JOURNAL EDITORIAL REPORT

Breaking the gridlock on immigration reform

Florida Senator Marco Rubio working on alternative to Democrat-backed DREAM Act

 

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," June 2, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," with the 2012 campaign season already in high gear, is there any hope of breaking the gridlock on immigration reform? We'll ask Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Plus, the Wisconsin recall comes down to the wire. Can Governor Scott Walker survive his union-backed challenge?

And growing calls for action as Syria sinks further into chaos. Should the United States intervene?

Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

As campaign season heats up, hope for bipartisan compromise on pretty much anything goes out the window. But Republican Senator Marco Rubio wants to break the gridlock on one of the most divisive issues in Washington, immigration reform. The Florida freshman is working on an alternative to the Democratic-backed DREAM Act. I asked him earlier what kind of progress he is making on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, R- FLORIDA: The first thing to recognize is we do have an illegal immigration problem and people are frustrated by it. That's why I support security and enforcement, either a fine, things of that nature. On the other hand, we do have some people in this country that are in a very unique position. The first step I'm trying to make is to deal with children basically that were brought here at a young age, through no fault of their own, find themselves undocumented.

GIGOT: This is a compromise on the so-called DREAM Act.

RUBIO: Right, which is designed to help kids who, through no fault of their own find, themselves in the circumstances they are in. All I'm trying to do is help these kids do right when their parents did wrong.

GIGOT: So if they serve in the military or go to college, they would be put on a path to citizenship?

RUBIO: The way we are envisioning it is, if you graduate from high school -- and there is a military component to it but that is not controversial. The part we'll have the most debate is, if you graduate from high school and haven't committed any felonies and have been here for a certain period of time and entered before a certain age, we will give you a non-immigrant visa that allows you to stay in the country legally so you can --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Is that a form of green card?

RUBIO: No, it's not a green card. It's a non-immigrant visa, which is what we give like a student visa, and it allows you to stay in the United States and complete your studies. After some period of time in the future after you have been here -- we are still debating how long that should be -- at that point, you would be he like any other nonimmigrant visa holder in the country, you would be allowed, if you want to, to apply through the green card through the existing system, not through some special path, because that is the complaint about amnesty.

GIGOT: I want to ask you about the amnesty. What would be your response to say, anybody who is illegally here, who doesn't want to return to the country of origin and wait in line like anybody else, is being given a form of amnesty if they are allowed to stay here on get on the path of citizenship.

RUBIO: I think there's a difference that we've long recognized in this country. For example, in the case of refugees, between the people who have chosen to break the law and be here illegally, and those brought here by their parents or by circumstances. These kids -- when you are 12 years old or 8 years old, you don't choose to come to the country illegally. Many of these don't even know they are undocumented until they graduate and try to go to college. No one's every told them that. So this doesn't apply to people who, as adults, came to this country, or as older teenagers, came to this country --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: They would have to be minors when they --

(CROSSTALK)

RUBIO: They would have to minors when they entered. They would have to have lived here consecutively for a significant period of time, invested in our society, graduate from high schools and not have any criminal record, and then all you get is a nonimmigrant visa. Eventually, in the future, at some point, you would be allowed to apply for a green card through the normal process, not in a special way.

GIGOT: This is going a fair ways, at least in my estimation to what the White House has asked for. Yet, they are resisting your compromise. I think they've actually stated, at least a senior aide has, that they don't like what you are doing. Why?

RUBIO: I think there are politics involved no doubt, to the shock of many who may be watching this program.

GIGOT: They want to use the DREAM Act --

(CROSSTALK)

RUBIO: I think there are some -- I don't want to say all but there are some in the Democratic Party that legitimately want to help the kids. There are some that were counting on this issue to use on the campaign and to use against Mitt Romney and the Republican Party, and I don't think they want there to be a reasonable Republican alternative, because it takes away the argument. I think we have plenty of other issues to debate and this is one we should take off the table and try to solve. And I hope -- in the last few days, I've heard more promising tones from many of my Democratic colleagues and a willingness to work together to find a solution for the kids.

GIGOT: Let's change subjects to the foreign policy. You are on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Do we know, have you been told at all, on the committee, who leaked the news, whether it was Pakistan or an American, about the doctor -- Pakistan's Dr. Afridi, who helped us capture bin Laden?

RUBIO: No, but I think it is concerning. This is not a person who did anything against the interest of Pakistan. This is someone who was basically helping to capture a criminal, someone who had done great harm and killed Pakistanis or had been involved in the death of Pakistanis. The capture and ultimately the death of bin Laden was beneficial not just for the United States but for Pakistan and the world. I don't think he has done anything wrong and I think it is very troubling what happened to him.

GIGOT: Was it a U.S. intelligence or policy mistake not to get him out of here once we knew they would be looking at him?

RUBIO: Some of these issues will always be discussed within the intelligence community and I'm always cautious about speaking about those things because I don't want to be the source of something that undermines future operations. Suffice to say, at least for now, I'm satisfied that the U.S. is not to blame for what happened. And I think now that the world knows about it the pressure should be on Pakistan to treat this gentleman fairly. It has not committed any crimes or treason against Pakistan. He did not act against the national interest of Pakistan. He shouldn't be in jail.

GIGOT: Why would any average citizen, much less somebody who is taking the risk of life and limb in a country like Pakistan, or anywhere else in the world, help us again if that is what happens to somebody that does help us --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: -- and we didn't get him out of that country in team.

RUBIO: I think that's right. I think that is the concern about future operations, is that this could serve as an example to others, that cooperating with the United States could lead to a very bad outcome for them or their family. And we depend on these sorts of relationships all over the world to not just gather intelligence but to conduct operations. So there's concern about the implications this could have.

GIGOT: But you are not willing to criticize the administration for not getting them out.

RUBIO: Not yet. I think -- we'll we certain will see how it plays out and I think they have taken a forceful position in terms of their position, vis-a-vis, Pakistan, but there are other issues at play that we couldn't publicly discuss that make the issue a little more complicated than is publicly known. Let me just say that I'm not prepared to make the criticisms. The important thing now is not to play politics of this issue but get that gentleman out of the predicament that he is in because he has done nothing wrong, vis-a-vis, the government of the sovereignty of Pakistan.

GIGOT: Let's talk briefly about Syria. They have -- as you know they had the massacre in Houla on the weekend. Do you agree with John McCain, your Senate colleague, that the U.S. should consider a use of force on a no- fly zone in Syria?

RUBIO: I agree that we should take a more forceful position that we have already. I'm not prepared to engage the United States in a military operation there. The fundamental problem in Syria is that the opposition, whether the military or political opposition, is not cohesive or unified. So best thing the United States can do, working with our allies, is to create the conditions so the opposition to become more cohesive and unified and that means encouraging the Turks and our allies in our region to create a safe zone in their territory so that the Free Syrian Army, so that the political leaders there's that are opposing the Assad regime can begin to organize themselves. And I think we can provide resources such as communications, food, humanitarian support. I think our allies are prepared to arm them.

GIGOT: But not military aide.

RUBIO: I think our allies are prepared to do that and we should encourage them. I don't think that necessarily U.S. aide, in a military form, directly to a non-cohesive force, we are prepared to do that right now. Step number one should be to help opposition unify, coalesce and become more cohesive in their operations. And we can do that through a Turkish side of the border free zone, state zone, combined with the kinds of communications and logistical support we can provide. And once you have a cohesive opposition, then I think there will be options on the table available to us.

GIGOT: Senator Rubio, thanks so much for being here.

RUBIO: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GIGOT: When we come back, Republican Governor Scott Walker facing a recall re-election. Can he survive Tuesday's voting? And are the union reforms actually working? We will take a closer look at his record, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Both sides making a final push in Wisconsin this weekend ahead of Tuesday's is election to recall Republican Governor Scott Walker. A poll out this week shows Walker with a 7-point lead over Democratic opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. The recall effort began last year after he and Republican lawmakers eliminated most collective bargaining rights for public employee unions. That move, aimed at closing the state's $3.7 billion budget gap, resulted in rancorous protests that gained national attention.

Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; Political Diary editor, Jason Riley; and senior editorial page editor, Collin Levy, from her redoubt in Chicago across the border from Wisconsin.

You have been following this closely, Collin. Let's look at the facts first. What is the evidence of whether or not Walker's reforms are working?

COLLIN LEVY, SENIOR EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Paul, there is a lot of evidence that it is already coming in now. One of the things that we saw most recently this week was there was a Chamber of Commerce survey in Wisconsin that talked to businesses, and a lot of businesses are showing more confidence than they have in previous years. In particular, about two-thirds of Wisconsin businesses, including a lot of manufacturers, said that they intended to hire workers in the next year. So that is a big number. You have also seen improvements in people's property taxes, so they are seeing some reductions there. And there has been as much as about a billion dollars of savings since the reforms were implemented. So in terms of the economy, a lot of these numbers are coming in now. Even the jobs numbers, which have been something that Tom Barrett harped on --

GIGOT: Right.

LEVY: -- they came in with Bureau of Labor statistics that says Wisconsin has about 25,000 or so new jobs --

GIGOT: New jobs.

LEVY: -- so there have been improvements there as well.

GIGOT: And the fact is, it is fascinating.

JASON RILEY, POLITICAL DIARY EDITOR: But that is --

GIGOT: The Democrats aren't running against the collective bargaining.

RILEY: Right. That's what Scott Walker has going for him, his is record. Unemployment in the state, only at 6.7 percent, well below the national average. Collin mentioned the jobs numbers. He balanced that budget without raising taxes as promised. Democrats and unions want to throw this guy out of office and voters are going, wait a minute.

GIGOT: All right, Dan.

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: And Tom Barrett has been asked in interview in Wisconsin what he would do substantively different than Scott Walker has done and he has no really offered any answers other than he would restore collective bargaining. But collective bargaining isn't going to restore the Wisconsin economy. That is what the people have on their minds, and he hasn't been talking about that.

GIGOT: Collin, there's an interesting fact that came out this week about union membership in the state, public employee union membership, which seems to have fallen dramatically in the last year, since the reforms were implemented, which say the state no longer coercively take union dues out of the pockets of workers, that workers have to voluntarily pay them. What's happened to those roles?

LEVY: Membership in American Federation of State and Municipal Employees, AFSCME, fell to about 22,000 in February this year from about 62,000 the previous year. That is a drop of almost half. That is extremely significant. And most of that drop was coming from the public- sector unions where it dropped by more than half in fact.

(CROSSTALK)

LEVY: So this is something that's very interesting because historically, we have seen membership in private-sector unions decline over the years, but this drop in public-sector unions is something new.

GIGOT: And that is what really got them motivated, the anger on the part of the unions, Jason.

RILEY: It's certainly motivating the anger. But the unions are also upset with the Democratic National Committee.

GIGOT: Why is that?

(LAUGHTER)

RILEY: There has been -- the opposition to Scott Walker has been arguing among itself. The DNC has not thrown in enough money as far as the unions are concerned. President Obama has a not visited, but he did endorse Barrett after Barrett won the nomination. He hasn't done anything beyond that.

GIGOT: He is even going to fly over and go to Minnesota here before the recall.

(LAUGHTER)

RILEY: And they -- so the unions don't think that the DNC are throwing enough resources at the race. In fact, Gerry McEntee, the head of AFSCME, criticized the DNC for this very reason.

HENNINGER: A school of thought among Democrats that this recall election was a mistake, that they lose, the loss will be catastrophic for them, in terms of what it means for Scott Walker's reforms and what it means for the president's prospects in Wisconsin, what it means for the political clout of the unions. If they lose membership, their strength comes from putting people on the ground in elections. Whereas, Scott Walker raised an enormous amount of money. This suggests that the Republicans have the upper hand at this moment.

GIGOT: What is the Henninger school of thought on the implications for this for November? Does it matter?

HENNINGER: I think it matters a lot. I think it suggests that the Republican side has the momentum, and for kinds of reasons Jason was just describing, the Democratic side, which has been historically supported by the unions, is beginning to wane at exactly the wrong time.

GIGOT: Collin, have you got a prediction on this?

LEVY: I think it will be a squeaker, but I think it will probably go Walker's way.

GIGOT: Jason?

(LAUGHTER)

RILEY: I have to agree. I think it will go Walker's way. Polls have consistently shown it close but with Walker ahead.

HENNINGER: Five-point win.

GIGOT: Five-point win, yes. I think probably four-point win. And it's -- it's also so polarized that it doesn't look like it will be a big surprise swing at the end and it's already pretty locked in. And Walker, oh, looks like he can get at least 50 percent.

When we come back, John McCain say it is time for America to act after last weekend's brutal civilian massacre in Syria. Is he right? Our panel debates, next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SHOUTING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Calls are growing for the United States to act after last week's massacre of more than 100 civilians, including at least 30 children, in the central Syrian town of Houla. U.N. envoy, Kofi Annan, left Damascus Wednesday after meeting with the Syrian President Bashar Assad and failing to salvage what was left of his crumbling peace plan.

Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens joins us with more.

Bret, what is the U.S. national interest in intervening in Syria?

BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: Well, Syria has been an enemy of the United States for 40 years. They funneled jihadists to Iraq and support Hezbollah, which, after Al Qaeda, is the number-one terrorist killer of Americans. They continue to be a course of instability and they are, above all, Iran's number-one ally in the Arab world. So getting rid of the Assad regime puts the Iranians on the back foot in a region at a moment when Iran may be crossing a nuclear threshold.

GIGOT: You heard Marco Rubio say, the problem is -- one of the doubts is that we don't know what the opposition is, who it is made up of. It's diffuse -- maybe -- he didn't say this but others say -- perhaps Islamic extremists. How do we know that the opposition will be better than Assad?

STEPHENS: First, it's hard to get worse than Assad. He has compiled more than a 10-year record of atrocity. But recently, in the Wall Street Journal we had an op-ed from David Pollock which did some surveys of opposition leaders, and found that very few of them are sympathetic, or a minority are sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood. Many admire the United States. This happens every time there is a question about whether we will support the opposition in Libya or in Bosnia and Kosovo, going back many years.

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHENS: There's always the allegation that they're shot through with Al Qaeda sympathizers and so on. But the truth is, most of the time, they are pro-American and grateful for our help, and we have a chance to gain an ally there as opposed to letting this situation continue to bleed.

HENNINGER: I'm going to drive a point Bret made about Iran. I would go so far as to say this is an Iran proxy war, this battling with Assad and Syria. It would be a blow to the Iranian mullahs if Bashar Assad goes down.

GIGOT: OK, but how do we know we're going to get anybody who is better, because there are people who say, look, the regime now is run by a Shia adjunct called the Alawites. It's a minority within Syria. The Sunni-dominate -- the Sunni ethnic group is dominant, but they may turn out to be radicals like Hamas in Gaza.

HENNINGER: I think that would be a lesser evil than the relationship Assad has had with the Iranians. I don't think you will get a reversion to the status quo. The Iranians will have no longer have their primary client there. As Bret suggested, Hezbollah will be put on its back foot as well, and you have a lot of other regional interests there, the Saudis, Turkey. There is a reason Russia isn't going to get on board to push Assad out, because they are -- they are supplying -- with the Iranians, supplying helicopters and money to the Assad regime.

GIGOT: Bret, what about the military risks here. People say it is not as easy as Libya because the opposition doesn't control any territory, therefore, it's harder to be able to carve out a safe haven for them. The Syrian military is more capable. And in this case, maybe Russia will get in our way and say, no, we are not going to let you do it and intervene on the side of Syria?

STEPHENS: Several years ago, I stumbled into an encampment of elite Syrian Republican Guard troops. These were hungry-looking troops and these were the best of the best. The idea that they would be a ferocious opponent to the United States is a joke, just as it was a joke that Muammar Qaddafi was going to be a serious opponent.

GIGOT: So, militarily, it is easy?

STEPHENS: Well, it's not -- look, no military operation is easy. No one wants to say, oh, it as cake walk. But it is wrong to suggest that the Syrians stand 10 feet high and that it simply stretches the limit of our capability to deal with a third-rate military power like the Syria. And, look, as for the Russians, their bark is worse than their bite. They also tried to intervene in Kosovo. They object diplomatically, but they certainly are not going to try to intervene militarily.

GIGOT: The other objection, Dan, relates to President Obama. If he really doesn't want to do this, which I think that's fair to say, he doesn't want to do this, in an election year, can you pull something like this off without presidential leadership?

HENNINGER: It's very difficult. And it is true that Obama doesn't want to go in, but he could at least provide more intelligence and communication support to allow the Syrian opposition to survive through the election.

GIGOT: All right, Dan, thanks.

We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits and Misses" of the week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Time for "Hits and Misses" of the week.

Bret, first to you.

STEPHENS: President Obama may try to attempt to reset with the Polish people. He has developed quite a record with them.

(LAUGHTER)

A few years ago he announced he was taking out the antiballistic missiles from Poland on the 70th anniversary of the Nazi/Soviet pact. And then he diss'ed the Solidarity leader, Walesa. And most recently, at a ceremony at the White House, he referred to Polish death camps, like Auschwitz. Of course, they were Nazi death camps. Now Poland is outraged. This is the sort of thing that happens -- you could say that President Obama made a gaffe. But if President Bush made it, said the same thing, they would have called him stupid. I think we owe the same treatment to President Obama, too.

GIGOT: All right.

Jason?

RILEY: This is a miss for Attorney General Eric Holder, who, in an effort to increase black turnout in November, has been going around the country giving some rather irresponsible speeches, very divisive speeches. He's basically telling black audiences that voter I.D. laws are an attempt by Republicans to disenfranchise black voters. The evidence is that the states that have enacted these laws, like Indiana and George, have seen black voter turnout increase not decrease. I think what he is doing is not only irresponsible but also wrong on the merits.

GIGOT: OK.

Collin?

LEVY: A super-seized miss to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said this week that restaurants, movie theaters and food carts will no longer be allowed to sell sugary drinks larger than 16-ounces. Mayor Bloomberg has been on a campaign to protect full-grown adults from themselves for a while.

(LAUGHTER)

This is his latest effort, so who knows what is next? The mind reels.

GIGOT: OK.

That's it for this week's edition of the Journal Editorial Report. Thanks to my panel and especially to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. We hope to see you right here next week.

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