Eliot Spitzer Presses GOP on Immigration, Fails to Scrutinize Outspoken Democrat Congressman

CNN's Eliot Spitzer challenged Congressman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) on the GOP's immigration stance Tuesday, but was content with liberal Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) hitting Republicans as "cold and reactionary" on the issue.

The former Democrat governor of New York pressed Royce on Republican opposition to the DREAM Act and pressured him to admit that President Obama has been tougher on border security than President Bush. Meanwhile, Spitzer simply asked Gutierrez if he agreed with Obama's Tuesday speech and if he would hold Obama's "feet to the fire."
 

"Does this speech give you comfort such that you will now be fully supportive of what the president is trying to do?" Spitzer asked Gutierrez. "Are you going to keep the president's feet to the fire?" he later asked.

Gutierrez is one of the most outspoken voices in Congress on the immigration issue, and his record is not without controversy. He was arrested outside the White House just last year in a protest for immigration reform. However, Spitzer sidestepped any controversy in his questions.

In contrast, he pressed Royce to admit that Obama has been tougher than Bush on border enforcement and offered an indirect defense of the Democrats' DREAM Act. "A lot of people say it is basic decency, fairness. Kids were brought in at the tender age of six months or a year. They did nothing wrong. Could you agree that they, if they are in college, in the military, they should be given a path to citizenship?"

The DREAM Act, introduced by House Democrats last year, would provide a path to citizenship for those who were brought into the country illegally before their 16th birthday – provided they go to college or join the military. The Republicans have not supported the legislation thus far.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on May 10 at 8:30 p.m. EDT, is as follows:

SPITZER: But let me ask you this. Would you agree that President Obama has been tougher even than President Bush -- and I don't say this to be critical of President Bush -- tougher even than President Bush on the enforcement along the border with more National Guards, building the wall, and bringing the prosecutions that everybody has called for.

Would you agree that he has done that?

ROYCE: In some ways, yes. Border patrol agents, yes. National Guard that's been pulled down some. Work site enforcement is down 70 percent. So that's somewhat selective, but has it been effective? No, says the Government Accountability Office who say we only have 15 percent actual control, 44 percent operational control on the border. I was just down there to three border states. The border patrol tell me that the problem is that the cartels have operational control in many sectors.

SPITZER: OK. That's something I'd love to pursue. We'll get back to that in a moment.

Congressman Gutierrez, let me ask you this. You have been very critical of President Obama for not doing enough to get the Dream Act through Congress and to put to use his administrative powers to ease up on the deportations. Does this speech give you comfort such that you will now be fully supportive of what the president is trying to do?

REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ (D), CONGRESSIONAL HISPANIC CAUCUS: Sure. I'm happy the president gave the speech today. But as you've just heard from Congressman Royce and Eric Cantor, the majority leader, basically declared any movement on comprehensive immigration reform dead. This other -- the very governor, Republican Governor Perry won't even welcome the president of the United States to the state of Texas.

So I think you saw how cold and reactionary the Republican Party is. We've already -- if the president's move today was to show immigrant voters, Latino voters, that there is no welcome mat out for our community, then he accomplished his feat. But I think more important, Eliot, is the following.

Look, the president has broad discretionary powers. We're going to graduate 65,000 young men and women who came here at a young and tender age. They're going to graduate. Some of them are class valedictorians. And you know what, they've been admitted to Harvard and Yale and to fine prestigious universities. We've got soldiers being sent to Afghanistan, to Iraq, probably going to defend. And they've got their wives with orders of deportation.

SPITZER: Congressman --

GUTIERREZ: And so what I'm saying is why doesn't the president use his discretionary powers so that we can bring some relief and some fairness and justice in terms of the application of our laws?

SPITZER: Well, that's the question I have for you, Congressman. Are going to keep the president's feet to the fire and is there a particular benchmark that you have set to say to the president unless you cut back on the deportations, unless you somehow take this specific step, I, Congressman Gutierrez, a powerful voice in the immigrant community, a powerful voice in the Latino community, am going to withhold my support next year in the presidential race, something you've threatened to do in the past. What is the benchmark you will use to determine the president – whether the president is living up to his pledge to you?

GUTIERREZ: Look, Eliot, the president of the United States met with us last Tuesday. He agreed to consider several administrative relief measures that he can take. So he's admitted that he has that discretionary power.

The decision is going to be made on the basis of the following. How broad and how generous is the president going to be in his execution of his discretion? That is yet to be seen. I am very, very hopeful given that meeting that he can say, you know, American citizen children, maybe we shouldn't be knocking on the doors of homes early in the morning and snatching those children from the arms of their mothers.

SPITZER: All right.

GUTIERREZ: I think there is a sense of fairness and justice and the president, they began a campaign.

SPITZER: OK, Congressman --

GUTIERREZ: I hope he executes it.

SPITZER: Let me get back to Congressman Royce here. Congressman Royce, what if the president does ease off using his administrative powers as Congressman Gutierrez wants him to do? How will you and the Republican leadership react? And second, we don't have much time left, the Dream Act. A lot of people say it is basic decency, fairness. Kids were brought in at the tender age of six months or a year. They did nothing wrong. Could you agree that they, if they are in college, in the military, they should be given a path to citizenship? Is that a point of common purpose here?

ROYCE: Well, certainly in the military and frankly I think there is an area to come into an agreement here. And I think a lot of it has to do with the question of this e-verify program. If that were made mandatory, this is our concern right now. What it means is that employers would have to check basically with the government and could only hire somebody who was basically here, legally in the United States. If that were done, you see, then a lot of our concerns would be taken care of. But as I've shared with you, I mean, the real polling shows that there are a billion people in the world who would like to come to the United States. We've got seven billion Americans just trying to find jobs as I said in manufacturing and services that can't find those jobs right now. So from a practical standpoint, we've got to get this solved and our friends on the other side of the aisle, you know, it's always been -- give us an amnesty. We did that in the '80s. We never got the control.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014