Obama Defends Driver’s Licenses for Illegals in Interview with ABC News

By Michael Elmore

Feb 2, 2008 1:57pm

ABC News’ Teddy Davis Reports: Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., told ABC’s David Muir Saturday that his support for driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants will not block his path to the White House because he and G.O.P. frontrunner John McCain share substantial overlap on immigration.

"I think they will pounce on any issue that has to do with immigration," said Obama, referring to Republicans, "but my position has been very similar to John McCain’s, who’s may be the likely Republican nominee, and if he wants to try to parse out this one issue of driver’s licenses, an issue of public safety, my response is that we have to solve the overall problem and this driver’s license issue is a distraction."

McCain does not support driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants but he shares Obama’s support for giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship without requiring them to leave the United States.

Obama defended his stance on driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants on the same day that La Opinion, the nation’s largest Spanish language newspaper, cited his support for licenses — and Sen. Hillary Clinton’s, D-N.Y., opposition — in its endorsement of Obama.

"We were disappointed with her calculated opposition to driver’s licenses for the undocumented, which contrasts markedly from the forceful argument in support made by Obama," wrote La Opinion’s editorial board. "We understand that this is an extremely controversial issue but we believe there is only one right position and it is that of the senator from Illinois."

While Obama’s position on driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants helped him win the endorsement of La Opinion, Republican Party officials believe that it could become a lightening rod in the general election.

"With positions like this, it’s easy to understand how Obama is labeled as ‘most liberal’ Senator," said Republican National Committee spokesman Alex Conant, referring to a study of 2007 votes by National Journal magazine. "It’s a position that may appeal to the left-wing, but the vast majority of Americans reject. There’s no question it may help in some primaries, but it’ll hurt him in the general. To the degree that immigration will be an issue this fall — and it will be — so will Obama’s unpopular stance on drivers’ licenses."

Asked about the Republican criticism which is already being directed at him, Obama said, "Well, I’m sure that the Republicans will try to make immigration an issue because they’ve been talking about it in political terms instead of trying to solve the problem. But I’ve been very clear working with John McCain and Ted Kennedy and others that we have to have a comprehensive reform package and if we are doing what we need to do to control the borders, if we are doing what we need to do in cracking down on employers who are hiring undocumented workers and undermining U.S. workers then we shouldn’t have a problem with driver’s licenses because we will have legal workers here in this country as opposed to illegal ones."

"So, I’m interested," he continued, "in solving the problem, not perpetuating the sort of political football we’ve been seeing out here."

During his interview with ABC News, Obama also brushed off the suggestion that his recent endorsement from MoveOn.org, the liberal anti-war organization, could undermine his centrist image. 

"Well, David, I’m hearing this theme of Republicans suggesting that I’m too liberal, keep in mind that it was only last week that I was a follower of Ronald Reagan," said Obama, referring to criticism recently directed at him by Clinton for comments he made about the former president to a Nevada newspaper. "This is the politics of the past, where folks are trying to parse out and figure out who’s Left and who’s Right. I’m interested in solving problems, that’s what I think the American people are interested in, they want to get past these old ideological arguments that dominated so much of our politics over the last 20 years."

"They want to see problems solved," he continued, "how do we keep people in their homes, how do we make sure that they get jobs that pay a living wage, how do we make sure that everyone has health care, how can kids go to college. If we’re focused on those issues then I think we’ll do just fine."

"Look," he added, "we’re here in Idaho, considered perhaps the Reddest state in the country where the last time out you had 5,000 Democrats participating in a caucus, we had 13,000 people in an arena, just a few moments ago. So, I think it gives you an indication people are interested in looking to the future and not getting into these same old divisive arguments."

The interview will air Saturday on ABC’s "World News".

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