Tripped Up: The Immigration Fall-Out Continues

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Nov 05, 2007 10:37 AM
On the Sunday shows, Mr. Edwards was less than straightforward in his driver's license answer:

Mr. Stephanopoulos: “Do you believe illegal immigrants should be denied driver’s licenses?”

Mr. Edwards: “Well, I think, first of all, that’s for states to decide, not for the President of the United States to decide. But beyond that –“

Mr. Stephanopoulos: “So the 40 states that deny illegal immigrants driver’s licenses that’s okay with you?”

Mr. Edwards: “Let me finish. I think that is their decision to make, not the president’s decision. But here’s what I believe. I believe that, first of all, we have to have comprehensive immigration reform. And for anybody in this country who is making an effort and on the path to obtaining American citizenship, yes, they should have a driver’s license. If they’re not making any effort to become an American citizen, and we have a system for doing that, my own personal view is, no, I would not give them a driver’s license.”

In further back and forth to clarify, Mr. Stephanopoulos noted that Mr. Edwards, when he first ran for president in 2004, unequivocally supported giving licenses to illegal immigrants. Then the moderator played a video of Mrs. Clinton’s debate response — in which she said the controversy underscores the need for comprehensive federal immigration reforms — and Mr. Stephanopoulos suggested her stance sounded like Mr. Edwards’ position now: “You’re saying the same thing, right?”

Mr. Edwards: “That’s true.”

Slick, Silky.

Michael Barone says we should hold on to our hats 'cause there's much more in store:

Democrats -- and Bush -- are out of line with public opinion on the issue. That became clear as the Senate debated a comprehensive immigration bill in May and June. Most Republicans and many Democrats, in the Senate and among the public, turned against the bill...

The Republican presidential candidates have taken note. Only John McCain, a longtime backer of a comprehensive bill, stands apart, and he concedes that voters are demanding tougher enforcement. In the special congressional election in Massachusetts on Oct. 5, the Republican was able to hold the Democrat to 51 percent by stressing immigration as one of his two top issues.

Other Republicans are likely to echo that theme next fall. And the Democratic presidential nominee (unless Chris Dodd gets the nod) is going to have to explain why she or he believes it's a good idea to give illegal immigrants driver's licenses.

The last several Democratic nominees could have said that they're just taking the same position as their Republican opponent. The 2008 nominee won't be able to say the same of hers or his (unless McCain gets the nod).

"The centrality of illegal immigration to the current discontent about the direction of the country may be taking us back again to a welfare moment," write the shrewd Democratic strategists James Carville and Stanley Greenberg. Yup.