- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2006


Sen. John McCain threatened yesterday to cut short a speech to union leaders who booed his immigration views and challenged his statements on organized labor and the Iraq war.

“If you like, I will leave,” Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, told the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department, pivoting briefly from the lectern. He returned to the microphone after the crowd quieted.

“OK, then please give me the courtesy I would give you.”

The senator had been outlining his position on the Senate immigration debate, saying tougher border enforcement must be accompanied by guest-worker provisions that give undocumented aliens a legal path toward citizenship.

Murmurs from the crowd turned to booing.

“Pay a decent wage,” one audience member shouted.

“I’ve heard that statement before,” Mr. McCain said before threatening to leave.

Afterward, the senator said he offered to cut his speech short “because I wanted to be heard.”

In the speech, Mr. McCain also said withdrawing U.S. troops prematurely from Iraq would turn terrorists loose on the United States.

This time, there was no booing — though one audience member cursed from the back of the crowd.

Mr. McCain got a laugh when he finished the speech and asked whether anybody had “questions, comments or insults.”

The first questioner seemed to challenge Mr. McCain’s commitment to organized labor. When the senator started to praise a particular labor group in Arizona, the crowd booed again.

“Stop,” he said with a smile, drawing laughter from the crowd. “I surrender.”

But he took more questions, including a pointed one on his immigration plan.

Mr. McCain responded by saying that immigrants were taking jobs that nobody else wanted. He offered anybody in the crowd $50 an hour to pick lettuce in Arizona.

Shouts of protest rose from the crowd, with some accepting Mr. McCain’s job offer.

“I’ll take it,” one man said.

Mr. McCain insisted that none of them would do such menial labor for a complete season.

“You can’t do it, my friends,” he said.

Some in the crowd said they did not appreciate Mr. McCain’s questioning their work ethic.

“I was impressed with his comedy routine and ability to tap dance without music. But I was impressed with nothing else about him,” said John Wasniewski of Milwaukee. “He’s supposed to be Mr. Straight Talk?”

Others said Mr. McCain showed some moxie, if not the best political judgment.

“Most of us don’t agree with him on immigration, but I give him credit for trying,” said Chris D. Schoenbeck of Milwaukee.

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