This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," March 30, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.
ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: First, our top story tonight, the battle over immigration reform has hit the floor of the United States, and it's getting heated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY, D-MASS.: We do believe in giving them a chance to earn, earn legal status. That's the difference. Amnesty is a pardon. We are not pardoning any of those that have come here, the undocumented.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, R-ALA.: That's what this bill does. It puts the people who came here unlawfully on an automatic path to citizenship. Now, if that's not amnesty, what is?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLMES: That's the floor of the Senate, of course.
Joining us now, Arizona Republican Senator John McCain of McCain-Kennedy fame. Or is it Kennedy-McCain?
You get first billing, right? You get top billing on that?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R- ARIZ.: Yes, whether I want it or not.
COLMES: See, there you go. Is this going to pass? And what kind of fight is going on within the Republican Party about the path to citizenship for people here illegally?
MCCAIN: I'm not sure, Alan. There's a lot of dynamics that are going on. There's been some movement because of the widespread protests. There have been attempts at negotiations so that we could come up with a common position.
Everybody knows that we have to fix the problem of our broken borders and that we have 11 to 12 million people in this country who are here illegally.
So I want to make one early comment, and that is the president's comments in Cancun today, I thought, were very helpful. He said we need a viable guest-worker program and make people go to the end of the line, but give them a chance to earn citizenship.
COLMES: As I understand it, the president, though, says three years, then you can renew for another three, and then after another six, you have to leave the country and reapply.
COLMES: But that's not what you're saying. And if that were to happen, wouldn't we drive people underground because they wouldn't want to have to leave America?
MCCAIN: The president has not taken a specific position. That's just not true. He said we need to put them at the back of the line and allow them to earn citizenship, but he hadn't gotten into the specifics.
COLMES: Well, as I understand it, his original proposal was six years, and then you have to reapply, but there's not an automatic ability to stay in this country after six years.
Would you make sure that everybody here could, in some way, possibly stay here under the right circumstances?
MCCAIN: If they can pass a criminal background check, if they can pay their back taxes, if they can learn English, if they can work for six years and then apply for a green card, going to the back of the line, then it's probably another five years before they can achieve citizenship, and also they're required to learn English.
When you think about it, it's a pretty tough road to go, and so that's why we call it "earned citizenship."
COLMES: But you have people like Kyl, and you have people like Cornyn, and you have people in the House like Sensenbrenner and Tancredo who says this shouldn't happen, you're rewarding people. If they don't go back to their home country, somehow they're getting rewarded for having come here illegally, without ever having to leave America.
MCCAIN: Well, I don't know how you round up 11 or 12 million people. I don't know what happens to the economy when you take it out of the economy, that many people, 99 percent of them are working.
I think that to do that to people who have been here 50, 60 years or 20 or 30. You know, one of the interesting aspects of these massive demonstrations is how many young people were demonstrating, because many of them are here legally because they were born here.
According to our Constitution, they're citizens, and yet their parents or grandparents are here illegally. And, obviously, you can imagine how one would feel if you thought your parents were going to be deported. We've never seen anything like the size of these demonstrations.
COLMES: How do you and Ted Kennedy get along?
MCCAIN: Fine. I try to get along well with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle. I try very hard...
SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: See, that's your mistake, Senator, right there...
COLMES: See, he's talking about the love. Let's hear more of this.
MCCAIN: Sean, I think one of the important things we need to do more of is respect each other's views. We can fight fiercely on our varying differences on issues.
And I'll fight with Ted Kennedy on most of them, but I think that Ted and I, after a year of negotiations, have come up with what we think is a reasonable proposal, which, by the way, is supported by the U.S. chamber, business organizations, as well as some of labor.
HANNITY: Look, there are some good things that are in there. I'm not going to deny that. The English proposal, the virtual wall that you talk about proposing and building.
I've been to the border four times, Senator, including your home state. It's a devastating problem down there. You know the impact on the economy, the health care system, the criminal justice system, the education system.
There are good things in here. My biggest problem with this is, basically, amnesty at the end of the day. And the reason I feel this way is that, at the end of it, you don't get sent home. You get the grand prize.
You come here illegally, you get to stay, you have to do a few things, but you still get what you wanted. How is that not rewarding illegal activity?
MCCAIN: Well, first of all, I'm glad you came to visit and see first-hand the devastation of illegal immigration, both drug dealing and other problems. And it's devastated our state, health care, law enforcement, all the things that you said, by the way, including destruction of wildlife refuges. So it is a problem we have to address.
Now, Sean, I read in the dictionary amnesty means forgiveness. These people have to do all the things that I mentioned, background check, back taxes, learn English, pay a $2,000 fine, work for six years before, as the president says, getting in line behind everybody else who has come here legally. And if, at any time any of those are broken, then they are deported.
HANNITY: How are you in the back of the line, though, where you came illegally, you get to stay in the country, and work legally at that point, and then eventually you get on the track to get to what you want ultimately want anyway?
Aren't we basically saying — isn't the message that, if you come here illegally, eventually America is going to find a way to make you legal. And we did it in '86, and we're doing it again here. What's the difference?
MCCAIN: In 1986, we had an amnesty, and it didn't work. It was under President Reagan. It didn't work.
What are our options? Let them stay in the shadows of our society and be abused and mistreated many, many times because they had none of the protections of our laws? Try to round up 11 or 12 million people?
HANNITY: No one's talking about rounding up.
MCCAIN: Well, George Will said it would take 200,000 buses stretching from San Diego to Alaska. Do you think that they're going to willingly come out of the shadows and say, "Send me home. I've been here 50 years. I have children and grandchildren here who are citizens"? So...
HANNITY: So what do you say — well, first of all, what guarantee do we have? This is a two-part question.
First of all, the people that didn't respect our old law, now you got Kennedy-McCain. What makes us think, a, they'll respect the new law? And, secondly, what does it say to all of the people who are going through the process legally, all the people that did it the right way, all the people that respected our laws and sovereignty? What about them?
MCCAIN: First of all, I say to them you are on the path to citizenship. And these people are going to the end of the line after they have done a whole lot of things, including worked for six years, and they're going to be behind you in line. That's the first thing I say to them.
HANNITY: But the end of the line for them is in America. They're applying from outside America.
MCCAIN: Sure, and when they are here, the others will be behind them because they'll be working for six years before they even have an eligibility for citizenship.
That's what I tell them. Again Sean, the only way we're going to solve this illegal immigration problem, because you know that 99 percent of the people that come here are coming here because they want to feed themselves and their families for jobs.
And so our proposal is that, if you advertise a job for 60 days, it's not taken, then you enter into a contract — and I know by the background music, I'll continue this after the break then.
HANNITY: I'm going to play — we're going to play Vicente Fox and my debate with him, coming up.
COLMES: Hold on. We're coming right back. We will continue in just a moment with Senator McCain.
HANNITY: As we continue on "Hannity & Colmes," we continue now with Arizona Senator John McCain, who is with us.
Senator, we had on this program — I had a debate with Vicente Fox, president of Mexico, and I said people enter this country illegally. He interrupted me. He said, no, they're migrants.
He said, you know, it's good for the American economy, and he started lecturing me about, oh what, are we going to mistreat them, not treat them humanely? Are they going to kill them in America if they come over here illegally?
Mexico is literally assisting in lawbreaking by giving out these maps. He won't even use the word "illegal immigration." They won't extradite cop killers back to America. Are they really our friends?
MCCAIN: I think they're our friends. But more importantly, Sean, there's no way you're going to sever them from being the country next to the United States.
There are serious problems with corruption, particularly along the border. Nuevo Laredo is, you know, what you would term as a failed state.
HANNITY: I've been there.
MCCAIN: And there's enormous problems with the Mexican economy. I understand why a politician who is a Mexican president would say they're migrants, they're not illegal.
But we have to demand of the Mexicans as part of this deal better border patrol, set up incentives for people to come back from the United States to Mexico, such as health savings account, Social Security. We've got to have them patrol their side of the border. And as importantly, their own southern border, where more people are coming from our own hemisphere.
HANNITY: It is interesting, though, that Mexico — if you come from another country, like Guatemala or elsewhere — that is a felony, interestingly enough, because that's what the House bill said, that this would be a felony if you were in this country illegally.
But I think it goes a little bit deeper, because it was actually the government of Mexico. They know the security problem we have. I don't think this is a problem about the economy or jobs. I understand why people want a better life.
But when you come here illegally and when the government of Mexico gives you maps and assistance, doesn't that go beyond the pale, if they are saying that they want to be the friends of the United States? Why won't they help us with our security efforts?
MCCAIN: I think there are several answers. One of them is that they can't sustain jobs for them in their own economy, and that has a lot to do with government policies, both present and past.
I'm not apologizing in any way for the mismanagement of the Mexican economy. I think another reason is that these other people who come from — no matter what their law is, they help people move from the countries south of their border up to our border, or coyotes do.
And, listen, I can't emphasize the seriousness enough. One of the tactics that you saw on the border, a drug dealer sends a bunch of illegal immigrants across the border. The Border Patrol comes, gathers them up, leaves, and then the drug dealer goes across. I mean, this is serious stuff.
COLMES: Senator, let me get some other politics in here, if we could.
COLMES: A lot of talk about you these days. Last election, in 2000, you referred to Jerry Falwell as one of America's agents of intolerance. And now word is you're going to be speaker at his graduation ceremonies at Liberty University this year. Did you have a rapprochement with Reverend Falwell?
MCCAIN: I met with Reverend Falwell, and we had a good conversation. And he invited him to speak at the graduation. I'm speaking at a new school in New York City, which is somewhat a liberal institution, and Ohio State.
I try to speak at three to five colleges or universities every year on graduation. I try to impress on them the need to serve causes greater than your interests.
COLMES: It's good to hear you say liberal school. I like the way that sounds.
MCCAIN: Could I just say...
COLMES: But you did say — you did refer to him and other people like him as agents of intolerance. Have you changed your point of view about that?
MCCAIN: I don't look back — I think one of the most important things for me, from the lesson from the year 2000, is not to look back in anger.
Of course, I was unhappy at the time. It was a very spirited campaign. The fact is that I said things that probably weren't totally accurate, but I don't apologize for them. I just move on.
And I do not hold grudges, and that's one of the hardest lessons I've learned, but one of the most important lessons I've learned in political life.
COLMES: That grudge also applies to talk show hosts, I guess you don't hold grudges against them, as well, I presume?
HANNITY: What, like you?
MCCAIN: Except for you, Alan.
COLMES: Thank you very much.
If you were to run again, would it be a different kind of campaign than the one you had in 2000?
MCCAIN: No. The only virtue that I think I have that overshadows all others is to be frank, and honest, and accessible, town hall meetings, riding around on the bus.
And by the way, this is a tough, hard grind, a political campaign, as you know. So you want to make it fun and enjoyable. I know you make mistakes in that kind of environment, and I'm sure I would if I ran, which I have not decided yet.
But I have to tell you again, the most wonderful experience of my life was to be able to run for president of the United States. That comes from a guy who stood fifth from the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy. My old company officer would say, "In America, anything is possible."
HANNITY: Hey, Senator, I gave the commencement speech at Liberty, so you're following in very good footsteps.
COLMES: I didn't, by the way.
HANNITY: A great bunch of students. It's a very impressive campus. You'll like it there.
Good to see you, Senator.
MCCAIN: Thank you, guys.
HANNITY: Appreciate you coming on.
MCCAIN: Thanks for having me on. And thanks for doing this respectful debate and discussion on this very important issue.
HANNITY: Appreciate you being with us, Senator McCain.
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