This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," Oct. 25, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist recently took a trip to the border with Mexico. And today, he announced that the Senate will consider immigration reform (search) legislation as early as February.
This forces onto the agenda a story that we've been reporting about all year. Sean has taken three trips to the border this year, one to Arizona, one to Texas, and New Mexico, and one to California. All along the way, we've been stunned by what we've seen.
Joining us now, in an exclusive interview to tell us about the new plan and why the federal government is finally ready to do something, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee.
Senator, thank you very much for being with us tonight.
SEN. BILL FRIST, R-TENN., SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Good to be with you, Alan.
COLMES: I know that Chuck Hagel has a plan. We know that President Bush has a plan. Where do you stand on this?
FRIST: Yes, Alan, I was just on the Texas border a couple of weeks ago and it really drove it home to me that we need to act and we need to act pretty quickly, as quickly as possible.
As you know, the president signed a bill last Tuesday, which took a good first step increasing the number of border security agents, stressing the importance of detention and encouraging new technology. But now is the time for the legislative branch to act.
And my announcement today was that in the very early part of next year — very early, probably February — we're going to address head-on border security. We're going to address head-on the enforcement of the laws that are already on the books.
And we're going to have a full and open discussion, participation by hopefully every United States senator in addressing the larger issues of immigration. It's a humanitarian issue. People are dying coming across the border. It's an economic issue. In my home state of Tennessee right now, our economies depend on both legal and illegal immigrants. We got to address it.
And, as you talked about on the show, it's a national security issue.
COLMES: Senator, where do you come down on this? You know, President Bush has talked about a three-year and then another three-year, basically a six-year plan, where then people would have to report back home. Senator Hagel has a different plan. He says, if you've been here five years and work three, you can pay $2,000 and then, basically, after eight years, stay here legally.
Which of those two plans, if either, do you prefer?
FRIST: That's why I brought the people who had varying plans into my office today: to get a strategy that we can take, first and foremost, border security.
And then we can come in with enforcement all in a period of days. And then we're going to allow each of these plans to come to the floor and be discussed, be debated in a full, open and transparent way.
There will be discussions about guest-worker programs, amnesty, whether or not people have to go back home before working towards citizenship. I'm not going to prejudge that now, but the American people are going to be able to participate with and through their United States senators.
COLMES: Some of the things I've read say that you have not been focused enough on a guest-worker program, that you have been very forceful on border enforcement, but that the guest-worker issue has to be included to have a more comprehensive plan, if anything is going to work.
FRIST: Well, I agree. And that's why we're going to address all three. Border security right up front, interior enforcement and detention beds, and getting people back home, if they cross the border illegally, but we are going to include a comprehensive approach to addressing guest-worker program. It's just it's too early to judge or prejudge what the outcome of that debate is going to be.
COLMES: What about going after companies that employ illegals, take away the motivation for people coming here and...
FRIST: I think we'll do it. I think we'll absolutely do it.
When I was down in Texas the other day, one night about 450 people had come across that border. You could see the footprints in the sand as you fly and you walk through the area, across that Rio Grande River, you just see them there.
And if 400 people came over that night, half of them go on up to Tennessee or Ohio, or all over the country.
Right now the system is broken. And we've got to fix that.
COLMES: Do you buy the argument that these illegal immigrants, or undocumented workers, are good for the economy, good for the country, take jobs Americans don't want, and, in fact, really help us and, in fact, get tax I.D. forms and pay taxes?
FRIST: Well, you know, it really depends. You do have legal and illegal. And illegal immigrants have to be stopped, and they can be placed through a legal channel, which we need to develop and specify, and give them incentives to go through that legal channel.
But there is no question that we are a land of immigrants. And we welcome immigrants. But there's a right way and a wrong way. And we're going to define that right way, and then we're going to enforce those laws.
But, yes, the economy in Tennessee today is hugely dependent on immigrants, and most of them are legal immigrants, I hope, but there are a lot of illegal immigrants there who work in jobs that other people don't work in today.
What we need to do is define legal and illegal, then enforce those laws aggressively.
SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Senator, welcome back to the program. Sean Hannity here.
FRIST: Hey, Sean.
HANNITY: Senator, I can tell you my No. 1 criticism of Republicans — and I have two major ones — spending is out of control, and we're not holding true to our Reagan principles about the growth of government.
And, No. 2: Republicans have been in power now, and they've not addressed the issue. And I can tell you, as I go around the country, that if you want to know where Republicans are angry at the leadership, it's on this issue, that they have not solved the problem. Why haven't they stopped illegal immigration?
FRIST: Yes, I think it is both issues today. And it's not just Republicans. It's the independent, it's like-minded Americans all over.
The fiscal discipline, and Republicans, as a matter of principle, are the party of fiscal discipline. We'll demonstrate that next week when we take to the floor on Monday and work through the week to accomplish savings of right around $40 billion as a first step in a deficit-reduction package.
And we'll show the American people then and there that fiscal discipline, as a Republican principle, is first and foremost.
And I agree with you on border security. We, as a nation, have failed. The legislative branch is going to step up. The United States Senate is going to step up and address it in a comprehensive way.
I don't have all the answers yet, but we're going to address it. Border security's pretty straightforward. We need better technology, better sensors in the ground.
They're not down there in Texas today. We need more people there. Enforcement. Send people home. We've got to get them back home - - they're there illegally — and, again, the real challenge is the comprehensive approach.
HANNITY: Sir, I've been to the border in Mexico, and New Mexico, and Arizona, and California, and Texas. I've been on three separate trips. I've been with these Border Patrol guys.
If you triple the forces there, they can do their job. They've proven that they can take certain corridors and close them off to illegal immigration, if given the infrastructure, if given the resources.
I would argue that you need to triple it immediately. My question to you is: Will you agree that everyone that's here illegally needs to be sent back? Why would we come up with any plan that would reward those that would not respect our laws and sovereignty?
FRIST: Yes, first of all, it is going to take more than just people on the border. It is going to take technology. It's going to take aerial views. It's going to take cameras. It's going to take infrared.
But, you're right. That infrastructure is there. And we're going to be able to solve it.
Now, I'm not going to prejudge what the debate is going to be as we come into the actual enforcement. We're going to enforce and in comprehensive reform. I am someone who opposes amnesty. Again, as you know, there are 100 United States senators. There are going to be a number of people expressing their views. What I can pledge to you is have a very quick process. That means we're going to start at just almost as soon as we get back in the next session and we're going to have a fair and open process where all of these issues can be debated.
HANNITY: Would you say, in principle, that Senator Frist then supports that everyone that is found in this country to be here illegally should be sent back?
FRIST: I think that they should be sent back. And, again, I will say in principle I oppose amnesty.
HANNITY: And that would mean even the six-year plan that's being bantered about? That would be amnesty in your mind?
FRIST: Yes, I don't want to be locking down on any of the plans yet. But I can tell you, whether it's the Hagel bill, or the Cornyn bill, or the McCain bill, we'll be considering all those bills on the floor of the Senate.
HANNITY: I want to ask you about the Miers nomination, if I can, Senator. You know that there's been a lot of conservative opposition to the Miers' nomination. No. 1: Were you consulted? What are your thoughts about her? Do you think this nomination, in many ways, is in jeopardy, that she may withdraw?
FRIST: You know, the nomination itself has stirred the pot here a lot in Washington, and a lot with both the pundits and the conservative groups.
But it's interesting, as I traveled around over the last three or four days to four different states, it doesn't seem to engender the same sort of intensity of pessimism of things are not going well.
So what I've done is structured about a month here where we're going to have hearings starting Nov. 7. The hearings are going to be very, very important.
And, really, the people who matter are my colleagues, my 99 other colleagues. And they're going to be watching very closely. They're going to ask tough questions.
Following that, we will take this in a civil, dignified way to an up-or-down vote. She will get an up-or-down vote on the floor of the United States Senate. And the American people will decide. She is an accomplished person.
Was I consulted? I was consulted, talked to the president, as were 65 other United States senators. Ultimately, he made his choice, an accomplished person and a person whom, I believe, is going to make it through this process. It's going to be a slow and deliberate process, but, by Thanksgiving, I believe that she will sitting on the Supreme Court.
HANNITY: As you know, there's a lot of news tonight. The special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, a lot of talk about either tomorrow or Thursday that potentially there will be some indictments in this leak-gate case, if you will.
You saw what happened in the DeLay case. What are your thoughts about what's happening in Washington?
Do you think there's a criminalization of politics going on in some capacity? Do you think there's been some fundamental unfairness here?
FRIST: You know, it is too early to tell on all of these and all of these inquiries and investigations that are under way. I have enough faith in the process and enough confidence in the process that the facts will speak and the facts will speak loudly.
I think the overall tenor here in Washington is very difficult. We've been hit by three hurricanes in the last six weeks. In the United States Senate, we've had two Supreme Court nominees. And as you know, the last one was now 11, 12 years ago.
We have a war that is, I think, badly misunderstood. And that's what people here in Washington are seeing and people around the country. In terms of the cases, and the investigations, and the inquiries under way, I believe we need to get them going, and get things out on the table, but they will take care of themselves.
COLMES: Senator Frist, do you think this president is having trouble now because Karl Rove has been distracted, Lewis Libby has been distracted, slow response to Katrina, problems with the war? You go down the gamut of issues that are not going well for the administration. Is he not getting good advice because his advisors are distracted elsewhere?
FRIST: You know, I don't think so, Alan. And the times that I spent with the president, both last week and I'll be with him again tomorrow, it's really interesting, because in a meeting, whether it's with a leadership meeting or small groups of people, he is clear with direction.
He is clear with leadership. He is bold. He has a clear vision of where he is going. I just think that times right now are very tough.
Social Security didn't move in a direction that it really should move, and that's not his fault. It's because people wouldn't come to the table in the United States Senate. They wouldn't even come. You know, the Republicans said, "We're going to move ahead."
We have the war, which, you know, even today on the floor of the United States Senate, we had a moment of silence for the number of people who have died. And if that is what you see without a clear understanding of what that goal is, people are down, the two hurricanes.
Right now there's not a lot on offense, leading by conviction, by idea, by principle. It's getting buried by this sort of — not malaise — but this sort of down feeling in Washington.
COLMES: Senator, let me ask you something personal to you. You know, the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating your interest in your family's health company. You've said in the past that your holdings were put into a blind trust and you had no control over that.
Do you want to stick to that statement or amend anything you've said about this? And do you feel that you'll be fully exonerated when all the facts are out?
FRIST: No, you know, the inquiry that is under way with me is going very well. I obviously am cooperating fully. I want the facts out just as quickly as they possibly can be.
I acted properly throughout, at every step along the way. I do want to be treated fairly. I don't want to be treated with any special treatment. So I will sort of wait this course coming out.
I'm absolutely confident in the outcome itself.
HANNITY: All right, Senator. We always appreciate you being on. Thank you for your time tonight and hope to see you soon.
FRIST: Good to be with you.
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