Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham on Wednesday ripped Democrats and Republicans alike on the issue of immigration, saying he doesn’t need a lecture on the issue from former secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton or real estate mogul Donald Trump.
The South Carolina lawmaker, who announced his own long-odds presidential bid last month, pointed out that in 2009, President Obama had 60 Democratic senators, a big majority in the U.S. House, and that the president had campaigned on the issue of immigration reform.
“He didn’t do a damn thing, and Hillary Clinton never lifted a finger,” said Mr. Graham. “I want to remind everybody who cares about immigration reform that Obamacare, Dodd-Frank [banking reform] and the stimulus went ahead of you.”
Mr. Graham was discussing the issue during a question-and-answer session after an address on foreign policy at the Atlantic Council in D.C. In an interview that aired this week on CNN, Mrs. Clinton said Republicans “range across a spectrum of being either grudgingly welcome or hostile toward immigrants.”
“I don’t need a lecture from Hillary Clinton about immigration reform — I’ve been in every gang you could be in in the Senate,” said Mr. Graham, who most recently helped author the comprehensive “Gang of Eight” immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013 but died in the House. “If we had tattoos, I’d have an armful. I don’t remember seeing her once. … She never came to any meetings I was at. She was a public voice in 2009; I never remember her saying, ‘Wait a minute, President Obama — you promised to do immigration reform. Honor your promise.’ She didn’t say a word.”
Asked about Mr. Graham’s comments Wednesday, White House press secretary Joshua Earnest said that to suggest Mr. Obama didn’t do anything on immigration reform in early 2009 is “false.”
“The president was a strong supporter of immigration reform then,” Mr. Earnest said. “But what also is a fact is the president had a significant crisis on his hands in terms of the state of the U.S. economy at the time that he took office. And that is what he was focused on.”
Mr. Earnest also called Mr. Graham an “effective partner” during the 2013 push.
“But again, the only reason that we don’t have common-sense immigration reform right now that would be good for our national security, that would be good for public safety, that would be good for our economy, that would be good for deficit reduction, is because House Republicans made a cynical political decision to block it,” Mr. Earnest said.
Mr. Graham acknowledged in the interview that Republicans are “in a hole with Hispanics” because of the immigration reform issue. Mr. Trump’s heavily criticized remarks on Mexican immigrants and crime didn’t help, he said.
“The first rule of politics when you’re in a hole is [to] stop digging. Somebody needs to take [the] shovel out of Donald Trump’s” hands, he said.
Mr. Graham said a pattern of comprehensive bill after comprehensive bill on immigration passing the Senate and running into a wall in the Republican-controlled House has to stop.
“How do you go from 44 percent of the Hispanic vote down to 27 percent?” he asked, referring to the percentages won by former President George W. Bush in 2004 and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, respectively. “You have to work at it.”
Mr. Trump has stood by remarks he made during his presidential announcement speech last month, when he said that “when Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.”
“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,” Mr. Trump said last month.
“I don’t need a lecture from Donald Trump or anybody else about border security — every bill I’ve ever supported would deport felons on day one,” Mr. Graham said Wednesday.
• David Sherfinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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