The most prominent Republican supporter of immigration reform is backing away from his signature legislation, a sign of how dramatically intra-party politics on the issue are shifting.
“We need to assure the American people that the border is secure. People in Arizona are so cynical about the promises that have been made about a secure border,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said on KPNX 12 News’ “Sunday Square Off.”
He called for “90 percent effective control” before any other reforms are made to the immigration system. That’s what many opponents of a comprehensive overhaul have said throughout the debate since last year, but it’s a nonstarter for Democrats and Latino advocates, who are key stakeholders in the debate.
“I think it’s going to have to [come first],” McCain said of border security.
The Senate-passed immigration bill, of which McCain was a chief author, begins the process of legalizing undocumented immigrants while simultaneously setting out to achieve a 90 percent deterrence rate and complete situational awareness of the southwest border. McCain previously acknowledged the need to make that compromise in order to get the bill passed in the Senate. Now he is reversing course.
Asked if his new position changes the discussion, McCain said, “To a certain degree.”
The 2008 Republican presidential nominee’s comments are also noteworthy because he has been sounding the alarm that his party will lose the 2016 election if they don’t pass immigration reform. In June he said that if immigration reform fails in Congress, Republicans won’t be able to win the White House in 2016 regardless of who the party nominates.
The Arizonan’s change of heart comes as the issue of immigration eclipses health care and the economy as the top concern for Republicans, according to the latest Gallup poll.