CBS’s Rodriguez: McCain ‘Maverick or Flip-flopper to Latinos?’

On Tuesday’s CBS "Early Show," co-host Maggie Rodriguez aired her interview with John McCain that followed his Monday speech to the National Council of La Raza and teased the segment by asking: "Up next, Senator John McCain, a maverick or a flip-flopper to Latinos?" During the interview, Rodriguez, who hosted the liberal La Raza conference, pressed McCain from the left on his immigration stance: "You championed a comprehensive immigration reform bill. But now as the nominee you admit you wouldn't vote for it if it came up today. Why not?" [audio excerpt available here]

After McCain explained that the legislation had failed twice due to lack of popular support, Rodriguez wondered: "The fact that it failed, does that tell you that the American people didn't want it or that your party didn't want it?" Rodriguez then followed up by quoting Obama campaign talking points: "Some political analysts say, and in fact, Senator Obama made the comments here yesterday, that when you became the nominee, when you could no longer risk alienating your conservative base, you started emphasizing border security over a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. What about that?"

When McCain later suggested that: "Americans want the confidence that we'll have secure borders. And then I believe the overwhelming majority of them will support a humane and compassionate approach to temporary worker program and to a comprehensive immigration reform." Rodriguez responded: "But securing the border could take years. What if it never happens? When will you get to comprehensive immigration reform?"

Maggie Rodriguez, CBS That comment led to this exchange in which an incredulous Rodriguez could not seem to accept that the United States would actually be capable of securing its own borders:

MCCAIN: Oh, we are moving forward right now with securing our borders.

RODRIGUEZ: If in one year or two years the border isn't secure, what will you do?

MCCAIN: It'll be secure-

RODRIGUEZ: It'll be secure?

MCCAIN: It'll be secure, sure. It'll be secure in a very relatively short period of time.

RODRIGUEZ: Like a year?

MCCAIN: It'll be done in a very short period of time.

Rodriguez ended the segment by confessing that immigration was not the only issue on the minds of Hispanic voters: "While immigration is an important issue, especially symbolically and emotionally for Latinos, it is not the most important. In a new CBS News/New York Times poll out this morning, 45% of Hispanics see the economy as the country's most important problem, 18% say the war in Iraq, and just 3% say immigration."

She began the interview by asking McCain about the depiction of Obama on the cover of the New Yorker: "Have you seen the cover of the New Yorker?...Your feeling, is satire acceptable?" On the economy, Rodriguez asked about a bailout plan for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and wondered: "How much blame should the Bush Administration take for that?"

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:00AM TEASER:

HARRY SMITH: Exclusive. That controversial cover.

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: Have you seen the cover of the New Yorker?

SMITH: What John McCain told Maggie.

7:01AM TEASER:

RODRIGUEZ: Also ahead this morning, is the cover of the New Yorker magazine indirectly helping John McCain? I asked the Senator about that in my interview. We also talk about what he says is the risk that almost killed his campaign and the banking crisis. My exclusive one-on-one interview is straight ahead.

7:13AM TEASER:

RODRIGUEZ: Up next, Senator John McCain, a maverick or a flip-flopper to Latinos? And what he says about Barack Obama's controversial magazine cover. We go one-on-one in an exclusive.

7:17AM SEGMENT:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: Yesterday in San Diego I met up with Senator John McCain at a luncheon I hosted where he spoke to thousands of Latinos. And just like the day before when I hosted the same event with Senator Obama, the issue that drew the most passionate response from this key electorate was immigration. But another key item of the day was the recent cover of the New Yorker magazine, depicting Barack Obama as a Muslim, playing on the myths and fears about the Democratic candidate. I asked Senator McCain about it in my exclusive interview. I would like to ask you a news of the day question, if I may.

MCCAIN: Sure.

RODRIGUEZ: Have you seen the cover of the New Yorker?

JOHN MCCAIN: Yes.

RODRIGUEZ: Your feeling, is satire acceptable?

MCCAIN: I don't think so. I'll leave that judgment to the American people. I can only state my personal opinion. I think it's -- if it's an attempt at satire it's wrong -- it's wrong and it's offensive.

RODRIGUEZ: In regard to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, do you feel that a government bailout is the solution?

MCCAIN: I think the proposal that has been made, which I don't call a, quote, 'bailout,' but certainly is significant assistance in a number of ways, is an appropriate measure to take. Americans are angry. They're angry and they're upset and they're sick and tired of Washington doing nothing for them.

RODRIGUEZ: How much blame should the Bush Administration take for that?

MCCAIN: I think that the problem has been festering for many, many, many years. Fannie and Freddie were not created by the Bush Administration. When you look at some of the congressional action and lack of oversight by the administration, by Congress, by everybody, then it's been a failure that there's plenty of blame to go around.

RODRIGUEZ: You championed a comprehensive immigration reform bill. But now as the nominee you admit you wouldn't vote for it if it came up today. Why not?

MCCAIN: The point is not that I would vote for it or not vote for it, the point is it failed twice. Senator Kennedy and I and a group of senators brought it up twice and it failed twice.

RODRIGUEZ: The fact that it failed, does that tell you that the American people didn't want it or that your party didn't want it?

MCCAIN: The American people didn't support it. I still believe that we reflect the views of the majority.

RODRIGUEZ: Some political analysts say, and in fact, Senator Obama made the comments here yesterday, that when you became the nominee, when you could no longer risk alienating your conservative base, you started emphasizing border security over a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. What about that?

MCCAIN: Actually, as soon as we failed I said that we obviously had for the second time. I led on the issue. I didn't have to do this, Maggie. I knew that it was going to hurt me in my quest for the nomination of my party because it was not popular with a lot of the base of my party. But it's because I put my country first, and I always put my country first. Senator Obama had a choice of doing the bidding of the labor unions or putting his country first. He chose the special interests, Senator Obama supported measures which would have killed the comprehensive approach.

RODRIGUEZ: What do you say to the American worker who feels that the undocumented worker is taking his or her job?

MCCAIN: I agree with him. But I would also point out that there are jobs that it is clear that still need to be filled. Americans want the confidence that we'll have secure borders. And then I believe the overwhelming majority of them will support a humane and compassionate approach to temporary worker program and to a comprehensive immigration reform.

RODRIGUEZ: But securing the border could take years. What if it never happens? When will you get to comprehensive immigration reform?

MCCAIN: Oh, we are moving forward right now with securing our borders.

RODRIGUEZ: If in one year or two years the border isn't secure, what will you do?

MCCAIN: It'll be secure-

RODRIGUEZ: It'll be secure?

MCCAIN: It'll be secure, sure. It'll be secure in a very relatively short period of time.

RODRIGUEZ: Like a year?

MCCAIN: It'll be done in a very short period of time.

RODRIGUEZ: While immigration is an important issue, especially symbolically and emotionally for Latinos, it is not the most important. In a new CBS News/New York Times poll out this morning, 45% of Hispanics see the economy as the country's most important problem, 18% say the war in Iraq, and just 3% say immigration. I should note that I also gave Senator Obama the opportunity to discuss issues important to Latino voters, but his campaign declined.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC