McCain: Immigration Can Level ‘Playing Field’ for Republicans

Photograph by John Moore/Getty Images

Immigration reform advocates during the National Day of Dignity and Respect on October 5, 2013 in Los Angeles.

As attention returns to immigration legislation, one of its Senate advocates says it will take some public pressure to advance it through the House.

“I’m hopeful that the business community in particular will be more active, and the evangelical community, and the manufacturers and the farm growers,” Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who was among a bipartisan group of senators who pushed a comprehensive plan through the Senate this year, told reporters. “A coalition was assembled behind this legislation the likes of which has never been assembled.”

McCain said the outside groups have failed to push hard enough on the legislation.

“They’ve got to be more active to put pressure on these members of Congress to pass something,” he said after an event at the City Club of Chicago. “Just pass something, then we’ll go to conference with it.”

Although 2014 is an election year, McCain said it’s possible that some lawmakers could be more supportive of the legislation, if they clear primary challenges in the spring and early summer.

“I think conventional wisdom is that time is not on our side,” McCain told reporters. “But there are a number of members of Congress who have primaries and when those primaries are done, they may be more inclined to address the issue of comprehensive immigration reform.”

McCain pointed to the importance of the issue for a Republican Party trying to broaden its appeal.

“It will not gain us a single Republican voter,” he said in response to a question from the club’sbreakfast audience. “But what it will do for the Republican Party is it will allow us to compete for the Hispanic vote. It will give us a playing field where we can argue for lower taxes, less regulation, smaller government, strong military, etcetera. But if we don’t pass it, we will not compete for the Hispanic vote.”

If the legislation isn’t passed before the 2014 midterm congressional elections, McCain said, the outcome would be “very negative to the Republican Party.”

See what the senator, his party’s 2008 nominee for president, had to say about a certain 2016 Democratic prospect named Hillary Clinton.

McCain also offered some praise for former President Bill Clinton, in answering an audience question about divisions within the Republican Party.

“What we have to do is what Bill Clinton did with the Democratic Party, and that is bring people together with common goals and nominate candidates that can win,” he said. “We lost five Senate seats in the last two elections by fielding candidates … that were too extreme.”

The Republican Party is lacking national leadership, McCain said.

“There are divisions within the Republican Party and they are fairly significant,” he said. “I think we are going to have to have a leader or leaders emerge that bring our party back together. If we continue to lose elections, that will, I think, have that strong effect.”

He also criticized Republicans attacking Republicans, without naming any political action committees in particular.

“For the first time I’ve ever seen, Republicans are raising money for an organization that is running ads attacking Republicans,” he said. “That is obviously a sign of misplaced priorities.”

McCain echoed President Barack Obama when asked by a reporter about the prospects of another government shutdown.

“This experiment must not be done again,” he said. “Now there are people who are threatening that they will shut down the government again for some real or perceived problem they have with the government. If they want to do that, then go out and win an election.”

Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, also was on hand today.

Asked about a recent Facebook post in which he alleged that a Republican congressman had insulted Obama by saying “I cannot even stand to look at you,” Durbin defended his actions.

“Two weeks ago, a staffer in the White House who was present at the meeting told me and several other senators exactly what I said, verbatim, word for word. I wrote it down, it was so Earth-shattering,” Durbin said. “As soon as the White House put out their statement last week, that said they had misled members of Congress, we added that, to put it in context. If I had pulled it off, they would have said ‘You’re trying to run away from it.'”


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