McCain has no convictions. He will support any issue to be elected president
WASHINGTON (By Daniel Gonzαlez and Dan Nowicki, Arizona Republic) November 8, 2007 – Sen. John McCain has changed his position on immigration reform, hoping the new stand will make his presidential campaign more appealing to conservative Republican voters.
The comprehensive approach he championed for years, one that emphasized a guest-worker program and legalization for those here illegally, has taken a back seat to a plan that puts a priority on tightening border security and beefing up enforcement.
The enforcement-first approach marks a dramatic shift for McCain, R-Ariz., who used his border-state credentials and maverick persona to become the leading Republican proponent in Congress of comprehensive immigration reform. But the comprehensive plan, which failed to move through Congress again this summer, divided the GOP and unleashed an anti-amnesty grass-roots movement vehemently opposed to letting undocumented immigrants gain legal status, even if they had to earn it.
His support of this year’s bill hurt his ability to raise money and led to a precipitous drop in support in many early-voting states.
His campaign has been gaining momentum this fall, but McCain’s newfound emphasis on border security is unlikely to sell his presidential campaign to voters clamoring for more border controls, political experts and analysts say.
“Too little, too late,” said John J. “Jack” Pitney Jr., a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California. “I think Republican primary voters have made up their minds on that one. He came out on the wrong side at the wrong time.”
The shift also opens McCain up to attacks from GOP opponents who have staked out get-tough stances on unauthorized immigration.
“McCain’s reputation is a straight shooter. I’m sure his Republican opponents will characterize this as flip-flopping. They will say it’s unclear where McCain stands,” said John Garcia, a political-science professor at the University of Arizona.
What’s more, McCain’s tougher stance could hurt him among Latino voters, whose support could be key to winning the nomination.
Last month, for example, McCain skipped a vote that would have allowed the so-called DREAM Act to move forward in the Senate. McCain was a co-sponsor of the bill, which would have let some undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children earn legal status.
“I was very disappointed,” said Luis Avila, an Arizona State University student who organized a hunger strike this fall in support of the DREAM Act. “McCain is supposed to be this maverick who stands up for his beliefs. I saw that he is not that man. . . . It also shows that he is not concerned about the Hispanic vote.”
McCain was in Washington on the day of the vote, having canceled campaign events in New Hampshire so he could vote on a judicial nomination. He left Washington after that vote and before the DREAM Act vote. The day before, he suggested that he was being realistic about the bill’s fate.
“I’m for it,” McCain said. “But we’re not going to pass anything through Congress until 2009. Everybody knows that. . . . We had the immigration-reform debate. The wounds are still open, and, unfortunately, it’s going to be 2009 before we bring it up again.”
McCain’s tougher stance on immigration reform is obvious on the campaign trail, when he is frequently grilled about immigration.
“What can you do to convince me that you will do something to stem the flow of unauthorized immigrants across our southern border?” Chuck Navin asked during a campaign event in Hampton, N.H., on the eve of the DREAM Act vote.
Navin, a retired Navy captain and Republican-leaning independent voter, supported McCain in New Hampshire’s 2000 primary but parted with McCain over his collaboration with Democrats on comprehensive immigration reform.
McCain gave him the same answer that he has given many times since the defeat of the Senate bill: that he learned his lesson.
“I will secure the borders before we do anything else,” McCain said. “The borders have to be secured. I got the message. Got it.”
The passionate reaction to the reform reflects the public’s deep mistrust of the government to enforce immigration laws. To help restore confidence, McCain proposes that the four border-state governors certify the border is secure before Congress can proceed with other needed reforms, such as a temporary-worker program.
He continues to advocate for “a comprehensive solution” to address the estimated 12 million people in the country illegally, many of whom entered legally but overstayed visas. But the legalization plan he now favors is tougher than the one he first introduced in 2003 and then again in 2005 with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. That plan would have let most undocumented immigrants earn legal status by paying fines, learning English and paying taxes while still remaining in the U.S.
“Some would have to go back,” McCain said last month. “Others would have to go back to the country they came from – ‘touchback,’ we call it – before they can come back and get in line behind everybody else and learn English and pay fines, etcetera. Because we cannot reward anyone, no matter how good a person they are, for having acted illegally and put them in front of people who have come here legally.”
Navin later said he appreciated McCain’s “straight answer” but wasn’t entirely won over.
“He said, ‘Hey, I got the message we need to secure our borders,’ ” Navin said. “Well, yeah, it took him long enough to figure it out. Like I told him, he was my candidate eight years ago, and he would be today, but this issue is too important to me.”