Speaking before the 79th Annual League of United Latin American Citizens today, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., tried to explain his position on comprehensive immigration reform.
You may recall that McCain risked his presidential campaign on that 2007 bill, then backed off it after the bill died, telling GOP audiences that he got the message that the borders need to be secured first before any other measures are taken.
That led to the moment in January 2008 when McCain told a debate questioner that he wouldn’t vote for his own bill.
Today McCain told the Latino audience at LULAC: "I and many other colleagues twice attempted to pass comprehensive immigration legislation to fix our broken borders; ensure respect for the laws of this country; recognize the important economic necessity of immigrant laborers; apprehend those who came here illegally to commit crimes; and deal practically and humanely with those who came here, as my distant ancestors did, to build a better, safer life for their families, without excusing the fact they came here illegally or granting them privileges before those who have been waiting their turn outside the country."
Whew, that’s a mouthful.
Then McCain explained what happened to his bill, thusly: "Many Americans, with good cause, did not believe us when we said we would secure our borders, and so we failed in our efforts. We must prove to them that we can and will secure our borders first, while respecting the dignity and rights of citizens and legal residents of the United States of America."
Obama has not yet spoken at LULAC, but in his prepared remarks his campaign released, Obama attacks McCain, saying: "Now, I know Senator McCain used to buck his party on immigration by fighting for comprehensive reform, and I admired him for it. But when he was running for his party’s nomination, he abandoned his courageous stance, and said that he wouldn’t even support his own legislation if it came up for a vote. Well, for eight long years, we’ve had a President who made all kinds of promises to Latinos on the campaign trail, but failed to live up to them in the White House, and we can’t afford that anymore. We need a President who isn’t going to walk away from something as important as comprehensive reform when it becomes politically unpopular."
Obama also claims to have "reached across the aisle in the Senate to fight for comprehensive immigration reform."
But Obama’s role in the 2007 debate was much more complicated than that.
There was a cohesive bipartisan group led by Sens. McCain and Ted Kennedy, D-Mass, that worked to defeat amendments that would hurt the overall bill’s chance of final passage — amendments that were too liberal for the Republicans and too conservative for the Democrats.
And on at least five occasions, Obama voted for amendments against the wishes of the bipartisan group, including Kennedy.
These included an amendment Obama offered that would have sunsetted the merit-based evaluation system for immigrants after five years; two amendments from Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND, to sunset both the temporary guest worker visa program and the Y-1 non-immigrant temporary worker visa program after five years; and two amendments from Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, that would have removed the requirement that ‘Y’ non-immigrant visa holders leave the United States before they are able to renew their visa, and would have lowered the annual visa quota for guest workers from 400,000 to 200,000 per year.
Obama voted for all five; Kennedy voted against all five.
It’s a complicated issue to explain, which may be why McCain doesn’t invoke it, but facts are facts. McCain worked much harder and risked far more to pass that immigration bill than Obama did. On the other hand, Obama never claimed he would vote against a bill he helped author.