Clinton's Bold Immigration Plan Leaves Republicans Nearly Speechless

Clinton's Bold Immigration Plan Leaves Republicans Nearly Speechless

9:42am May 11, 2015

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The debate over what to do with some 12 billion immigrants living in the country illegally took center stage this week. Hillary Clinton traveled to Nevada, a state with a growing and increasingly influential Latino electorate, and staked out a position to the left of President Obama. Her campaign's hope - to expose a fault line in the Republican Party. NPR's Tamara Keith reports. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: We incorrectly state that there are some 12 billion immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. In fact, the correct number is 12 million.]

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: If you ask immigration reform advocates, they'll tell you Hillary Clinton hasn't had a flawless record. In 2008, she gave a muddled answer about whether undocumented immigrants should be able to get driver's licenses in a debate moderated by NBC's Tim Russert.


TIM RUSSERT: Do you support his plan?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: You know, Tim, this is where everybody plays gotcha.

KEITH: First, she said it makes a lot of sense and then...


CLINTON: Do I think this is the best thing for any governor to do? No.

KEITH: And for months last year, she avoided taking a position on President Obama's executive actions. But there were no hints of equivocation this week as she sat with young immigrants at Rancho High School in Las Vegas outlining her position.


CLINTON: We can't wait any longer for a path to full and equal citizenship.

KEITH: Clinton said she'd defend President Obama's executive actions on immigration, granting work permits and a reprieve from deportation to millions. And she said she'd go even further. Leo Murrieta is executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Latino Prosperity in Nevada.

LEO MURRIETA: The fact that she hasn't been the strongest advocate was one of the reasons why in her big, first Latino push for her campaign it was so important to state the difference in her opinion.

KEITH: But this wasn't just about appealing to Latino voters. It was about drawing a contrast with Republicans.


CLINTON: Today, not a single Republican candidate announced, or potential, is clearly and consistently supporting a path to citizenship - not one. When they talk about legal status, that is code for second-class status.

KEITH: Cue the "Star Wars" clip.


ERIK BAUERSFELD: (As Admiral Ackbar) It's a trap.

DAVID DAMORE: It is a trap for the Republicans.

KEITH: David Damore is a senior analyst with the polling firm Latino Decisions. And he says Clinton is essentially daring Republicans to attack her on this.

DAMORE: Strategically, the presumption is, of course, the Republicans are going to attack to the right, and this creates a clear line of difference between the parties on this issue.

KEITH: GOP pollster Whit Ayres isn't convinced it's going to turn out that way.

WHIT AYRES: Most serious Republican candidates for president understand exactly what she's doing and are not going to go for the bait.

KEITH: Ayres is doing polling for Republican candidate Marco Rubio. In general, GOP candidates were slow to respond. They didn't rush to cable news to rail against Clinton. In social media posts, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Texas Senator Ted Cruz said Clinton was embracing amnesty. And in New Hampshire yesterday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said Clinton's position was extreme.


CHRIS CHRISTIE: I frankly think her position is extreme.

KEITH: He said a path to citizenship is a problem and that path is a sticking point for essentially all the Republican candidates. Ayres says Republicans have to take a reasoned approach to immigration on the campaign trail because, by his calculation, they need to win probably 45 percent or more of the Latino vote to take the White House.

AYRES: It is a critically important issue for the future of the country as well as for political success.

KEITH: The challenge for Republicans is no GOP candidate has ever gotten that much of the Latino vote. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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