John McCain” href=”/themes/?Theme=John+McCain” >Sen. John McCain told a Hispanic group Saturday that passing an immigration bill to legalize illegal immigrants is “my top priority, yesterday, today and tomorrow,” but mischaracterized his own voting record on the issue and continued to distance himself from provisions in his own bill.
Speaking to the group later, his Democratic presidential opponent, Barack Obama” href=”/themes/?Theme=Barack+Obama” >Sen. Barack Obama, said Mr. McCain has cast aside his principles on immigration in the face of political pressure.
“What he didn’t mention is that when he was running for his party’s nomination, he walked away from that commitment. He said that he wouldn’t even support his own legislation if it came up for a vote,” Mr. Obama told the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), which was holding its annual convention in Washington.
Immigration is a signature issue for Mr. McCain, but it’s also been a thorny one, and he’s been accused of pandering to his audiences this year.
On Saturday, he mischaracterized his own record on the contentious 1986 amnesty law that continues to define the sides in the current debate. He told NALEO he “supported that legislation way back then,” when in fact he voted against it and was a critic.
The Arizona Republic newspaper in 1986 reported that he had called the bill racist and quoted him as saying the bill’s requirements for employers to verify workers “would institutionalize discrimination.” He said employers would refuse to hire Hispanics to avoid running afoul of the law.
After his speech Saturday, a McCain campaign official said the senator “was referring to his support for a comprehensive solution - going back to that time. He did oppose some provisions and didn’t end up voting for the bill - that’s a point of record.”
Both candidates are scheduled to speak in two weeks to the National Council of La Raza’s convention in San Diego, where immigration also is likely to dominate.
Mr. McCain was a chief author of an immigration proposal that became the basis for Senate debates in 2006 and 2007.
After distancing himself from those bills during the Republican primaries, Mr. McCain has in recent months re-embraced them. He took credit at NALEO for trying to pass the 2007 version, and his campaign accused Mr. Obama of voting for amendments that hurt the bill’s chances, even though Mr. Obama supported the overall bill itself.
Among those were amendments he favored to reduce the number of new foreign workers from 400,000 to 200,000 and to “sunset” various parts of the bill to give Congress a chance to evaluate them.
In the final vote, the immigration bill failed to muster a majority in the Senate.
Still, Mr. McCain holds up his work on the bill as a key test of his own record of bipartisanship.
Mr. McCain did distance himself from another part of his 2007 bill that would have allowed future foreign workers in the “guest worker” program to also remain and become citizens.