Doyle McManus, Washington Bureau Chief for the Los Angeles Times, and one of the three members of the mainstream media who asked questions at Thursday night’s Democratic presidential debate on CNN, neglected to mention Hillary Clinton’s previous waffling on the subject of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants when he asked the former First Lady about the issue. "Senator Clinton, Senator Obama has said that he favors allowing illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses, and you opposed that idea. Why?"
As CNSNews Editor-in-Chief Terry Jeffrey noted after the November 15, 2007 Democratic debate (where Clinton answered that she did not support licenses for illegal immigrants), Clinton, with that answer, contradicted what she had said in an interview with the Nashua [N.H.] Telegraph on October 17, 2007, almost a month earlier. In the interview, Clinton voiced support for New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s plan to give illegal immigrants driver’s licenses, stating that "it makes a lot of sense." When Tim Russert asked Clinton about the issue at the Democratic presidential debate in Philadelphia two weeks later on October 30, she gave, as Jeffrey put it, "a long and apparently contradictory series of answers about whether to give illegals driver's licenses."
Clinton initially ignored answering McManus’ question. Instead, she answered the previous question made by Jeanne Cummings of the Politico, who asked a viewer’s question on the negative economic impact of illegal immigrants on African-Americans’ wages and unemployment rate. She only briefly mentioned the licenses issue at the end of her answer.
Debate moderator Wolf Blitzer didn’t immediately ask a follow-up question to Clinton on the licenses issue. Instead, he asked Obama about what he meant when he said that he stood for a "humane and intelligent immigration policy in a way that, frankly, none of my other opponents did." After Obama defended his support for "comprehensive immigration reform," Blitzer asked Clinton about whether she was "missing in action" when senators, including Obama, began "formulating comprehensive immigration reform."
When Clinton defended her record of supporting "comprehensive immigration reform," Blitzer finally returned to the issue of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. "Very quickly, Senator, why not then, if you’re that passionate about it, let them get driver’s licenses?" Clinton’s answer:
HILLARY CLINTON: Well, we disagree on this. I do not think that it is either appropriate to give a driver's license to someone who is here undocumented, putting them, frankly, at risk, because that is clear evidence that they are not here legally. And, I believe it is a diversion from what should be the focus at creating a political coalition with the courage to stand up and change the immigration system.
This prompted Obama to respond, correcting the record for both Clinton and McManus.
BARACK OBAMA: The only point I would make is -- is Senator Clinton, you know, gave a number of different answers over the course of six weeks on this issue, and that did appear political. Now, you know, at this point, she's got a clear position. But it took awhile. And...
OBAMA: ...I'm just being, just in fairness, the -- initially in a debate, you said you were for it. Then you said you were against it. And the only reason I bring that up is to underscore the fact that this is a difficult political issue. The -- from my perspective, I agree with Bill Richardson, that there is a public safety concern here, and that we're better off -- because I don't want a bunch of hit-and-run drivers, because they are worried about being deported, and so they don't report an accident. That is a judgment call. But I do think it is important to recognize that this can be tough, and the question is, who is going to tackle this problem, and solve it? Many of the solutions that Senator Clinton just talked about are solutions that I agree with, that I've been working on for many years, and my suspicion is, whatever our differences, we're going to have big differences with the Republicans. But I think a practical common sense solution to the problem is what the American people are looking for.
Clinton immediately responded that Obama himself had trouble answering the question during the Democratic debate on November 15, 2007 (something that Jeffrey pointed out in his CNSNews article above).
CLINTON: I just have to correct the record for one second, because, obviously, we do agree about the need to have comprehensive immigration reform, and if I recall, about a week after I said that I would try to support my governor, although I didn't agree with it personally, you were asked the same question and could not answer it. So, this is a difficult issue, and both of us have to recognize that it is not something that we easily come to because we share a lot of the same values. We want to -- we want to be fair to people, we want to respect the dignity of every human being -- every person who is here. But we are trying to work our way through to get to where we need to be, and that is to have a united Democratic party, with fair-minded Republicans who will join us, to fix this broken immigration system.