John McCain Says Four Things That Will Spook Conservatives on Immigration Reform

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 28 2013 4:05 PM

John McCain Says Four Things That Will Spook Conservatives on Immigration Reform

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WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 28: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (R) speaks as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) (L) looks on during a news conference on a comprehensive immigration reform framework January 28, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. A group of bipartisan senate members have reached to a deal of outlines to reform the national immigration laws that will provide a pathway for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country to citizenship. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

I was in the Senate for the packed Republican-Democrat-Kadima presser on the "framework" for immigration reform. It marked the return of a John McCain we'd all forgotten about, a statesman who stands side by side with Chuck Schumer and favors something that would be "good for the president." But I tried to imagine how Republicans were hearing McCain's comments.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

1) "If we do succeed, it will be a testament to Ted Kennedy's effort some years ago."

Conservatives put the "blame" for immigration levels on the 1965 immigration bill backed by Kennedy. Also, he was Ted Kennedy.

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2) "The Republican Party is losing the support of our Hispanic citizens. And we realize this is an issue in which we are agreement with our Hispanic citizens."

A big theme from recent come-to-Jesus meetings, like the RNC's meeting in Charlotte and the NRI meeting, was that the party needed better messaging on immigration but not necessarily a bill.

3) "I am confident that the majority in both Houses — led by the president of the United States — will succeed."

I thought Republicans were against that! But the hits kept coming as McCain left the room, and Bloomberg's Kate Hunter asked whether support from the president would alienate Republicans.

4) "No, he's the president of the United States ... it helped when George W. Bush strongly supported it. It certainly helped with Republicans."

It helped because Bush was Republican? Here, Republicans have to hope that Marco Rubio gains from a deal. But the incentives for aiding Barack Obama are completely different than the incentives for helping Bush. That's why the cliche is "only Nixon can go to China," not "only a Communist can go to China."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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