Is Congress Close To Immigration Compromise?

Apr 1, 2013

Transcript

CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Celeste Headlee. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, we'll talk about school takeovers and whether or not taking a drastic action like that really fixes broken schools. But first we'll bring you up to date on the latest political news. There is a lot going on both here and overseas - the debate over gun control, immigration, and a little saber rattling from North Korea.

Here to talk about all of that is Corey Ealons. He's a former communications advisor in the Obama administration, now senior vice president with the strategic communications firm Vox Global. Also joining us, Ron Christie, former assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush. He's now the CEO of Christie's Strategies. First of all, welcome to the program, both of you.

RON CHRISTIE: Good to see you.

COREY EALONS: Good to be here.

HEADLEE: Let's begin with the gun control debate. Of course, we had the president saying that the debate has faded in the background and then we might be seeing a little bit of progress. So let's talk first about that, Ron Christie. Do you think there's a chance here that lawmakers will do something substantive?

CHRISTIE: No. I don't, actually.

(LAUGHTER)

HEADLEE: OK.

CHRISTIE: I think - looking at this from a political prism, I think President Obama had his opportunity in the days and the weeks immediately following the massacre, unfortunately, that took place in Connecticut. I think as members have had time to think about it - you see the Senate majority leader Harry Reid not endorsing Senator Feinstein's assault weapons ban - I think there are a lot of senators up for re-election 2014 who don't want to deal with a gun control issue on their election ballot.

So, no. I don't think anything substantive will come between now and the 2014 election cycle.

HEADLEE: So, Corey, a lot of people are saying win for the NRA. The NRA wins this one.

EALONS: Well, I'm not quite throwing in the towel just yet. I mean, it is unfortunate that since Newtown we've had thousands of people who've been killed, including a DA in Texas just last week.

HEADLEE: That was recent. Yep.

EALONS: And still we have not - we had Gabby Giffords who was nearly killed, a member of Congress...

HEADLEE: A former Congresswoman from Arizona.

EALONS: From Arizona. And we still have yet to have any movement. I think we all appreciate what the consensus point here is, which is background checks, but unfortunately, when you have Wayne LaPierre of the NRA debate himself 20 years ago, he was for background checks. Today he is not for background checks. So that's the problem, is the NRA has really posited themselves as the people who are not really supportive of moving in the right direction on this issue.

And so Ron may be right where we are at a place where we don't get anything done on this, but that would be a sad commentary on the nation at this point if we didn't make any real moves.

HEADLEE: And our political system, if we need any more sad commentaries on that.

EALONS: No question.

HEADLEE: Let's talk about yesterday. Google - many people are familiar with the Google doodle which is the illustration they put often that commemorates whatever's happening that day. Well, yesterday was Easter which many, obviously, Christians celebrate. And instead of an Easter Google doodle we got a picture of Cesar Chavez because the 31st is Cesar Chavez's birthday. OK.

That part not all that surprising to me. What was surprising to me was the outrage on the part of mostly right wing Republicans who couldn't believe Google would dare to not have something up there for Easter. Ron, what's your...

CHRISTIE: I was right there with them. Seriously? Of all the days - and you can talk about Cesar Chavez and his movement of the United Farm Workers. I'm not going to get into that. But on the day that we are celebrating Easter...

HEADLEE: Don't you kind of have to get into that?

CHRISTIE: No. You don't. We're celebrating Easter. Yesterday was..

HEADLEE: Christian Easter. What about all the people who aren't Christian?

CHRISTIE: We're talking there are billions of Christians around the world who are celebrating the rise of Jesus Christ. If you're going to have something up in the doodle O aren't you going to have maybe an image of Christ? Or maybe some sort of palm or some sort of indication of this holiest of holy for Christian holidays? And you're going to put Cesar Chavez up? No, that's a political statement.

If we can't even say Merry Christmas anymore due to the political correctness in this country, but yet and still you can't have Jesus Christ...

HEADLEE: Wait a second. People say Merry Christmas all the time.

CHRISTIE: Oh...

HEADLEE: But let me just push back on you here, Ron. Let's not get into the war on Christmas because it's April.

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE: We'll save that for another month.

HEADLEE: But I'm assuming that if Google put up a Muslim symbol at some point to celebrate a holy day for Muslims, there would be people crying foul.

CHRISTIE: I wouldn't have a problem with that either. I think you have to be consistent. If you put on one of the most holy days for the Islamic faith, if you have a symbol that they appreciate, I have no problem with that. I'm just saying putting up a political figure such as Cesar Chavez on the same day as Easter, I think is a political statement.

HEADLEE: Corey, wade in here.

EALONS: Well, I've got to tell you, as a Christian and as someone who celebrated Easter yesterday, I was surprised that Google did make that choice, because it was a very conscious choice on their part. Now, we have seen where they have done this in the past, where they've put up two symbols - two doodles on the same day when you've had significant events take place.

HEADLEE: Right.

EALONS: So they very well could've made that choice as well. So not to do that, what exactly was Google trying to say? I mean, ultimately they are a global corporation now. They're not just a small group of folks who are sitting in rooms in the state of Washington. And they have to be conscious of that because that could come back to haunt them.

As one of the folks said, I'm going to be celebrating Easter today with Bing. That's a decision that someone made that's going to affect their bottom line potentially.

HEADLEE: All right. Well, since we're talking about things that could affect you or have repercussions, let's talk about some offense comments. Alaskan representative Don Young used a racial slur - a very, very outdated racial slur to describe Latino Americans who'd worked on his family's farm. He apologized. He was demanded by both John McCain and John Boehner to make a stronger apology, which he did so.

But, Ron, what are we really talking about here? Why do we get - and it's not just Republicans - but why do we get so often so many Republicans saying things they really shouldn't?

CHRISTIE: Well, I think the Republicans and Democrats. But in this particular case it was a Republican. I think Don Young, for lack of a better word, is an idiot. I think in this day and age in the 21st century for a senior member of the House of Representatives, a senior Republican in the House of Representatives not to understand the racial sensitivities that people have in this nation, I think is abhorrent.

John Boehner was exactly right. This was beneath the dignity of his office. I mean, I am so outraged. And people wonder why the Republican Party has a perception problem of being hostile to minorities? This particular individual - and I think idiot is too kind - encapsules a lot of the problems that we have. And I think our leadership, frankly, should have come out a lot stronger with what he had said.

HEADLEE: What do you think, Corey?

EALONS: I agree with Ron. I think that the statement was just - it was so - he said it was a statement that shouldn't have been made in the 21st century. It wasn't a statement that should've have been made in the 18th century. It was just that out of touch...

CHRISTIE: Mm-hmm.

HEADLEE: That's true.

EALONS: ...with reality right now. And what's unfortunate is that, just as Ron just said, this is happening at a time when the Republican Party, the GOP, is really going through the process of trying to correct their image, so to speak. But it also speaks to it's not just about image; it's about policies. But when you have folks out there like this who continue to say these types of things, it's certainly not helpful.

HEADLEE: All right. If you're just joining us, we're bringing you up to date with the political news today with Corey Ealons of Vox Global and Ron Christie of Christie's Strategies. Let's talk about another Latino issue. Not just Latino, but American issue which is immigration.

CHRISTIE: Mm-hmm.

HEADLEE: And we're actually getting some movement on that. In fact, the light at the end of the tunnel. You said no on gun control. How about immigration, Ron?

CHRISTIE: I think immigration might be a different story. But I, of course, am going to take a different tack than many in the media have said. I'm tired of hearing about these Gangs of Eight, these Gangs of Six. What has happened to regular...

HEADLEE: You're talking about the gangs of politicians who are putting together secret plans that we later are revealed.

CHRISTIE: That's right. What's happened to regular order? When I first started on Capitol Hill in 1991, we had a process. A bill was introduced. A bill went to committee. You had amendments. It went to the floor of that particular body, the House or the Senate. Members talked about it; they had amendments. They voted on it and then they ironed out differences in conference.

Now you have these secret groups going around ironing out plans...

HEADLEE: I want to be clear here because not just the Democrats - the Democrats said they wanted to check in at the AFL CIO, the large labor union first...

CHRISTIE: Well, the chamber...

HEADLEE: ...and then the Republicans said they wanted to check with the Chamber of Commerce.

CHRISTIE: And this is where I'm going with this and I am curious to hear what Corey has to say about this. But I just think regular order has to work its will and the people's House should actually debate it rather than a trade union here, the Chamber of Commerce here. Let's have regular order.

HEADLEE: What do you think, Corey?

EALONS: Well, I think regular order is always - should always rule the day in Washington because that means that you have adults talking to adults, working out the issues that are the most important to the American people. But I don't think it was not - I don't think it was a bad move for them to make sure that the two biggest lobbies who have killed this issue in the past because they couldn't come to consensus on it had some sense of where we needed to be on this, so they struck a deal on Friday, basically making sure that new workers coming into this position, low wage workers, had a particular level that they would come in at that would not threaten the jobs and pay of domestic workers, of American workers. That's a critical issue.

To get over that hump now puts us on a trajectory to actually get this done, so it's unfortunate that we've gotten to this point, going through, you know, the gangs, as Ron has talked about, but at the end of the day, we're closer to getting this done than we ever have been and that's because all the boxes have been checked despite what Senator Rubio is saying right now. The boxes are all checked on this issue.

HEADLEE: He's raised some skepticism.

CHRISTIE: And let me go back to the boxes being checked because I think absolutely the opposite. I think, in a complex issue like this and we haven't dealt with immigration reform in a substantive way since 1986 that there's this rush to get something done by next week and a rush to get something on the president's desk so he can have victory on immigration. I want to make sure that we have a victory for the American people, for those that we want to come here legally and to work here and something that the American people actually understand what is in the bill rather than we've rushed it to get it through.

HEADLEE: You know, I'm the first to suspect politicians of always having, you know, ulterior motives. I'm not sure this is about a victory for the president. What do you think, Corey? I mean, he doesn't have to run again ever.

EALONS: I agree.

HEADLEE: This is also a victory. I mean, this would be a victory for GOP politicians who want to reach out to Latino voters. Right?

EALONS: No question about that. This is one of those issues and, again, this is one of the few big issues this year where you began with some sense of bipartisan consensus that it needed to get done and the president has certainly been out front on this issue, saying what he feels, but you've also had the same thing on the GOP side from the leadership in the House and the Senate.

So what's fortunate is that we're moving in the right direction and it really appears that we're going to get this done. This would be a legacy setter for both sides.

HEADLEE: Absolutely. OK. Unfortunately, we're out of time, so I - but I have to ask you. In 30 seconds, Ron Christie, Jeff Flake of Arizona says the next presidential candidate from the GOP will probably support gay marriage. You agree?

CHRISTIE: It depends, really, I think, on what the Supreme Court has to say. The Supreme Court last week dealt with Proposition 8 in California and the Defense of Marriage Act. I think the Republican Party right now is looking and saying, traditionally, we've said marriage is between a man and a woman, the position that I have. But, if you look at civil unions, that is clearly gaining momentum across this country, so it remains to be seen.

HEADLEE: Ron Christie, CEO of Christie Strategies, also former assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush, and Corey Ealons, senior vice president at VOX Global, former communications advisor in the Obama Administration. They're both here with me in our Washington studios.

Thanks to both of you.

EALONS: A pleasure to see you both.

CHRISTIE: Always good to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.