Hardball | January 30, 2013
>>> challenge where the differences are dwindling. where a broad consensus is emerging. and where a call for action can now be heard coming from all across america. now's the time.
>> welcome back to "hardball." that was president obama in las vegas yesterday where he laid out his vision for immigration reform . the president's approach is very similar to what a bipartisan group of eight senators called for earlier this week. now the question is can something get done? will republicans in the house be willing to vote yes on a bill that includes a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants who are in this country illegally? that could be a hard sell . many republicans say president obama is all too happy to let the issue fester and watch as their party continues to struggle with hispanic voters. however, politico's mike allen says that doesn't pass the political smell test. quote kwb this is one of the few political mysteries that has an unambiguously correct answer. top demes tell us if president obama is going to have a big legacy accomplishment this term, it has to be immigration. so he's making an historic test of whether the campaign machinery can translate to governing. joining us is howard fineman and nia- malika henderson. nia- malika , let me begin with you. what's your answer to the question of the president's true objective here?
>> well, i think his true objective has been what it always was. even going back to 2008 when he campaigned on the issue of comprehensive immigration reform . obviously wasn't able to get it done in his first term. gave a bunch of speeches that essentially laid out the same thing he laid out yesterday, the sort of guiding framework where he wants to take this. i think it always has been an issue for republicans . he doesn't necessarily have to make it an issue for them. he certainly isn't standing for re-election. i think he already won the political fight in 2012 . so now it is about his legacy and whether or not he can get this big grand bargain around immigration.
>> howard, how do we get beyond the triggers that differs between the senate's plan and the president's plan? how do you prove the borders are now secure?
>> right. that's the practical difficulty in all this. and it's one thing to go out and say let's do it when we secure the border. the question is how you measure it, how you achieve that. do you put troops down there? do you have drones flying overhead? what statistics will you use and so forth? but the larger issue is the sequence. when it's clear that people are going to be on that path to citizenship that the president discussed. only after some kind of security is enforced and proved or not? and that's where the sticking point's going to be. but i agree with nia and mike allen . that this is part of the president's narrative. this makes sense for the president. this is a president who comes in a sense from immigrant stock himself. who sees himself carrying america into a new demographic and a new day. who's always reading lincoln. who's giving his state of the union address on abraham lincoln 's birthday. i think for the president to have a new birth of freedom in terms of settling this immigration issue for this generation, it always comes up, but again for this generation i think something he very much cares about.
>> let's talk about the other side of the aisle. senator john mccain one of the gang of eight's plan, says he republican party risks a descent towards irrelevancy. today he explained what's at stake for the republican party .
>> the republican party has failed to understand to a significant degree the importance of this issue to our hispanic voter. we are elected to office because the voters think we will help them achieve their hopes and dreams and aspirations for the future. if you have a large block of americans who believe that you are trying to keep their brethren and sisterhood down, their fellow hispanics down, and deprive them of an opportunity, obviously that's going to have an effect on their voters.
>> number of republicans have taken issue with that mode of thinking by way of example, here's what lou barr let ta of pennsylvania said. quote, i hope politics is not at the root of why we're rushing to pass a bill. anyone who believes they're going to win over the latino vote is grossly mistaken. the majority that are here illegally are low skilled or may not even have a high school diploma . the republican party is not going to compete over who can give more social programs out. they will become democrats because of the social programs they'll depend on. and a republican senate aide told the national review that republicans should take a deep breath on this issue. quote, don't walk the plank on immigration because romney only got 29% of the hispanic vote and sell out on deeply held conservatives principles to bump up to 33%. i'm surprised by those particularly by barr let ta.
>> that's right. some of the language there used, there has been this attempt by some republicans to change the rhetoric, change the language they use around immigration. not wanting this to be an issue going forward. but i think realistically when you look at what's happening on the house side, they really only need 20 or so republicans to back this bill for it to get through the house. you saw of course with the fiscal cliff they were able to get enough republicans to agree to raising taxes. i think one of the things that you're seeing is there is this change. i think it's happened much more quickly than a lot of people thought it would. mccain reverting back to the old mccain . lindsey graham who is facing probably a primary test down in south carolina , a state that is now 5% latino . one of the fastest-growing states in the terms of latino population down there. so i think we're going to see the sort of blood letting on the republican party along all of these issues, but i think at the end of the day mccain speaks for a majority of republicans who are looking at a way to reform their party and looking at these changing demographics.
>> howard, the stakes are high for one republican in particular. senator marco rubio has been front and center on rush limbaugh 's radio program making the case for immigration reform . while limbaugh praised him, he's also met his share of critics. see what david vitter told laura ingrham today.
>> i love marco but i think he's amazingly naive on this issue. this is the same old formula we've dealt with before including when it passed in 1986 . that is promises of enforcement and immediate amnesty. and of course the promises of enforcement never materialize, the amnesty happens immediately.
>> rick perry and newt gingrich both got stung when in the primary process they stepped out of the gop rank and file on this issue. could it happen to marco rubio ?
>> it could. but this is how he will define himself as a national figure. there's no doubt that marco rubio is running for president in 2016 . he's going to think that he's going to try and bring the republican party along with him if he can. did he get out there maybe a little too visibly and a little too enthusiastically on day one with the gang of eight? perhaps. but i think he's thinking he's going to make a big national play. and he's going to work from the outside in. he's going to be the conservative who can appeal to the hard working , intense people at the grassroots in iowa, south carolina , et cetera . but also give them the sort of ronald reagan promise of being able to reach back to the middle. that's the argument rubio will make. is that naive? on one level, perhaps. but it also may be shrewd.
>> howard fine man, thank you. thank you for being shrewd. nia- malika henderson as well.
>>> up next, before hillary clinton steps down as secretary of state, we thought we'd look back at her lighter moments. and if you want to follow me on twitter, hopefully you know the rules. you just need to spell smerconish. this is "hardball," the place for politics. [ man ]