John “I’ll Be Whoever I Need To Be To Get Votes” McCain Suddenly Becomes Johnny Conservative On Immigration
Sen. John McCain has endorsed a tough Arizona anti-immigration bill that will let police arrest people who aren’t carrying identification, the latest move in McCain’s rightward shift in advance of a tough Republican Senate primary this summer.
“I think it’s a very important step forward,” McCain said Monday. “I can fully understand why the legislature would want to act.”
It’s a dramatic switch for a senator who supported comprehensive immigration reform with Democratic lion Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) just four years ago. McCain is facing a primary challenge from the right in former Rep. J.D. Hayworth.
Immigration reform advocates were bewildered.
“He risked his political career for immigration reform, and now he is compromising his principles to fight for his political life,” said Frank Sherry, executive director of America’s Voice and a longtime immigration reform advocate.
Under the Arizona law, which passed the state House last week and is expected to be signed by Gov. Jan Brewer (R), police can arrest anyone on “reasonable suspicion” that they are an illegal immigrant. If they’re not carrying a valid driver’s license or identity papers, police can arrest them.
Hayworth called McCain’s Monday comments “political gamesmanship…born of political convenience – driven by his need for personal political gain.”
Under current law, illegal immigration is a federal crime, and state law enforcement officials can only ask about it if a person is suspected of another crime.
Backers say the package of tough new rules will give police and other law enforcement the tools they need to combat increasingly violent immigration violations.
Opponents say the law essentially legalizes racial profiling. “If you look brown, you’re going to get asked for papers,” Sherry said. If Brewer signs the bill, he said, “she’ll go down George Wallace of our generation.”
The bill passed the state’s House on a largely party-line vote last week, and is set for a vote in the Arizona Senate Monday.
McCain’s comments to reporters came as he and fellow Republican Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl unveiled a 10 step plan to secure Arizona’s border with Mexico. McCain and Kyl want to send 3,000 National Guard troops to help an overstretched border patrol curtail increasingly violent incidents along the border, among other measures.
McCain said the plan did not need to move in tandem with a potential federal immigration reform bill.
“The lesson is clear: First we have to secure the border,” McCain said. “If you want to enact some other reforms, how can that be effective when you have a porous border?”
“So we have to secure the border first,” he said.
McCain asked the federal government for more National Guard troops last year, but the request was not granted. The National Guard has been deployed to protect the border before, Kyl said, but troops were moved out as the war in Iraq escalated and their capabilities were needed elsewhere.
Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are writing a bipartisan immigration bill the administration says it wants to push through Congress this year. Lawmakers have been meeting with business and labor interests to try and hash out an agreement.
Schumer argued Monday that his proposal is actually more stringent than Arizona’s.
“We believe our blueprint is even stronger than the Arizona senators’ proposal in stopping the flow of illegal immigrants because our plan both increases border security and prevents employers from hiring illegal immigrants,” Schumer said in a statement Monday. “The only way to combat illegal immigration is through comprehensive reform because that is the only solution that can get through both the House and the Senate. We would certainly be open to negotiating a comprehensive bill that requires completion of border security measures before any other measures take effect.”
But with the Senate still bitterly divided in the wake of health reform and heading toward a broad array of other major legislation, there is little appetite for an issue as divisive as immigration.
“There’s still a shot, and I’ll leave it at that,” Sherry said.