When it comes to immigration reform, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has taken a rather unique journey.
In George W. Bush’s second term as president, McCain helped champion a comprehensive immigration reform bill, working with Democrats on a bipartisan package that enjoyed the support of the Republican White House. In January 2008, however, McCain abandoned his effort as a presidential candidate, declaring publicly that he would vote against his own bill.
Six months later, McCain changed his mind again, saying the reform bill he wrote, but then opposed, would be his “top priority” if elected president. At that point, however, the Republican senator wasn’t especially credible on the issue.
In 2013, McCain returned to where he started, working on a bipartisan, comprehensive reform package, comparable to the one he’d helped champion in 2007. Yesterday, however, the Arizona senator once again backed away from his own handiwork. Sahil Kapur reported:
“We need to assure the American people that the border is secure. People in Arizona are so cynical about the promises that have been made about a secure border,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said on KPNX 12 News’ “Sunday Square Off.”He called for “90 percent effective control” before any other reforms are made to the immigration system. That’s what many opponents of a comprehensive overhaul have said throughout the debate since last year, but it’s a nonstarter for Democrats and Latino advocates, who are key stakeholders in the debate.“I think it’s going to have to [come first],” McCain said of border security…. Asked if his new position changes the discussion, McCain said, “To a certain degree.”
If this seems vaguely familiar, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also recently distanced himself from the same, bipartisan legislation. That said, Rubio has a more obvious excuse – he, unlike McCain, is gearing up for a national race and has a far-right base to pander to – and the Florida Republican hasn’t changed his mind quite as often as McCain.
Regardless, any way you slice this, McCain’s new-and-not-improved position is a complete mess.
Right off the bat, as was the case with Rubio, the whole point of comprehensive immigration reform was to create a compromise framework that both parties could embrace: Republicans get increased border security; Democrats get a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who are already in the United States. This new secure-the-border-first tack is the GOP’s way of saying it will consider Democratic priorities, but only after Republicans get what they want. I’m afraid this isn’t how compromises work.
Also, if border security is the key priority for McCain and his party, walking away from comprehensive reform is foolish – the bipartisan Senate bill includes a “border surge” element that would nearly double the “current border patrol force to 40,000 agents from 21,000, as well as for the completion of 700 miles of fence on the nation’s southern border.” One GOP proponent conceded at the time that the legislation went so far on the security front that it was “almost overkill.”
By walking away from his legislation – again – McCain is making his own goal harder to reach.
As for the politics, the senior senator from Arizona has argued more than once that if his party kills immigration reform, it will do real harm to Republicans’ national prospects.
If McCain still believes his own position, it’s hard to understand what led to yesterday’s comments.