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Transcript: Sen. Dick Durbin on 'FNS'

The following is a partial transcript from the May 28, 2006, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: Joining us now from his home state of Illinois, the Democrats' assistant leader in the Senate, Dick Durbin.

Senator, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday".

SEN. DICK DURBIN, D-ILL.: Thanks, Chris.

WALLACE: One of the features of the Senate immigration bill that has drawn the most fire, as we just discussed with Senator Frist, is this measure that requires that before any building of fences goes on along the U.S. border that the U.S. officials must consult with Mexican authorities.

You, in fact, voted for that, Senator. Is it the view of the Democratic Party that the United States does not have the sovereign right to enforce its own borders?

DURBIN: Well, of course we do. There's no question about it. And we have to start with good border enforcement. The Dodd amendment that you're referring to was part of a manager's package, but I supported it.

I mean, to think that we would build a fence without any conversation or consultation with Mexico — that doesn't makes sense.

WALLACE: Why do we need a consultation? It's our border. Why do we need to confer or consult at all?

DURBIN: Good fences make good neighbors, too. And remember that when it's all over, there'll be cities across the border from one another in the United States and Mexico, and you'll find in most instances they try to find a level of cooperation.

We ultimately want to have the cooperation of the Mexican government. That's going to make this a lot easier, to stop the corruption on either side of the border, to stop these coyotes that are taking thousands of dollars to push people across that border at the risk of losing their lives.

We should have consultation. There's nothing wrong with that.

WALLACE: Let's discuss, as I did with Senator Frist, the basis for a compromise. Will Senate Democrats accept any bill, as Congressman Sensenbrenner has suggested, that strips out the path to earned legalization?

DURBIN: Well, I'm troubled by that. I don't want to prejudge the conference, because I will be a conferree. There are parts of this bill that I don't like. I voted for Byron Dorgan's amendment which eliminated this guest worker provision.

You know, originally, it was 400,000 a year, and it was going to go up just with no end in sight. And because of amendment by Byron Dorgan and by Jeff Bingaman, we brought it down to 200,000 capped.

You know, I'm worried about the impact on American workers. We tried to put a sunset on it so that in five years we take a look. I don't want to lose American jobs as a result of this. But unfortunately, we didn't prevail.

So there are provisions in this that I'm concerned about. I want to make sure we treat people fairly, we have good border enforcement, but we also have to keep an eye on the American workers, is the bottom line.

WALLACE: Will Senate Democrats accept a bill — and this is something that apparently is gaining some traction in the House — that would have a phase program where you have to certify that you have secured the borders first and then a guest worker program kicks in?

DURBIN: Well, enforcement is critical. I agree completely with Senator Frist that the borders are out of control.

Over the last five years we've dramatically increased the personnel at the border and during the same period of time there's been a dramatic increase in illegal immigration. So enforcement by itself is not enough.

You need to do three things. Put that border enforcement as the first priority, and then workplace enforcement. Let employers across America know they can no longer be magnets for illegals coming into this country, that people are going to have to present tamper-proof I.D.s and that employers will be held accountable if they hire illegal people.

And then, finally, we have to deal with the people who are here living in the shadows. It's not amnesty. It's not automatic. As Senator Frist explained, it's a long, tough process that many of them will not complete successfully, but at least gives them a chance.

WALLACE: Senator, what about Speaker Hastert's insistence that he'll only bring up a bill — if there's a conference agreement, he'll only bring up any bill to the House floor if it's supported by a majority of a majority, which means that most House Republicans will support it? Do you have any problems with that?

DURBIN: Well, Denny Hastert is my friend, and I've heard him say that in the past, and I think it's a good statement for a person who wants to remain as the leader of his own caucus. But I hope that he'll take a look at his national responsibility here.

This is an issue where bipartisanship is essential, and the vote in the United States Senate reflected it, both in the Judiciary Committee and on the floor. And if they can put together a strong bipartisan coalition in the House of Representatives for an answer to a complicated problem, we should do it.

We've waited 20 years to address this. The immigration system is in shambles. We can't walk away at the end of this year claiming political victories. We ought to do something constructive.

WALLACE: Let's talk about the raid on Congressman Jefferson's office last week. At a time when Democrats are trying to make a campaign issue out of an alleged culture of corruption in Congress, is there anything wrong with the FBI, with a court order, going into the office of a congressman where those FBI officials found $90,000 in cash stuffed into his home freezer?

DURBIN: Well, let me say two things. First, no one is above the law — that's been said over and over again — including members of Congress.

And second, call me old-fashioned, but I believe in the presumption of innocence. I will tell you, though, in this situation, what we know is overwhelmingly negative against Congressman Jefferson.

Getting down to the point in question here, this is rare. I don't think it's happened in history that the FBI has raided a congressional office. So that's why people in both parties have raised questions.

I asked my staff. I said has the FBI ever raided the chambers of a judge, another branch of government. The answer is yes. So at least there is precedent for going into those who are part of another branch of government.

The only other provision's a speech and debate clause in the Constitution. I'm not sure that you can stretch it to apply to this situation. In the next several weeks, we ought to take a hard look at it. I'm not going to rule it in or out at this moment.

WALLACE: But you sound like you're, at this point, having researched it, somewhat favorably disposed toward the idea that the FBI did nothing wrong.

DURBIN: Well, I went to the first question of separation of powers. Can the executive branch, the FBI, raid another branch of government's official offices? And I find yes, they've done that when it comes to judges. So it appears that there's been some precedent for this.

Now, as I said, there are other provisions in the Constitution to look at, but that was the first question I asked.

WALLACE: Do you think, particularly with culture of corruption being such a big issue, that the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, is making a mistake making such a big issue of this?

DURBIN: No, I think she's trying to be assertive when it comes to any allegations of corruption and they're only allegations at this point. But I think that she has shown that she will be more forceful and show leadership if these allegations come forward.

On the other side, on the Republican side, look how long some of these cases have dragged on involving Congressman DeLay and others. I think she is trying to say that given a chance in leadership, she'll be much more forceful in ending this culture of corruption.

WALLACE: All right. Finally, let's talk some politics. I want to ask you the flip side of the question that I asked Senator Frist. What do you think are your — are the Democratic chances of taking over the Senate in November?

DURBIN: I think we have a chance. I think we have many good candidates across the United States, and I believe that the tide of public opinion is flowing in our direction. People believe that it's time for significant change in direction in this country.

The Bush-Cheney policies are being rejected overwhelmingly. I think the people understand that they have failed. We now have an endless war in Iraq and, sadly, we've lost over 2,460 of our best and bravest young men and women. No end in sight.

We know that the deficit situation is totally out of control. This president is the first president in the history of the United States to initiate a tax cut in the middle of a war.

We have no energy policy. We have no plan to bring health insurance to every single American. There's no vision or leadership in this administration. So yes, the stage is set for the Democrats to step forward in each of those areas and say give us a chance, let us try to take this one-party rule in Washington and bring some balance to government.

WALLACE: Finally, there's a story in today's Chicago Tribune talking about the possibility of Senator Barack Obama running for president in 2008, and you're quoted in that story, Senator, as saying I hope he will seriously consider it. Would you like to see Senator Obama run?

DURBIN: I will tell you this. You have to witness Senator Barack Obama in my state of Illinois, from southern Illinois through the Chicago suburbs, into the city, and across the United States to understand that this man brings something special to American politics.

He connects with people better than anyone I've ever seen. He is the number one person sought after to speak at Democratic events across the United States of America. I think he has dramatic potential to unite this country, both red and blue. And yes, I'm encouraging him. But ultimately, it's his personal decision with his wife and...

WALLACE: You're encouraging him. As the number-two Democrat in the Senate, you're saying you would like to see him run for president.

DURBIN: I can tell you that I've sat down with him and said you ought to look at this long and hard. I know many people are saying wait, and he may decide to wait. But he ought to take a hard look at it.

WALLACE: Would you endorse him if he did run?

DURBIN: Well, let me tell you, Barack Obama is my closest colleague in the United States Senate. We've worked together on everything for the state of Illinois. And if he makes a plan to move forward, I'm going to be at his side.

WALLACE: Senator Durbin, we want to thank you for talking 2006, 2008. Thanks for coming in. Please come back.

DURBIN: Thanks, Chris. Thank you.