In a Fox News Latino exclusive, Juan Williams interviews Congressman Raúl Labrador (R) of Idaho.
JUAN WILLIAMS: Congressman, you're a first-termer, you came in with the Tea Party freshmen in 2010, but you yourself are not a Tea Party guy.
RAUL LABRADOR: I'm not a member of the Tea Party Caucus. I believe in the principles of the Tea Party. I believe what they believe in --less government, more government accountability-- but I think that when you come to Washington and you say that you're a member of a group, you're bringing the establishment to a grass roots group. And I don't think we should be doing that.
WILLIAMS: Well, in fact, people like Sarah Palin and other prominent Tea Party leaders endorsed your opponent, but you won in Idaho nonetheless.
LABRADOR: Yes. But the local Tea Party groups endorsed me, and I think that’s what the Tea Party is about. It’s about the local grassroots. It’s about the local people who know the candidate, who understand the people they stand for, and who have seen their record. And, that’s how we were able to win. I had four years in the state legislature, and they knew that I stood for less government, less taxes, and less regulation. And they wanted me as their nominee.
WILLIAMS: I think lots of people in the Latino community know that in the midst of your campaign, your opponent said that you were born in Puerto Rico, you weren't an American, and used this against you. Of course, it was a totally ridiculous charge, which you were quick to point out. But the idea that somehow because you were born in Puerto Rico, because you're Latino, somehow made you not acceptable in his ranks; I think this struck many Latinos as evidence of the problems that Republicans have with the Latino community.
LABRADOR: Let’s correct that a little bit. He tried to call Puerto Rico a foreign country, and I tried to explain to him and to the voters in Idaho, which the voters understood very well, that as a Puerto Rican, I was born a citizen of the United States, that there’s nothing foreign about being Puerto Rican. So he didn't say that I wasn’t acceptable, but he did insinuate some things. But the bottom line is that what really matters is that the people of Idaho rejected that message. You hear a lot of things about Idaho, and people try to cast aspersions on Idaho, and I think the fact that I was not only the Republican nominee, but also the Congressman from Idaho tells you actually quite a bit about Idaho.
WILLIAMS: Well, I think you're one of the most popular politicians at the moment in Idaho, so things have turned around for you. You're also a Mormon.
WILLIAMS: And you're a Mormon at a time when the likely nominee of the Republican Party for the presidency, Mitt Romney, is also a Mormon. And Marco Rubio, who sat in the chair you're in for a Fox News Latino exclusive interview just recently, said he too had been a Mormon in his childhood. And now you're saying that you anticipate that the Mormon Church is going to be under attack in this presidential campaign. Why?
LABRADOR: There’s no question about it. If you watch MSNBC, you read The New York Times, they continue to write stories about the Mormon religion, and try to cast aspersions on the Church. MSNBC has been actually pretty explicit in what they have said. They have actually lied about the origins of the Church. They have said some pretty terrible things. And I think that what they're going to do is...they're going to do the President’s bidding. Because I don’t suspect the President is going to go out there and say anything negative about the Mormon Church, because it would, it would actually not help him in his reelection. But he’s just going to let other people do that. And, I would be very happy if nobody did that. But you see it every single day in the stories that are told.
WILLIAMS: How do you see it?
LABRADOR: Well, you see, for example, Lawrence O’Donnell talked about the origins of the Church, and he said that the founding of the Church was just some guy waking up one morning decided that he wanted to have more than one wife, and he better invent a new religion, which is completely false.
WILLIAMS: And The New York Times?
They have actually lied about the origins of the Church; they have said some pretty terrible things. And I think... what they're going to do is they're going to do the President’s bidding. Because I don’t suspect the President is going to go out there and say anything negative about the Mormon Church, because it would, it would actually not help him in his reelection. But he’s just going to let other people do that.
LABRADOR: The New York Times has written stories about the relationships of Mormonism and race, and things that are really going back to some of the original things that happened in the Church. They claim that it’s a historical perspective, but at the same time what they're trying to say is that there is something strange—
WILLIAMS: Well, in fact, Mormons did not allow people of color in the Church originally.
LABRADOR: That's not true. What, happened for a long period of time, there was that people of color did not enter the priesthood, but there were Mormons baptized in the Church from the founding.
WILLIAMS: They weren't allowed. They weren't allowed to rise up in the ranks of the Church; I think that’s what most people acknowledge.
LABRADOR: Correct, correct.
WILLIAMS: Now here’s the thing-- you're a Republican, a Hispanic, and a Romney supporter, and when you look at how Hispanics are likely to vote in this election, it becomes critical to Mitt Romney’s potential success to be able to woo an increasing number of Latinos. At the moment, President Obama has a seventy percent favorable rating among Latinos. Mitt Romney is down around thirty percent. But there still remains a large segment, more than a quarter of Latinos, who are undecided. What would you say to Latinos to try to get them to view Mitt Romney favorably?
LABRADOR: The first thing is look at the policies of the President. Latinos under this President have actually had more poverty, more unemployment, more problems than under any other President recent history. And I think that they need to look at the policies that the Republican Party is espousing. What they will see is that we want to bring to the Latino community, just like we want to bring to all Americans, to prosperity.
I’ve talked to a lot of people in the Latino community, many of them recent immigrants who have come to the United States escaping the problems that they had in more dictatorial countries, in countries where the government was taking too much power from the individual, and they ask why is it that they come here and find a government that is actually trying to do the same thing that the countries they escaped from are doing. So, they're not very happy with the type of government that they see here, that the Obama Administration is trying to establish—
WILLIAMS: You realize that that’s not the issue for most Latinos, that immigration is the number one issue. And when they look at the positions that Republicans have endorsed, they find that it hostile and alienating.
LABRADOR: I don't think immigration is the number one issue. I think jobs and the economy are the number one issue for Latinos, as they are for any other American. But I do agree with you that immigration is an important issue. And the thing that I would tell Romney, as I would tell anybody, is that we need to start talking about being a party of inclusion. We need to start talking about how we’re the party of legal immigration, that we actually want to reform the system so people can actually come to the United States in a legal, safe way. That's what all of us want. And the interesting thing, Juan, is that if you talk to the freshman Republicans, you know, the so-called ‘Tea Party Freshmen,’ most of us agree with this. We are actually looking for a way to reform the immigration system so we have a system that is fair, that is not so taxing on individuals. And also, you can do it without amnesty. And you can do it without pathway to citizenship. But you can do it in a way where individuals can actually come to the United States and feel welcome in the United States.
WILLIAMS: Well, you proposed the sort of legislation that would allow people who have Ph.D.’s, Masters—
WILLIAMS: …or students who are about to get a job in the United States to obtain citizenship. The question becomes, what about the guy who is here as a gardener, or migrant worker, he’s working hard too; he wants an opportunity to become a citizen. Isn't it rather elitist to say, oh, I’ll give it to the man who has the high education, but I won't consider a person who’s a hard-working family person who’s trying his best to advance his family’s economic—
LABRADOR: Two totally different issues. My, my bill, what it proposes is, anybody who’s here legally, so they're here on a student visa and on a pathway to becoming a legal, permanent resident --not a pathway to citizenship, but just to become a legal permanent resident-- the waiting period for those people is about nine to ten years. And that doesn't make any sense, because what we’re finding is that these people are actually leaving the United States. They're going to other countries. They're becoming our competitors. And what I'm saying is that this is a portion of the immigration system that needs to be reformed. I think it’s something that we can do on a bipartisan basis, where both parties seem to agree. If you look at every Republican candidate for the presidency, they have actually agreed with something that is very similar to what I'm proposing. Now the, the issue—
WILLIAMS: But, I think a lot of people then would say, well, how is it that Congressman Labrador can be against the Dream Act if he’s for people who are here on a visa trying to get an education, and then bring talent and energy to America’s economic system?
LABRADOR: Because they came here illegally. And, and the key is, when people come here illegally, they should not be rewarded with a pathway to citizenship.
WILLIAMS: But these are people who came here as children. They didn't come here of their own volition, but their parents brought they here. And they are productive in terms of being in school, or being in the military, and that’s what the Dream Act is about. An act that, gets overwhelming support in the Latino community.
LABRADOR: Well, what we can do...We can find a way.The problem with the Dream Act right now is that it does provide a pathway to citizenship. You can look at doing something similar to the Dream Act, and taking away the pathway to citizenship, doing something where they can maybe go back to their home countries and get a student visa, or something like that, that would allow them to become legal. But what most Americans want is for these people to do it the right way. Most Americans don’t have a problem with immigration. What they have a problem with is illegal immigration.
WILLIAMS: Don’t you think though, again to come to my point, that it’s somewhat elitist that someone who’s a hard-working gardener, who’s trying to make a way for his family, isn't given them the same opportunity?
LABRADOR: What I'm trying to do is try to start a discussion on immigration. Because, if you remember what happened during the Bush Administration, the discussion turned into really heavy rhetoric from both sides, both the right and the left started saying some really terrible things. Now, what I want to do is to start what I call a conservative conversation on immigration. Start having the conservatives in the House and the Senate saying, 'you know what, we should be talking about pro- legal immigration legislation in both the House and the Senate.' And I think this is a good vehicle for that conversation to start.
WILLIAMS: One last point on this. The likely candidate Mitt Romney has called for self-deportation. He opposes the Dream Act, as you do. He’s been opposed to in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants and beat up on Governor Perry of Texas on this account. Do you have any understanding of why it is that people in the Latino community are wary of him as a candidate?
LABRADOR: Oh, absolutely. You, you need to be a little more careful in the way you express your opinions about these things. For example, Rick Perry, whether I agree or disagree with what they did, it was the State Legislature that decided to do it. And, and that's something that, I think he said, there were only two or three legislators who voted against it.
WILLIAMS: Right, he signed the bill.
LABRADOR: Yeah, and he signed the bill. So the states, I think, are free to do whatever they want to do. I think we, we need to start talking about what things we would do. If you're against the Dream Act, then what would you do? You know, what would you do with these students? And I think that’s a conversation that is worth having. And it’s a conversation that some members of the Senate are talking about right now. There is some legislation that they're working on. And I think at some point we need to figure out how we can invite these children to go back to their home country, and maybe allow them to apply for some sort of student visa where they can come here in a legal way.
WILLIAMS: It’s so interesting to be able to speak with you, because I think you represent a nexus of two problematic issues for the Republican Party: One is the Mormonism that you’ve been talking about; and two is relationships with the Latino community at large. Let’s go back for a second to the Mormon issue. Why is it that you think that so many in the conservative community, Evangelicals and the like, are reluctant to vote for a Mormon?
LABRADOR: You know, I think every American is reluctant to vote for somebody who’s different than they are, whether it’s Mormon or whether something else. And I think what you have to do as a Republican, as a politician, is to convince the people that even though you're different than they are, that you still believe in the same things that they believe in. And I think everyone needs to do that. And sometimes I kind of get upset at some of my own friends who are members of the Latter Day Saints faith who, who think that the only reason people are not in love with Romney is because he’s Mormon. That’s not true. He needs to enchant them just like everybody needs to enchant everybody else. I’ll give you myself an example. My state has a very large LDS population, but I'm the first LDS Congressman from my Congressional district. So, imagine ...I was LDS and I was Hispanic.
LABRADOR: But I needed to convince the people of my Congressional district that I agreed with them, with their values, with their principles, and they voted for me overwhelmingly. So you, it’s not about making excuses about why people are not voting for you, it’s about trying to figure out why people are not voting for you, and trying to convince them that you're the right person—
WILLIAMS: But you realize that you’ve even heard from the likes of Governor Huckabee back when Romney was running in ’08 -- you know, this business about Mormons believe that the devil is Jesus’ brother. I mean, this comes from fellow conservatives. It’s not coming from the Democrats or somebody at MSNBC. There seems to be a reluctance on the part of your fellow Republicans.
LABRADOR: This was a primary --remember that as well. Everyone always picks on each other during the primaries, and now you're going to see the conservative coalition get behind whoever the nominee is, and it looks like right now it’s going to be Romney. I think all conservatives are going to do everything they can to make sure that Obama is a one term President.
WILLIAMS: Now, the second part of why I'm just so glad that, to have the opportunity to speak with you, again, is the Latino issue. And, what you're saying is that you believe that there is going to be a pivot point, you know, the people say Etch-a-Sketch, with Romney when it comes to Latinos --a pivot point, when he can reach out to the Latino community and make a convincing argument as to why they should support him.
LABRADOR: Yeah, and it will be pivot, I like the way you say it. It’s not going to be Etch-a-Sketch where he’s going to start talking about something new. No. He’s going to talk about the same issues that he’s been talking about to everybody --how the economy has been much worse under Obama than under the previous President; how Hispanics have been damaged by this economy; how African-Americans have been hurt by this economy; how we have more people in poverty because of this economy—
WILLIAMS: But he’s not going to talk about immigration then?
LABRADOR: I think he should talk about immigration, but he should talk about legal immigration. What his vision is for a legal immigration system that actually works. Because right now we have a broken system. We have a system that is not working for anybody. And I think a good Republican candidate will find a way to talk about immigration without having to talk about pathway to citizenship and amnesty. We can reform the system without providing amnesty.
WILLIAMS: By the way, did you know that Marco Rubio had been a Mormon in his childhood?
LABRADOR: I had heard about that, yes.
WILLIAMS: And so what do you think if it’s Rubio on the ticket, you would have two people who have had Mormonism in their history.
LABRADOR: I don't think that, that will damage him in, in any way. He’s a very popular Senator from Florida, I don’t think it will be an issue.
WILLIAMS: Do you think Rubio would be able to increase the number of Hispanics who would vote for the Republican Party in this election?
LABRADOR: I think any of the candidates that I’ve heard mentioned in the top five list would, would probably increase the number of Hispanics, because once Hispanics are given the opportunity to look at the record, I think they're going to make the decision that they want to vote for a Republican candidate. They're going to say we gave Obama a chance, and now it’s time to give somebody else a chance.
WILLIAMS: Congressman Raúl Labrador of Idaho, thank you so much for coming into this Fox News Latino exclusive. I'm Juan Williams.
Juan Williams is a writer, author and Fox News political analyst and special contributor to Fox News Latino. His latest book "Muzzled: The Assault On Honest Debate" (Crown/Random House) was released in 2011. He also writes for The Hill and on TheHill.com.
This interview was produced by Victor Garcia. Follow him on twitter @MrVicGarcia.