Transcript: Sens. Arlen Specter, Kay Bailey Hutchison on 'FNS'

Written by Chris Wallace / Published May 27, 2007 / Fox News Sunday

The following is a partial transcript of the May 27, 2007, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: As Congress continues to battle over immigration reform, we're joined now by two key Republican senators with very different views.

Arlen Specter, who is in Kansas today, helped write the compromise plan. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who comes to us from Texas, is a strong critic.

Senator Hutchison, under the compromise, illegal immigrants have to pay a fine. They have to go back to their home country to apply for permanent legal status. And this whole process is going to take up to 13 years. How is that amnesty?

HUTCHISON: Chris, it is because the vast number of the estimated 10 million to 12 million will never have to go home if they don't want a green card.

And I think that is what is causing the amnesty outcry, that you can stay here, you will never have to go home, as long as you don't want the permanent green card.

And I think we can fix this, Chris, and we are working with others who are trying to get a bill that will have more support, to take this amnesty portion out, by requiring that the touchback — the going home and applying — happens in the beginning for the temporary visa, rather than only if you want the permanent card.

WALLACE: Senator Specter, let's talk about this, because it is something that the critics say is a big loophole in your plan.

As it now stands, illegal immigrants get probationary — not permanent, but probationary — legal status right away without paying a fine, without going home, and if they don't want to apply for a green card, they can stay here indefinitely. Isn't that amnesty?

SPECTER: I don't think it is. The cry about amnesty comes up if you give them citizenship. But the program which would not require their going home would be one without citizenship.

Look here. We've got 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country, and we have to deal with them one way or another. And right now it is anarchy.

And a key part of the legislation to provide — handling the 12 million provides for tightening up our borders, fixing our broken borders, imposing very tough employer sanctions, and it's an overall plan.

But I'm prepared to listen to what Senator Hutchison has to say, if we can find a modification which will get a stronger vote and get this plan through.

My basic point, Chris, is that the system is broken very badly, and we need to correct it. And I'm open to modifications.

WALLACE: Senator Hutchison, we'll talk about the triggers in a moment, but let's get to this point that Senator Specter just brought up.

Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, said that if you don't do anything, if you don't pass this plan, you end up with what he calls silent amnesty because the millions of illegals who are already here will just stay here. Doesn't he have a point?

HUTCHISON: Yes, he does have a point. And I do think that this bill is better than the status quo. I think that it has been difficult because it didn't go through the committee process.

The Senate leadership decided to bring it up on the floor. And as Arlen, who has been in the Senate longer than I have, can tell you, writing a bill on the Senate floor is very difficult.

There are good parts of this bill. Part of it is what you said. The border security is something we really need. And we do need to regularize the process so that there isn't amnesty for people just being able to stay here without documentation and encouraging others to do the same thing.

We could have 20 million the next time we address this issue if we don't really say this is going to be the law going forward and stick to it.

So I think we do have a bill that should be worked. I hope that in the end we have a comprehensive reform that is better than the present law.

WALLACE: Senator Specter, one of the other criticisms which we touched on is the idea that these enforcement triggers that you have in the plan now are too weak.

As the plan now stands, you would build about 400 miles of fences. You'd double the number of border patrol agents.

But some critics are saying instead of bureaucratic input as the triggers, why not make it results-oriented triggers, that you could not have any of the reforms — the path to legalization, all of that — until you had demonstrated that the borders were secure, that the number of people crossing the borders is now under control.

SPECTER: Well, Chris, it's a very vague concept till you demonstrate that the borders are secure. We have tightened up the requirement.

Senator Gregg offered an amendment for additional barriers for additional border patrol, for additional fencing.

I think you may have sort of a breakthrough on your program here on Fox News, Chris, between Senator Hutchison — Kay and myself. Kay says that the bill is better than the current system, which is a significant step forward for passage.

I'm prepared to negotiate with what Kay has to say on when the touchback occurs. And I think she is right that it would have been preferable to go through committee.

Last Congress, when I chaired the Judiciary Committee, we had many hearings, many sessions, and crafted a bill. This year the leadership, Senator Reid, decided to bring it to the floor directly.

But we were in many, many hours of negotiations, almost like the committee process. Kay was there. Senator Kyl was there. Senator Martinez was there — Senator Salazar, Senator Kennedy. And we put together a bill which withstood some very tough amendments.

We rejected an amendment which would have eliminated citizenship path for the 12 million. It was a big vote, 69-22. More Republicans wanted to keep the citizenship path than rejected it. We made some real progress last week.

WALLACE: Senator, let me just, if I may, sir, just bring in Senator Hutchison here. Since I'm trying to broker a deal between the two of you, I'll continue here.

SPECTER: Go ahead.

WALLACE: What do you think, Senator Hutchison, about this idea of toughening the triggers so it becomes less a question of building miles of fences and more results-oriented, some way of certifying that, in fact, you do finally have control over the borders?

HUTCHISON: Chris, that was the original proposal that many people thought would be the right one, have it results-oriented.

The problem is you can't tell if you have secured the border just by the number of apprehensions. There is no way to know if someone has just gotten a better system to skirt the law.

So that's why we decided OK, in order to make this absolute, we have to say here's what you have to certify has happened, the number of fences, the number of border patrol agents, the whole — just trying to make it more absolute than someone's judgment.

WALLACE: Senator Specter, at the end of this week, after, as you say, beating back a number of amendments from both the right and the left, you predicted that this bill is going to get through the Senate, that there are no roadblocks out there that you see that can't be overcome.

But in the House, Democrats are saying they need at least 50 to 70 GOP votes to help them pass the bill. In the end, isn't this bill and the chances of it getting to the White House going to depend on the president working House Republicans?

SPECTER: Well, I think so. But the president had a meeting last week with a number of Senate Republicans who were opposed to the bill, and the president has weighed in on it very, very forcefully.

He wants this bill. He's put the weight of the White House behind it. The secretaries of commerce and homeland security have helped on it.

We have some tough issues coming up, Chris, on family unification, and if I had my druthers, I would like to have more elements of family unification. But we're going to debate that.

And we have to have a bill that will appeal to very broad, diverse interests. There are very different points of view on the far left and on the far right.

But as you see with what Kay and I have talked about here today, I think we can get enough Republican support in the Senate and that will give it a boost in the House.

But the president's going to have to get into the nuts and bolts here, and based on the conversation that I had with him, I think he's prepared to do just that.

WALLACE: Senator Hutchison, I know the president invited you to the White House this past week and apparently didn't persuade you. What's he going to have to do better to get it through the house?

HUTCHISON: Well, I think the president is just trying to keep the issue going.

But I do think that this bill has to have some elements of change before it will be acceptable to the majority of Republicans in the Senate and the Republicans in the House.

I do think it can be done, but it's not there yet. The amnesty has to be addressed, and the Social Security has to be addressed. And those are two major issues that I think could be improved in the bill.

I think the balance — remember, when Arlen talks about the chain migration, the family unification — the balance in this bill is that you're trying to reward workers the green cards so that you have more space for workers for our economy, and that has cut back on the chain migration of adult brothers and sisters, and grandparents and parents, and allowed the nuclear family, spouses and minor children, only, so that you have more green cards.

This is more along the lines of every other country in the world, where you have two-thirds workers, one-third family. And we're the opposite in this country.

WALLACE: Excuse me, Senator.

We have about 30 seconds left, and I want to touch on one last subject with you, Senator Specter. Last Sunday, you predicted that Attorney General Gonzales might resign on his own before a vote of no confidence.

Now that's been postponed until after the immigration vote, but it looked for a while like it was going to happen this past week, and we saw no budging from either the president or Gonzales.

Do you still think Gonzales is going to leave the scene on his own?

SPECTER: I do. I think there's a distinct possibility of that. The action is characteristically taken, as we put it in litigation, on the courthouse steps, and I wouldn't expect any budging until we're right up to the vote.

But I do not think, when all is said and done, that Attorney General Gonzales will want to go down in history with a black mark on his name to have been the subject of a vote of no confidence.

But it's not going to happen until the focus is in and it's the last minute, if it happens at all.

WALLACE: We're going to have to leave it there.

Senator Specter, Senator Hutchison, we want to thank you both so much for talking with us, and we hope to see you both soon again.

HUTCHISON: Thank you, Chris.

SPECTER: Nice being with you. Thank you, Chris.

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