February 24th, 2013
10:17 AM ET
10 years ago

McCain: Immigration reform won't hurt GOP at polls

(CNN) - Republicans won't be punished by conservative primary voters if they back comprehensive immigration reform legislation, Sen. John McCain predicted Sunday.

The Arizona Republican, who saw backlash from conservatives for his support of immigration reform proposals during his bid for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, said that as long as certain provisions were included in the plan, Republican voters would get on board.

"I think it's going to be OK, as long as they are satisfied we have effective control over our border," he told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley on "State of the Union." McCain is set to meet with President Barack Obama to discuss immigration on Tuesday.

An early backer of comprehensive immigration reform, McCain later backed away from supporting a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants after his position hurt him with GOP primary voters during his run for president in 2008. This year, he's been more vocal in his support of immigration reform measures, including the bipartisan framework proposed last month in the Senate.

That plan includes a pathway to citizenship that hinges on bolstering border security, something McCain said was necessary and supported by the American people.

"Just because they broke the law doesn't mean they're condemned forever to a twilight status," he said. "I believe that most Americans feel that for these people who have come illegally, as long as they pay back taxes, pay a fine, learn English and get behind everybody else, that's a key element of it. And most Americans now realize we can't have 11 million people sit in the twilight, the shadows of America, forever."

His support for a new immigration reform plan hasn't come without some pushback, however. During a town hall meeting in Arizona last week, McCain fielded spirited questioning from some people in the border state apparently frustrated with slow progress on the illegal immigration issue. Several rose at his forum in support of stringent deportation programs, which McCain does not favor.

"This is an Orwellian experience," he said to one agitated questioner, telling him to sit down. "You've had enough time, sir. You've had enough time."

On Sunday, McCain said those kinds of back-and-forths were why he held town hall meetings.

"That's what town halls are supposed to be about. That's why they're always packed, as you notice," he said, adding that his staff doesn't screen constituents who show up to his events.

Filed under: Immigration • John McCain
soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. MaryM

    Immigration reform will hurt the GOP with its base. We heard the angry old white men in Arizona yelling at McCain

    February 24, 2013 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  2. Evergreen

    Isn't there something else McCain can do on his Sunday mornings? In the words of my former governor, the Terminator, McCain is "old news."

    February 24, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  3. Donkey Party

    Typical GOP, ALWAYS party first, country distant second (or third, or last).

    February 24, 2013 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  4. Moses Vah

    Which immigrant will the illegal immigrant get behind? TPS holder who are treated like illegal immigrant or LPR who already have a path to citizenship?

    February 24, 2013 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  5. yanni

    Here is McCain again on TV. More like a pundit than a senator. Who take is advice seriously after Palin?

    February 24, 2013 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  6. AZ Woman

    Uh-Oh John, you better step carefully on this issue because you KNOW those folks in Fountain Hills, Sun City and Casa Grande don't want to hear that, as they sit and talk about how "those illegals" are wreaking our state. As they blissfully sit back and watch "them" tend their gardens, clean their houses, and watch their kids then boast about how they got a great price for their services....

    February 24, 2013 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  7. Randy, San Francisco

    Sen McCain is wrong about no backlash from Tea Partiers, social conservatives, and anti-immiigration groups. The intra-party fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party will be bitter. Some conservative political talk show entertainers like Anne Coulter are inflaming the ire and passions of listeners opposed to any reform. This can only help Democrats in the 2014 mid-term elections.

    February 24, 2013 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  8. rs

    Correct John, but how are you going to deal with AZ.'s Governor, Jan Brewer? She has been in utter denial about the border (headless corpses!). She will never sign off on a secure border no matter what the metric is. Given Arizona's status as the gun supplier state to the cartels, you can count is as certain that her views on border will derail any attempt to change immigration in a significant way.

    February 24, 2013 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  9. Karl Jonas

    Will McCain include his "Build the dang fence!" proposal in his "compromise" legislation?

    February 24, 2013 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  10. Tony in Maine

    The obvious answer to the GOP dilemma is for moderate GOPers to stop sitting around the barbecue and go to the polls to vote in the primary. By staying home or showing disinterest, they abdicate control of the party to the eyeball spinners who listen to Limbaugh.

    It is not sophisticated to show disinterest in things political or say "they're all the same, so it doesn't matter." Concerned, informed and involved moderates would never have found themselves looking at Vanilla Mittens as the alternative.

    February 24, 2013 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  11. rs

    Republican Governors on 60 minutes decrying the horror of what the Sequester cuts will cause- all while ignoring the reality that these cuts were written in the House, and passed by the House- one even called them (essentially) un-American because they cut the Defense budget while we're at wear. As if filibustering the appointee for Secretary of Defense isn't a problem.Republicans are SO MESSED UP!

    February 24, 2013 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  12. vic , nashville ,tn

    Anti immigration agenda burned the GOP in 2012

    February 24, 2013 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  13. Betsy Rosse

    Sen McCain does not speak for this American! It's an insult to those that have gone through the process to come into this country legally. We have millions of unemployed/underemployed Americans. How about working on helping these American families, instead of the law breaking illegal aliens?

    February 24, 2013 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  14. rs

    AZ Governor (on 60 minutes just confirmed) she will never call the border secure (and hence sink immigration reform) until the ranchers in southern Arizona (who have lived there for "hundreds of years" Brewer says) say the border is safe.
    GOP won't be supporting immigration reform=DOA at the polls in the SW.

    February 24, 2013 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  15. ST

    McCain has no clue at all about conservative voters. They didn't show up to vote for Romney because he didn't stand for what they believe in. Romney tried to pander during the primaries pretending he is against undocumented immigrants and even baptised himself "a severe conservative", still they didn't believe him. Why shouldn't they now punish other republicans who do not agree with them as they did to Romney?

    February 24, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  16. Anonymous

    Whatever is CNN going to do when John McCain retires and is no longer available Sunday after Sunday for his little "Me First - Party First" pep talks?

    Just remember folks. Having spent four years trashing Obama and his supporters, McCain and others now what to be our BFF. I guess they CAN read the handwritting on that dang fence after all.


    February 24, 2013 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  17. Facts don't Lie

    The GOP is currently polling somewhere in the low to mid 20's approval rating..and the Tea Party polls lower than the GOP as a whole. With that in mind how much more hurt do they need to see? In their favor though in mid-term elections the turnout is lighter and that usually favors Republicans but this time in 2014 after some of the things that have happened more people may want to get out and vote out some of these incumbents. That has to be on the mind of people like McCain.

    February 24, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  18. Ray E. (Georgia)

    The Immigration problem is so far down the line that it will die long before it goes anywhere. There is already a path to citizenship if that's what all the Illegals want. Most aren't going to pay all the fines, penelties, back taxes to gain Amnesty. And besides, there are plenty of Democrats that aren't going to vote for Amnesty either.

    For you that think the Republician Party is all but dead, I remind you of the words of Mark Twain: The News of my death are greatly exzagrated..

    February 24, 2013 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  19. They ought to change from the elephant to the hippo...

    Counting on ALL the Republican voters to have amnesia again, John? I mean just because you expect it, doesn't make it true....

    February 24, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  20. Thomas

    Isn't there something else McCain can do on his Sunday mornings?


    I wish I could answer that for you,
    maybe John has no real friends , nothing to do , his wife wants him out of the house , maybe he loves the free coffee and pastries in the green rooms on Meet the Press , Face the Nation , State of the Union or the Sunday not so Hardball .

    Since McCain is void of any wisdom or leadership , and since he has lost any sane control over the Tea Party Nut Jobs .
    He's an elder Statesmen with out soap box , I'm just grateful he lost in 2008.

    It's time for John McCain to retire , stay home and watch golf games on Sunday's !

    February 24, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  21. Ancient Texan

    rs- Give it up already! Obama advanced sequester (at Jack Lew's suggestion), the legislature (both Houses) approved it and Obama signed it, then stated that any attempt to go around it would be vetoed. He owns it.

    February 24, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  22. grotethegreat

    Why anyone listens to McCain is a mystery. Earlier this week, he dropped his opposition to Hagel, today he says Hagel's not qualified. Talk about unqualified! McCain has been wrong about every single policy issue since his involvement with the Savings and Loan scandal. He just can't forgive Hagel for being right about what a disaster the war in Iraq was going to be.

    February 24, 2013 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  23. Bill

    When McCain ran in the Arizona republican primary he temporarily adopted a stricter attitude towards illegal immigrants. Now he says republicans shouldnt worry about it.

    February 24, 2013 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  24. Anonymous

    @Ancient Texan -

    We were facing a Republican induced government shut-down. Boehner got what he wanted by trying to shut down the government.

    If you let it, Google can be your best friend.

    February 24, 2013 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  25. rs

    Ancient- so because Mr. Obama refused to stop Republicans from writing and passing stupid, damaging, counter-growth and anti-American laws it is HIS fault?
    Or, are you advancing the conspiracy theory, that Obama somehow tricked Republicans in the House into writing and passing the Sequester?
    I mean really. The bill was written by House Republican, passed by the House, and the Senate (virtually gathering 100% of Republican's votes) with Boehner crowing he got 98% of whet the GOP wanted, because he signed the bill it is Obama's? Do you recall that the House and the President were negotiating to keep the GOP from defaulting on America's bills?

    February 24, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
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