The 'Amnesty' Debate

NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!

This is a partial transcript from "FOX News Watch," on May 19, 2007:



CHARLIE GIBSON, ANCHOR, ABC WORLD NEWS, Thursday, May 17: Tonight, what could be a historic bipartisan agreement on immigration. Democrats and Republicans agree on a plan that would make 12 million now here illegally, legal. The president says he's for it. But already voices of objection are being heard.



SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST "HANNITY & COLMES": Senator, I can tell you, as somebody who's on the radio three hours a day, I'm here at FOX one hour every night, I speak to conservatives all the time. They want a specific answer to this question: is this an amnesty bill? Do people who have broken our laws and not respected our sovereignty, do they get to stay in this country?


BURNS: And that's going to be the key to the press controversy, isn't it, Ellis? Whether or not this is an amnesty bill?

ELLIS HENICAN, NEWSDAY COLUMNIST: It's one of those potent words that also works really well on talk radio. You simplify this thing to the point of unrecognition, people will have strong and dumb opinions about it across the line and you'll probably never get...

JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: Or conversely, tell the truth about the bill. What's interesting about this debate in 2007 is we haven't had a significant immigration legislation since 1986. Then, it was a completely different media. That was a media that simply trashed all, 100 percent.

Now we do have Sean Hannity, who has as much of a voice as Charles Gibson does, and we have a debate, amnesty versus no amnesty. That will be much different than it was 20 years ago.

BURNS: And will the results of this debate in the press have any affect on the bill legislatively, Jane?

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: I think absolutely. I mean, Lou Dobbs has made this a career with America's broken borders, and I think that Rush Limbaugh is already saying this is going to kill the Republican Party, this is going to bring in people who are going to overwhelm our schools.

The way it's framed, if you call it amnesty, that sounds like forgiveness for bad behavior. If you call it earned citizenship, that's another thing. Framing is key, I think, to how people feel about it.

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well framing is key and follow-up and how the media treat the follow-up. After the `86 immigration bill, there was no secure identifier. There's something like that apparently in this bill. And if it clears the House, with something that it has relatively similar to the Senate, I think it might be all right.

But Jane is right, the key is talk radio. Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and some of the others, and whether this is going to be amnesty or not.

The difference between this and some of the other proposals is that it requires enforcement first, the border control, the more border patrol agents before of these other things kick in.

BURNS: But when you say the key is talk radio, are you seriously giving talk radio one segment of the media...


BURNS: much authority that it will determine the outcome of this bill?

THOMAS: It will as far as conservatives and Republicans are concerned. Rush Limbaugh said on his program on Thursday, or Wednesday, that if the Republicans go along with what is perceived to be amnesty, they're finished in the next election. That's pretty strong.

BURNS: Does that mean the Republicans in Congress go along?

PINKERTON: I think the Republicans in Congress understand that Rush Limbaugh made them what they were back in 1993, and 1994. So if Limbaugh and these people stay against it, look just to play politics here for a second, Nancy Pelosi says she won't move the bill forward unless you get 70 Republican votes out of the Republican conference. If talk radio can push that number below 70, then one would presume this deal is dead.

HENICAN: A delightful possibility for Democrats, incidentally. The sort of yahoo wing of the Republican Party fighting the moderate business wing of the Republican Party. That's a gift to Democrats, isn't it?

PINKERTON: It might be a victory for the yahoos.


HENICAN: It may be. Slice each other up.

PINKERTON: Pelosi is only going to back away because she's afraid of the vote. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and talk radio and the populists, move votes. That's the point, and the Democrats are afraid they'll lose their majority if they go against the bulk of conservative opinion.

HALL: I'd like to see a lot more about the shadow economy. Who is here? What are the employers doing? You don't see much about — there are a lot of stories to be done on this, on the impact of it. And also the fact that President Bush apparently views this as one legacy that he can leave. That really clouds it for the media. It will be good to see if they can deal with these complexities.

BURNS: Isn't Jane making a great point, although probably the way the media operate, an unrealistic one. That instead of what the talk radio demagogues have to say, what the media ought to be doing is exploring this issue in such detail that people can come to an informed decision?

THOMAS: Right, but I don't think they're all demagogues.

BURNS: I didn't mean to suggest they all were.

THOMAS: Here's what the next media line is going to be, and particularly the broadcast networks, The New York Times, The Washington Post, there are going to be lots of interviews with people who were separated from their families. — Babies who were born here, automatic U.S. citizens, mothers and grandmothers remain back in Central and South America and Mexico, who long to be — what's the matter with you, Republicans? I thought you were the family values party!

BURNS: But that's one side!

PINKERTON: But there are other questions too, for example, can illegal aliens vote? Can they get social welfare benefits? And will anybody with the ACLU keeping track of them really make this touchback provision? All these go home and come back provisions to actually happen, because everybody knows the reason Kennedy is for it because he knows the provisions will be waived two years from now.

BURNS: Ellis, final word.

HENICAN: If you deal with it in a comprehensive way, that's a part, the wall [that's being built along the southern border of the U.S.] is a part. But you can't deal with one little part which is what the zealots want us to do.

For more information and exclusive content related to "FOX News Watch" go to

Copy: Content and Programming Copyright 2007 FOX News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. (, which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon FOX News Network, LLC'S and Voxant, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.