even if people love the immigration bill, they will hate this tone of collapse coming from Republican leadership.

MS: Well, exactly, and it sounds as if he’s valuing, which is the thing people always loathe about Republican Senators, whenever you talk to people about Republican Senators, this is what they loathe about them, that they become clubby, process bores, and the process, their love of the process overrides everything else. You know, people have reservations about this bill, and objections to this bill, because the only thing that matters about it, which is this immediate, instant, probationary legal status it confers on millions and millions of people, plus the attendant implications of that for their extended families. And they simply do not like that. And that is something that…it’s not a question of just elevating the needs of the Senate club, which is one of the most disgusting sights in this country, by the way, if you’ve had the misfortune, as I have, to be exposed to it close up. The needs of the Senate club do not override the interests of the United States of America.

HH: Let’s finish off, back to back clips from Trent Lott, number five and six.

TL: This is time where we are going to see whether we are a United States Senate anymore. Are we men or mice? Are we going to slither away from this issue and hope for some epiphany to happen? No. Let’s, let’s let’s legislate. Let’s vote. I think the majority leader has a right to expect at some point we end it. Try and cover as many objections with as many amendments as we can. But at some point we have got to get this done….

Senator Kennedy, I appreciate the legislative leadership you have been providing. I know it is not easy, you know, and your own colleagues and those of us over here have been beating you up. I mean, your a nice poster child. Thank you very much for what you do. But I’ll tell you one thing I have learned the hard way. When it comes to legislating, when you are dealing with Senator Kennedy, you had better bring your lunch, because you are going to get educated, you are going to learn a lot, and you are going to get a result. Hopefully it is going to be a good one. Good luck, senator from Massachusetts. I yield the floor.

TK: And the senator too. I thank my friend from Mississippi, and I commend him for a constructive and a positive attitude.

HH: Mark Steyn, I’ll keep you over. You’re so kind. But your quick reaction to that?

MS: That’s bipartisanship at the very definition of it. The Republicans agree with Ted Kennedy. That’s the official version of bipartisanship in the United States Senate.

– – – –

HH: Welcome back, America, it’s Hugh Hewitt. Happy birthday, Fetching Mrs. Hewitt. And Mark Steyn has been kind enough to stick around for an extra segment, author of the New York Times bestselling America Alone, blogger from the trial in Chicago of the century. My gosh, that’s a long trial, Mark Steyn.

MS: That’s true. Very glad to hear that great Sinatra version of the Way You Look Tonight. There’s not a lot of up-tempo versions of that song, and that is a really terrific arrangement. The instrumental break on that record is just terrific.

HH: It is. There’s a good Tony Bennett version. In fact, all day long I play different artists doing it, but nothing even approaches Sinatra. I don’t know who did it originally. I have no idea.

MS: Fred Astaire to Ginger Rogers in the movie Swing Time, 1936. And the sweet thing about it is that Ginger’s just come out of the bathroom, and her hair’s all lathered up with shampoo. So she doesn’t look her best. And he sings The Way You Look Tonight to her, and it’s just a wonderful moment. And that 1936 Fred Astaire recording is still pretty good, too.

HH: You know, Mark, if I could get you and Lileks, I might actually…to be on my team…I might actually take on Prager, Medved and Bennett at Jeopardy. I’ve never been willing to issue that, but you have a command of many unusual facts at your disposal. And by the way, we’re doing an event on Sunday at Pepperdine University on the state of the crisis in Europe. I’m looking forward to that. That’s primarily you and Dennis, and I’ll be moderating, throwing out some questions. But that’s going to be a very interesting exchange.

MS: Well, I think actually what you learn from the European situation with immigration is that the economic argument that folks at the Wall Street Journal make is actually very reductionist, that you know, at our end, we may need people to come here to be taxi drivers and plumbers and maids. There’s some add that’s come out saying you know, if you want your little complementary chocolate on your turn-downed bed in the hotel chain every night, you’ve got to have workers here to do it. But the fact of the matter is that there are broader implications to that. The people coming here do not always think of themselves as a maid or a plumber or whatever. And that is why immigration is not strictly an economic issue, but also has, as they’re discovering in Europe, very profound other implications.

HH: Now Mark Steyn, I want to set aside the actual substance of the bill, which I’ve written about at length, and you have as well. I just want to talk politics for a moment. Is there any way that you can imagine that this helps the Republican Party?

MS: No, it doesn’t. I mean, the interesting thing about immigration, I think, is that in some ways, this is not seen by the Republican base, and indeed, large numbers of the Democratic Party, too, as primarily an immigration issue. It’s seen as a criminal issue, it’s seen as an assault on sovereignty. And I think that’s what the Republicans don’t get, that they’re looking at it, people like Trent Lott look at it as a way of making a technical adjustment to an existing situation. And I think, for example, Harry Reid’s reference to 12 million undocumented Americans, as he put it, that’s a term I’ve been using as a joke for five years, ever since people started introducing this phrase of undocumented workers. I’ve been making jokes about fine, upstanding members of the undocumented American community. It’s an absurd proposition.

HH: Yup.

MS: And yet Harry Reid used that phrase. Well, the majority, and I say this in humility as a foreigner, one thing that is cleared to me, compared with many other societies around the world, is that people who have the privilege of being American understand that it’s about feeling American. It’s not something that Trent Lott can legislate. And I think that’s, I think that’s where the Republican leadership is simply, basically declaring that its base of buffoons and idiots who don’t get it, I think they’re the ones who’ve flown the coop on this.

HH: Now you had a debate with all of the Republican candidates except Fred Thompson in New Hampshire on Tuesday night, your home turf.

MS: Yeah.

HH: John McCain clung stubbornly, and in fact, in a Freudian slip, said we’re not going to build any fences or barriers. But all of the other ones were against this bill. Doesn’t that also the Republican Senate where the party is on this?

MS: Yes, and I think that’s where they were wrong, actually, about McCain being one of the winners of that debate.

HH: I agree.

MS: I think that struck the TV pundits like that, but it’s certainly not the way it struck my New Hampshire neighbors, for most of whom, he seemed the exact opposite of what he ran as in 2000. He seemed the classic, remote, insulated, Beltway insider who doesn’t get it. He somehow turned into Arlen Specter and Orrin Hatch across the course of the last seven years.

HH: Yeah. Who did well in that debate, because I agree with you, McCain is finished. And it’s not even a question of being close at this point. He’s plummeted, today, he lost a key South Carolina operative over the immigration issue, which mirrors what’s going on in the country at large in the McCain campaign. It’s bleeding out. But who worked the crowd the best, in your opinion, and the crowd that wasn’t there but was watching?

MS: Well, I think Rudy Giuliani did do well with that particular crowd at Saint Anselm College. What is not clear to me is when he’s in less controlled format, and he’s just meeting folks in diners, and they start raising some of these difficult questions for him, I don’t think the Rudy Giuliani model plays very well outside that debate format. I thought Mitt Romney had a very good night. I was slightly disappointed because I was hoping that one of these sort of second tier candidates would actually reveal that he’s worthy of sort of catapulting into the top tier. And a lot of them I thought were just ridiculous. I mean, Tommy Thompson, I can’t believe this man is a Governor and Cabinet member, and can be quite such an inept performer. At this stage of his political career, he’s decided to run for president, and he just gets worse and worse, I think.

HH: As does Jim Gilmore. It’s a steady slope down for their presentation ability.

MS: Yeah.

HH: When we look, though, and we step back from what was said there, I did note two things. One, the questions were almost uniformly awful, and Wolf Blitzer was adamant about not letting immigration be discussed at any length. And number two, all of them said Scooter Libby should not serve a day in jail. I agree with that wholeheartedly. Do you think the President will pardon Libby, if in fact Judge Walton refuses to say his imprisonment, pending appeal?

MS: Well, I get no sense that he will. I’m not getting…I was in Washington a couple of days ago, and I didn’t really get the vibe from anyone close to the President that that was in his mind to do. And I certainly think he should do it, because the President, in fact, was the one that was damaged by Patrick Fitzgerald’s pursuit of Scooter Libby. The fact of the matter is Patrick Fitzgerald knew for two years that the public version of this story, i.e. that there’d been some kind of Bush-Cheney-Rove conspiracy to leak the name of Joe Wilson’s CIA wife, was complete rubbish, and that it was, in fact, an anti-war, an anti-Bush member of the State Department, Colin Powell’s deputy, Richard Armitage, who’s this sort of gravelly, you’d had him on your show.

HH: Yup.

MS: He’s got a marvelous, gravelly voice, but he’s in fact a giggly, gossipy schoolgirl underneath that. You know, he talks like Paul Robeson singing Old Man River, but he’s like this, actually, girly, giggly schoolgirl on all the gossip. And so you had an anti-Bush member of the State Department leaking this to an anti-Bush journalist. Patrick Fitzgerald knows the conspiracy is false, and yet he won’t give up on it.

HH: I know. It is a travesty. Mark Steyn, I look forward to seeing you Sunday at Pepperdine, the Collapse of Europe event.

End of interview.

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