NBC's Gregory Grills Rubio: Does GOP Have 'Racism' Problem on Illegal Immigration?

During an interview with Senator Marco Rubio on Sunday's NBC Meet the Press, host David Gregory hit the Florida Republican for his support of Mitt Romney, who "had to run hard to the right here on illegal immigration" and is "far behind President Obama among Latino voters."

Gregory then quoted from Rubio's new book, An American Son, and proceeded to portray Republican opposition to illegal immigration as racially motivated: "'I begin to wonder if some of the people who speak so disparagingly about immigrants would be just as worked up if most of them were coming from Canada.' You suggest a level of racism here toward illegal immigrants. How much of a problem does the Republican Party have on this issue?"

Rubio shot down Gregory's assertion: "Well, first of all, that assumes that all these voices are Republicans, the enormous, vast and overwhelming majority of Republicans are supporters of legal immigration, are compassionate to the plight of legal immigrants – illegal immigrants, but understand that America cannot be the only country in the world that doesn't enforce its immigration laws."

Earlier in the segment, Gregory played a sound bite of President Obama bashing the GOP for not supporting the Dream Act and argued: "Isn't the President right to this extent? You're not even comfortable saying what you would do about a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who are here, even the children of illegal immigrants, because this is such a tough issue in the Republican Party over what is, quote unquote, 'amnesty.'"

Gregory began the interview by fretting over the possibility of the Supreme Court upholding Arizona's new illegal immigration law: "As you know, critics say this is tantamount to racial profiling. Law enforcement has the ability to pull somebody if over. If they think they're an illegal immigrant, they can demand their papers. If the Supreme Court upholds that law, does that make you uncomfortable?"

On Monday, the Court struck down some provisions of the law, but maintained the very portion Gregory referred to as law enforcement being able to "demand their papers."


Here is a portion of the June 24 exchange:

10:37AM ET

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GREGORY: The latest thing that's happened is that the President took action unilaterally.

MARCO RUBIO: Yes.

GREGORY: His homeland – secretary of Homeland Security gave guidance to her local agencies, saying, "There should be work waivers," not necessarily a path to citizenship, but waivers for children of illegal immigrants. The President, speaking this week at a National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said this:

BARACK OBAMA: We should have passed the Dream Act a long time ago. It was written by members of both parties. When it came up for a vote a year and a half ago, Republicans in Congress blocked it. The bill hadn't changed, the need hadn't changed. The only thing that had changed was politics.

GREGORY: And isn't the President right to this extent? You're not even comfortable saying what you would do about a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who are here, even the children of illegal immigrants, because this is such a tough issue in the Republican Party over what is, quote unquote, "amnesty."

RUBIO: Well again, that's not an accurate assessment. Because the first thing I would say is I have talked in specific about an approach for these kids. The Dream Act is too broad.  I said that repeatedly during my campaign. It doesn't just help the kids, it ultimately, in a very short order, could lead to these kids bringing in multiple relatives. It could lead to millions of other people immigrating through this process.

It goes back to the balance that I talk about. We need to be compassionate. But we also can't do something that encourages illegal immigration in the future. And I think The Dream Act, as they have written it, would do that.

GREGORY: But what the President did, you didn't like the way he did it. You wanted legislation. But substantively, you agree...
                               
RUBIO: Well-

GREGORY: ...with what the President did.

RUBIO: Well, even substantively, it's a short term fix for a long term problem. And in fact, what it does is it injects election year politics into an issue that will never be solved as long as it's a political one. I am convinced, after a year and a half here in – in Washington and in the Senate, that for some people, I wouldn't say many or all, but for many, or I would just say too many people, this issue is more valuable unresolved. For them, they'd rather have the immigration issue unresolved.

GREGORY: But you didn't put forward a Dream Act Bill. You had a chance to put forward the bill, you didn't advance the legislation. Why not force Democrats to vote on this?

RUBIO: Because responsible-

GREGORY: You're a leading voice on immigration.

RUBIO: Well first of all, we have developed the idea in enough detail that people knew what was in it and were able to – when I first announced the idea, immediately Democrats and the Left criticized me. The same people who are now applauding the President for doing something similar. But – and so that exposes the hypocrisy behind it.

The second point is that legislation like this, if you are a responsible policymaker, you don't just rush out a piece of legislation that impacts the lives of potentially 800,000 people that deeply affects the immigration laws of this country. You have to be careful. You have to answers to every question.

If I rush out a piece of legislation that's not ready, if I don't have every answer to every question that's gonna be raised about that bill, it loses credibility from the onset. So I will continue to approach it as a responsible policymaker. Look, if I wanted a talking point, if what I wanted was something to use in November elections, we would have cobbled something together and rolled it out.

GREGORY: But here's the reality. You support a candidate, Mitt Romney, who talked about self deportation during the campaign. Had to run hard to the right here on illegal immigration. Had said, at one point, that he would veto the Dream Act. And the reality is that he's far behind President Obama among Latino voters.

You write this in your book, An American Son, about Canada: "I begin to wonder if some of the people who speak so disparagingly about immigrants would be just as worked up if most of them were coming from Canada." You suggest a level of racism here toward illegal immigrants.  How much of a problem does the Republican Party have on this issue?

RUBIO: Well, first of all, that assumes that all these voices are Republicans, the enormous, vast and overwhelming majority of Republicans are supporters of legal immigration, are compassionate to the plight of legal immigrants – illegal immigrants, but understand that America cannot be the only country in the world that doesn't enforce its immigration laws.

And by the way, again, I repeat, what about the 30, 40, 50 million people that are waiting to immigrate to the U.S., whose relatives come to my offices, for example, some of them, asking for help to expedite that process? What do I tell them? "Come illegally, it's cheaper and quicker?"

So I think that – no one talks about them. And this is, again, it's not a simple issue. And the Dream Act is too broad. There is an alternative that's better. It's what we were working on, is what I had hoped to work on outside of politics, to be able to elevate the issue beyond the give and take of electoral politics. Obviously, that's not going to happen, unfortunately, this year, because now the issue has been politicized by the President.

GREGORY: Romney's got a big disadvantage.

RUBIO: Well-

GREGORY: You would agree with that, among Latino voters?

RUBIO: Well again, I think we need to remember that there are some historic factors in play. I mean there are also a large number of Hispanic voters in this country who happen to be liberal Democrats, who happen to be lifelong Democrats. They're not going to change their position and decide to vote for Mitt Romney now because he will change his position on immigration or not.  So we need to realize that this is a long term effort for the Republican Party to insure that our message of limited government and free enterprise is accessible to a group of Americans that happen to be of Hispanic descent.

(...)

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