Transcript: Press briefing Q&A on the Gang of Eight’s comprehensive immigration reform bill

Partial transcript of press briefing Q&A on the Gang of Eight’s immigration reform bill “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act”. The press briefing was held on April 18, 2013:

Question:
…What is your group going to do to ensure that the same thing doesn’t happen with your immigration legislation?

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.):
Well, first of all, I think we have a very strong foundation. The eight of us didn’t just get together on a whim. We’ve been working for three months and struggling through these issues and each giving and each getting to know each other. That’s number one. Second, I would say this – I think I can speak for both caucuses – I think the majority of people in both caucuses really want to get this done. People for differing reasons coming from different regions with different ideologies want to get this done. Are there people sort of tend to be at the extremes of both caucuses who don’t? But I believe that this is ours’ to lose. I think that we have a great product here. It’ll need improvement but it’s really strong. And I think we have great unity among ourselves that will keep this going through. So I don’t think it’s at all like gun control frankly because I think that the product that we’re starting out with has broader support on a broader basis than guns did both in the Senate and in the country.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.):
Could I just mention one compelling reason? That’s right behind me. When you look at the representation of business, of labor, of religious community, of the Hispanic community, across the board, this is a coalition. I never thought I’d be standing with Richard Trumka. But let me say – I want to thank you, Richard, I want to thank our chamber, I want to thank Grover Norquist, I want to thank all of our activists. This is why we will succeed. It will be because of this broad based, dedicated support for this legislation.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.):
Yeah, they are the winds beneath our wings.

Question:
Could you please tell us how you justify inserting millions of illegal aliens into the workplace with unemployment over 7% and millions of unemployed blue collar workers?

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.):
Well, first of all, we have provisions that when unemployment is above a certain level – for different levels by region – we will not have future immigrants come; it will only come at a time when unemployment is low. And in each case – and every one of us has been mindful of this – any one who wants to bring in a new worker first has to look for an American worker and advertise for an American worker.

Question:
Can you give us an idea of where you anticipate the biggest challenge in terms of selling this to your fellow colleagues? I mean, is it going to be border security, is it future flow – what is going to be the biggest…?

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.):
One word that underlines this proposal is balanced. There are things for almost everyone to like in this bill and there are some things that, you know, each person will not like. But when you put it all together, I think for a vast majority of people across an ideological spectrum there’s much more to like than not to like. And that’s how I think we’re going to get it done. What’s going to make it successful more than anything else is the need to solve the problem and the product that through a lot of hard work of our staff and us have created with the backing of the people behind us.

Question:
Sen. McCain, is there any particular element of this bill that you think if it were to be modified would contribute to it falling apart? I know you said there’s a lot of good things in the bill but is there any particular thing that if – were you to draw the line as a group and it would fall apart?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.):
As I said in my opening remarks, we are committed to good changes in the bill. This is not the final product; it’s not engraved in golden tablets. But we are also committed to vote against amendments or proposals or changes that would kill the bill. And there’s a difference there. We’re not saying it’s a perfect piece of legislation and we think it can be improved on. But we also know opponents will be proposing amendments that, if passed, could collapse this very fragile coalition that we’ve been able to achieve. And again, I’d also like to point out, depending on how you ask the question 70% to 80% of the American people believe that these individuals should be given a path to citizenship as long as they pay back taxes, pay a fine, and get in line behind everyone else. They believe that’s fair. And that, I think, is one of the fundamentals that I think will help convince my more conservative friends.

Question:
Sen. McCain. What is the main difference in the language of the bill compared to the McCain-Kennedy bill? And how much will the political realizations of the Republicans after the elections contribute to a change in support for the bill?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.):
I think many more Republicans than the last time are aware as Marco and Bob pointed out so, I think, graphically that the status quo is not acceptable. The status quo is not acceptable. And if you believe that, then you are willing to make compromises that may not fit your exact plan or proposal for immigration reform. And that’s why it’s so important that the eight of us – and there is varied backgrounds and varied priorities and varied viewpoints – and that’s why we have come together.

And so the other thing about it is a little straight talk here. Straight talk. Republicans have got to compete – and I say compete – for the Hispanic voter. Passage of this legislation, in my view and I think my Republican friends agree with me, doesn’t gain a single vote from the Hispanic community. But what it does is it puts us on a level where we can compete in the battle of ideas. We think we’d win with less government, lower taxes, strong national defense. We think we’d win. I’d be glad to – [Laughter]

Let me just say so right now – a little straight talk – right now, we are not competitive because this issue has got to be resolved in the minds of our citizens who feel that this is a vitally important issue that needs to be resolved.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.):
Yes, good question. In 1955 when I was born, how many workers were there for every Social Security retiree in this country? There were 16. How many are there today? 3. How many will there be in 20 years? 2. Where do the workers come from?

10,000 baby boomers are retiring today. One day that’ll be John. His mother’s 101. Everybody’s living like John’s mother and Senators from South Carolina – that’s the good news. If we don’t reform Medicare and Medicaid, we’re going to become Greece. They’re the drivers of the debt and we’ll find a way to do that.

But if you don’t have a legal immigration system to supplement a declining population, you’re committing economic suicide. And here’s the key to bring people in from all over the world not just the people who live next door, to bring them in on your terms not theirs. A merit-based immigration system in the future that will have a family component.

To those who say we don’t need legal immigration, you’re crazy. Just look at what’s going on in America. We’re declining population. We need the best and the brightest, and sometimes the best and the brightest is the guy who starts as the janitor. So I’m really into this idea of supplementing the American [workforce].

And finally to the cost – tell me how it costs more to have people paid under the table, living in fear, roaming around the country undocumented versus having them in a system where they get paid over the counter, taxes are taken out, they get no benefits for 10 years? That makes no sense.

The only way America loses is to do nothing. And to those people who believe that we don’t need legal immigration in the future, you’re in denial about the demographics. And to those who say this costs more to take people out of the shadows and put them in a legal status where they pay taxes, you certainly lost me; that makes no sense.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.):
For those of you who’d like an English translation of Sen. Graham’s remarks, I’ll be glad to provide them. [Laughter]

Question:
As you know, everybody here in Washington are concerned about costs – money. And some members were saying about this bill that the bill has budget gimmicks to avoid accounts from CBO. How do you respond to that and what’s your estimation of the cost of the bill?

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.):
There are no gimmicks at all in this bill. One of our principles from the get-go has been and is and will continue to be that this bill will be revenue-neutral. Obviously, there are costs in this bill – securing the border, setting up the E-verify system, making sure that the exit-entry system works, and other costs as well. But we also have income – the fines that those who are going to be on a path to citizenship will pay as well as fees that companies that want to bring in workers will pay. And in fact, one never knows how the mysticism in CBO so we don’t know how they will score. But our estimates are that this bill will actually bring in a surplus. If, for some reason, CBO gets away from that, we will work before introduction of the bill to make sure it is revenue-neutral. It’s one of our bottom lines. Deficit-neutral – sorry, deficit-neutral.

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