Immigration Reform Q&A with Senator Lindsey Graham

After the Senate voted last night to debate the Gang of Eight's comprehensive immigration reform bill, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham talks about what's next.

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J. Scott Applewhite / ASSOCIATED PRESS

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham

Last night the Senate passed a procedural measure to begin debate and bring to the floor a comprehensive immigration reform bill, with only 15 senators—all Republicans—objecting. Senator Chuck Schumer, a member of the “Gang of Eight” which largely crafted and guided the bill, has predicted that the legislation will pass the Senate by July 4, and Tuesday the President urged Congress to pass the bill by the end of the summer. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the “Gang of Eight” and a key Republican backer of the reform effort, spoke with reporters on Capitol Hill about the recent developments on the bill.

On the President’s role:

The President’s tone and engagement has been very helpful to the bill. I am very pleased with the role that the president’s played. I can’t ask for more cooperation than he’s given here.

What do you think of the Cornyn Amendment, which allows a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants so long as the U.S. maintains at least a 90% apprehension rate along the Southern border?

The “Gang of Eight” is trying to grow the boat. We’re talking to people trying to figure out what their concerns are. We’re listening to our colleagues. I’m all for border security but here are a couple of things that would break the bill apart: if it becomes unaffordable. Sen. [John] Cornyn (R-Tex.) is trying to improve border security, I appreciate that, but we can’t afford a $25 billion addition as it breaks the bank and it makes the bill not deficit neutral and it’s more than the market will bear. If you want to have a new trigger on the pathway to citizenship regarding border security it has to be practical and achievable.

[Read Sen. Cornyn’s RESULTS Amendment here]

But it seems popular among the GOP conference…

Well, you know we think sequestration is a good thing, and then we’re going to throw money at the border, we’re a little schizophrenic here. The bottom line is I think we can improve border security, but it’s gotta be paid for; it’s gotta be affordable.

But when it comes with additional new triggers, the lack of trust is real. Here’s the problem for our Democratic colleagues: when you say 90% operational control for the border, it wouldn’t be hard to envision a Republican-controlled wing of Congress where they undercut the ability to get to 90% with the lack of funding. I don’t trust our Democratic colleagues to deliver a guest-worker program that gives legalization first and then talks to me later about decreasing illegal immigration. I wouldn’t do that because I lost my leverage. It’s all about leverage.

There’s a way to take Sen. Cornyn’s proposal and make it more affordable and make it more practical and get bipartisan support.

So is a trigger unacceptable?

Not when it’s deemed in the eyes of our Democratic colleagues to be subject to political manipulation or physically unachievable.

On the politics:

We need a bill because our immigration system is so broken. But politically, if the bill fails and Republicans are blamed in the eyes of the public for not being practical it makes it virtually impossible for us to win the White House in 2016. But I’m not looking at if from that point of view as much as we need to solve the problem. Our Democratic colleagues, they proposed immigration reform in 2009 and they didn’t deliver so they need to step up and deliver.

Is there an impact on the 2014 congressional races?

It’s more a presidential issue. The House politics aren’t effected too much by demographics at the moment. Senate a little more so, the White House dramatically. If you want to be a congressional party, fine, but I’d like to be a part of the party that can also win the White House.

What would it mean if you only got 60 cloture votes today?

It would be bad. If we get 61 votes, good luck getting it through the House. If we get only a handful of [Senate] Republicans I think it dies in the House, so it’s imperative that we get close to half our conference not just today but at the end of the day.

So are you optimistic it’s going to pass?

Yes, because it’s a good bill that can be made better, and from a political point of view, I think most Republicans understand that we’ve dug a hole and we need to get this immigration issue off the table and behind us. And if we don’t, we understand things will be bad.

What does South Carolina think?

Compared to last time [in 2007] it’s radically different. I think people back home understand that we’ve got to be practical. Not everybody but most people back home get what I’m rying to do.


In order to stay competitive in the global economy for the next twenty years or so we need to double the number of immigrants admitted. Most Americans want restricted immigration as they are misled in their views on immigration. This unrealistic expectation caused our immigration mess at the first place. The Gang of 8 had no courage to tell Americans as it is that they are wrong in their views on immigration. In result they prepared the convoluted proposal that will be as effective in resolving our immigration crisis as any other Rube Goldberg invention would.


Lindsey Graham is beholding to Agra-Business. My question to him is simple, how does this amnesty legislation help poor and middle class minorities? 1 of 2 black youth are unemployed, and the unemployment rate for blacks hovers around 17%, and higher in some inner cities. This bill will drive down wages, and for every low-medium skill job, there will be 7 new faces showing up to work for unlivable wages. That means for generations to come, the welfare state will continue to grow, and we will be doomed as a nation.


Of all Senators , Graham should be horrified about the snooping, since I suspect hundreds of spooks at the NSA know about his life in the closet. Lindsey is still upset that even with McCain's influence, he still lost out to Michael Douglas to portray Liberace on HBO.


This is not the senator you're looking for. But unlike the iconic Star Wars scene where it was the droids the Imperial soldiers were looking for, Lindsey just isn't the type of politician worth spending much time on.

On the 'worthlessometer' he's in the red zone.


The real question to Graham is how and why he did not know about all the sexual assaults in the military and why he chose to do nothing about it?


"We need a bill because our immigration system is so broken. But politically, if the bill fails and Republicans are blamed in the eyes of the public for not being practical it makes it virtually impossible for us to win the White House in 2016. But I’m not looking at if from that point of view as much as we need to solve the problem. "

...and then Graham spends the rest of the interview refuting his own claim by framing his answers to your next three questions precisely from a political viewpoint (winning '14, '16, etc.). My condolences, Jay, on drawing the short straw to interview him. I'm guessing you saw first hand why many Graham skeptics, including swampland commentariat, call him "Senator Pittypat." His tut-tutting and hand-wringing are annoying habits...  ...unless you asked those three questions as a Monty Python "Bridge of Death" trap that he fell into? If that's so, then my congrats to YOU, Jay, brilliant move (seriously).


Unlike the cover ups of eight different investigations—if not more by Hillary Clintons State Department. These investigations include allegations of prostitution, pedophilia by an ambassador, sexual assault, and drug purchases



It's what happens when you elevate all military personal to be above criticism.  You have to ignore or minimize the dark sides of a warrior mentality.