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November 23, 2011

Did Newt Gingrich Hurt Himself Last Night With Immigration ?

Gingrich had his first real hiccup in a debate at last night's CNN/AEI/Heritage event on national security and foreign policy. The topic was immigration and Wolf Blitzer began by reminding Gingrich that he voted for the Simpson-Mazoli amnesty bill in the 80's (that Ronald Reagan signed).

Here's Newt's initial answer (I've pulled out the whole exchange and put it on my little side blog so you don't have to search the whole CNN transcript).

BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich, let me let you broaden out this conversation. Back in the '80s -- and you remember this well. I was covering you then. Ronald Reagan and you -- you voted for legislation that had a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, as you well remember. There were, what, maybe 12 million, 10 million -- 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States right now.

Some called it amnesty then; they still call it amnesty now. What would you do if you were President of the United States, with these millions of illegal immigrants, many of whom have been in this country for a long time?

GINGRICH: Let me start and just say I think that we ought to have an H-1 visa that goes with every graduate degree in math, science and engineering so that people stay here.


GINGRICH: You know, about five blocks down the street, you'll see a statue of Einstein. Einstein came here as an immigrant. So let's be clear how much the United States has drawn upon the world to be richer, better and more inclusive.

I did vote for the Simpson-Mazzoli Act. Ronald Reagan, in his diary, says he signed it -- and we were supposed to have 300,000 people get amnesty. There were 3 million. But he signed it because we were going to get two things in return. We were going to get control of the border and we were going to get a guest worker program with employer enforcement.

We got neither. So I think you've got to deal with this as a comprehensive approach that starts with controlling the border, as the governor said. I believe ultimately you have to find some system -- once you've put every piece in place, which includes the guest worker program, you need something like a World War II Selective Service Board that, frankly, reviews the people who are here.

If you're here -- if you've come here recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home. period. If you've been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.

The Creeble Foundation is a very good red card program that says you get to be legal, but you don't get a pass to citizenship. And so there's a way to ultimately end up with a country where there's no more illegality, but you haven't automatically given amnesty to anyone.

Both Bachmann and Romney bounced on that answer saying it was amnesty that would reward law breakers and serve as a magnet for more illegal immigration.

Ironically given his troubles on the issue, Rick Perry had the strongest answer focusing on border enforcement as a national security issue.

Newt responded to each attack by repeatedly doubling down on the idea that long term illegals with roots in this country are never going to be deported so we need a plan to deal with that. He didn't say anyone who disagreed with him lacked a heart but he was inching up to it.

Team Romney went on the offensive following the debate. As you'd expect, they did so in the most weaselly way possible as the Examiners Philip Klein found out.

Is Gingrich's answer going to hurt his newly minted Not-Mitt/actual front runner status? Personally I've been leaning to Gingrich simply out of lack of a better option. I'm some what torn here because I think when all is said and done I come down close to where Gingrich is in general though not in specifics ("Red cards" and immigration boards are silly ideas). There's simply too many here already and as a practical political matter Gingrich is right, we'll never get anything done without some give from our side over a significant number of long term illegal residents who have deep roots here. Americans are compassionate people, there will be plenty of people we'll let stay here simply because to uproot them would be a penalty disproportionate to the crime.

The thing is, that's my end point, not my opening bid in the immigration debate. I want Perry's tougher border stance, Mitt's (for now) employer sanctions and shutting down other "magnets". Once we have a couple of years of that to demonstrate that we have a reasonable handle on the border and we've removed as many illegals as possible by attrition then and only then can we talk about what to do with long time, otherwise law abiding people. To open with Newt's position is to ensure another Simpson-Mazzoli fiasco.

I expect we'll be hearing a lot more from Gingrich about his ideas on border enforcement and how he favors English as the official language in the coming days. Still, when push came to shove, his first instinct was to talk passionately and in detail about someway legalizing a good number of illegals and not enforcement. That's going to be a problem for him. How big of a problem is yet to be seen.

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posted by DrewM. at 09:55 AM

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