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Obama's Immigration Speech A Tool For Latino Votes?

MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

We have our regular Friday features for you. Later in Faith Matters we'll hear about a Muslim religious leader from New York who was kept off of his scheduled flight last week on his way to a conference about, guess what, Islamophobia. And we'll hear about a major change in the rules of the Presbyterian Church USA that will allow gays and lesbians to be ordained. That's all coming up.

But first, to our weekly chat about politics. Republicans and Democrats have been trading words on upcoming budget negotiations and talk of raising the debt ceiling. Meanwhile, President Obama and potential GOP challengers have been hitting the road talking about immigration, health care and the economy.

We wanted to talk about all this and what it means. So, I'm joined once again by Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist and blogger for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She's here with us in our Washington, D.C. studios once again. Hi, Cynthia, thanks for coming.

CYNTHIA TUCKER: Good to here, Michel.

MARTIN: Also with us is Ron Christie. He's a Republican strategist. He's a former aide to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. He's with us once again from our bureau in New York. Welcome back to you, Ron.

RON CHRISTIE: Ladies, always a pleasure.

MARTIN: So, I'd like to start off with the battle brewing in Washington over the upcoming budget negotiations. Now, for those who may be having a case of deja vu, it's worth reminding for the last budget struggle, the one that took place just last month, was a resolution to continue the government funding through the end of this fiscal year. And now that that's out of the way, Congress is focusing on next year's budget. So are we all caught up? Everybody straight with what that is? OK.

So I want to play a clip of tape from Speaker John Boehner. He's the top Republican in the House of Representatives, of course. And this is from a speech he delivered to the Economic Club in New York on Monday.

(soundbite of speech)

Representative JOHN BOEHNER: Let me be as clear as I can be. Without significant spending cuts and changes in the way we spend the American people's money, there will be no increase in the debt limit. We're not talking about billions here, we should be talking about cuts in trillions if we're serious about addressing America's fiscal problems.

MARTIN: So, Ron, I'm going to start with you. You know, on the one hand, you have to say, you know, if that's what it is, then that's what it is. On the other hand, this is making some people very nervous. It feels like Speaker Boehner's not giving himself any wiggle room. And the consequences of a default are profound. So do you think that this was good strategy here to kind of lay down the gauntlet so strongly, leave himself no room to go?

CHRISTIE: Absolutely, I do. I think if you look at the amount of money that we've added to the deficit, you're talking nearly $5 trillion over the course of the last several years. And the American people look at the very tough economic climate that we're dealing with in America right now. And you look at the significant increases of spending across the board for discretionary programs and enough is enough.

If you look it as a pocketbook issue, if I run up against my credit limit, suppose my credit limit is $1,000 on my credit card, essentially what you're talking about is saying that for every dollar that you want added to your credit limit, that you're going to have to find a dollar and offset spending elsewhere. That's what this is about. It should be a matter of trillions rather than billions or millions.

And I think that it was an honest opening move to recognize the problem that we're in that the speaker articulated to the president and to the American people. And I hope regardless of political affiliation, our leaders in Washington will recognize that we have a spending problem. We need to get that spending under control.

MARTIN: All I have to say, though, Ron, you know I love you so much, but if you default, that's a whole big different thing from the government defaulting.

CHRISTIE: Of course.

MARTIN: Just thought I'd mention it.

CHRISTIE: Of course.

MARTIN: I'll bring you some soup or something. But...

(soundbite of laughter)

CHRISTIE: Your heart's on the right place.

MARTIN: But that doesn't affect me. Cynthia, what about you? Honest opening gambit or what? Playing chicken with all our credit rating.

TUCKER: It's clearly playing chicken. It's worse than that, Michel. Republicans are talking about driving the economy straight off the cliffs. We'll be right back to where we were in the fall of 2008 when the bottom fell out, the stock market collapsed, credit froze, the banking industry froze up and the United States might not recover in my lifetime. We'd be back to a deep recession on the verge of another Great Depression.

MARTIN: But if his caucus really is not prepared to accept any revenue increases, then shouldn't he say that?

TUCKER: Well, he basically did say that. He said absolutely no new taxes. I mean, one of the things that Ron didn't say was that if you're up against your credit limit, you can also take another job. You can look for a way to bring in more income. And there are many ways for the United States Treasury to bring in more income, raise taxes on the wealthy. Speaker Boehner has said absolutely not.

And let me say one more thing about his speech that was absolutely dishonest. He refused to acknowledge the Clinton tax increase of 1993, which set the nation up for a period of extraordinary prosperity and balanced budgets. He talked about an earlier tax hike that passed under George W. Bush. He claimed that set the nation up for a recession. Many economists disagree with that. But it's very clear that in 1993, under Clinton, Congress raised taxes, spending was also cut. They got the budget in balance and we had a decade of prosperity.

MARTIN: OK. Ron, I know you'd like to respond to that, but there are a couple of other issues we wanted to get to. So I'm going to have you, you know, you'll have to blog on that. The two of you will just have to blog on that and get your another bite of that apple. I'd like to move to another issue. You talked about being dishonest and this is kind of - it may be a harsh word, but I'll say that - I'll just use it because that's the word that some are using. On Tuesday, President Obama traveled to El Paso, Texas to deliver a speech on comprehensive immigration reform. Obviously this is an issue of significant concern to the congressional Hispanic Caucus, to many Latino voters and other voters, you know, it has to be said. I'll just play a short clip from President Obama's speech that speaks to that.

(soundbite of speech)

President BARACK OBAMA: Sometimes when I talk to immigration advocates, you know, they wish I could just bypass Congress and change the law myself. But that's not how democracy works. What we really need to do is to keep up the fight to pass genuine, comprehensive reform. That is the ultimate solution to this problem. That's what I'm committed to doing.

MARTIN: Here's where the honesty question comes in, Cynthia. And it may be unfair, but there are those who would argue that the president, the politics just aren't there to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. And the president knows that and the Democrats know that. So this is just a way to beat the Republicans with a stick.

TUCKER: Well, it's absolutely true. I don't think dishonesty is too strong a word here, because the president knows perfectly well there are not the votes in Congress to pass any kind of - even a more modest immigration reform bill. It failed in the democratically controlled Congress, in part because in the Senate, there was a handful of Democrats who wouldn't vote for the DREAM Act. I'm sorry, I'm confusing two issues.

He talked about a comprehensive immigration reform bill, a more modest bill, which would address a few young adults brought here illegally by their parents, failed to pass in the Democratic Congress. So there's absolutely no chance that it's going to pass now. This is all about politics and getting out the Latino vote.

MARTIN: Ron, what do you think?

CHRISTIE: I think she's a hundred percent right. I think that the president was fishing for electoral votes rather than fishing for comprehensive immigration reform earlier this week. And I think, unfortunately, it's a little bit of racism. Why is it that the president would assume that if he talks about comprehensive immigration reform, that somehow the Hispanic or Latino voters are going to flock more towards the Democratic camp than the Republican? I just sit here and scratch my head and think of this.

I think that we should be looking at these issues as Americans who are red, white and blue as opposed to hyphenated or brown or black or other colors. It's the physical integrity of our border that's at stake, not trying to woo particular people of a particular ethnic background. And I think that's what's most disingenuous about what the president did and said earlier this week. Cynthia is absolutely right. There's no appetite to pass immigration reform this year, certainly not before an election next year. And it's just pure politics.

MARTIN: That's Republican strategist Ron Christie. He's here with us for our weekly political chat, along with Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Cynthia Tucker. We're talking about the top political stories that made headlines this week.

Now, let's talk about one of the potential contenders for the GOP nomination. This week, two more candidates threw their hats into the ring. Newt Gingrich, the former Republican Speaker of the House formally announced Wednesday, we'll listen to his announcement.

(soundbite of video)

NEWT GINGRICH: I'm Newt Gingrich. And I'm announcing my candidacy for president of the United States because I believe we can return America to hope and opportunity, to full employment, to real security, to an American energy program, to a balanced budget.

MARTIN: Now, some of the - it went on, but you get it. And some of the news here was that it was made on YouTube and he made his initial announcement on Twitter. So that was kind of spicy. But, Ron, do you think, is Newt Gingrich really a contender? A lot of people think, you got to be kidding me, right? You know, a guy who's been married three times, who suffered from, you know, foot and mouth disease, you know, you got to be kidding. On the other hand, he's a deep thinker. A lot of people consider him a strong sort of intellect, a strong intellectual leader, an exciting thinker. What do you think?

CHRISTIE: He's a brilliant guy. There's no question about that. He certainly is an ideas factor and he stirs up the debate in intellectual circles with coming out with some very interesting proposals. That being said, I don't see the viability for the former speaker becoming a viable presidential candidate. I mean, for goodness sakes, he's only run to be in the House of Representatives. I think that he would have a very difficult time galvanizing support in the Iowa caucus system, which traditionally social conservatives at least on the Republican side of the ledger tend to dominate.

And I don't see his ability to raise money and to really have a broad appeal beyond a very narrow constituency. And so, while I'm interested that he wants to put his ideas and his policy solutions into the mix, I just don't think he's going to have a broad appeal to go very far.

MARTIN: Cynthia, he was a congressman from Georgia, your old stomping ground.

TUCKER: I have known Newt Gingrich since the late 1970s when he first ran for Congress. He is a lot of fun. Yes, he's an ideas factory. Many of his ideas are wrong-headed and boorish. He is - he does suffer foot and mouth disease. He has so much baggage. That is the most interesting thing about his decision to run now.

And it's not just the infidelity, all the wives. He has a long record of saying things that he is now trying to contradict. He has the Mitt Romney problem, but worse. He's on the record supporting very progressive ideas on climate change and individual mandate. So he has a lot of baggage that it will be difficult for him to overcome.

MARTIN: Unfortunately we don't have time to talk about Mitt Romney either, who is a very interesting candidate, former governor of Massachusetts, who is best known on the national stage for passing a law, spearheading a law, signing a law granting universal health care to all Massachusetts residents and so now we have to talk about that. So we'll have to blog - come back and talk about that.

Cynthia Tucker is a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist and blogger for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She was here with us in Washington. Ron Christie is a Republican strategist, former aide to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. He was with us from New York. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

TUCKER: Thanks for having us.

CHRISTIE: Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.