That Ol’ Clinton Straddle

New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s plan to document the undocumented by giving drivers licenses to illegal aliens has been yet another fiasco for the Empire State’s unpopular new governor, bleeding his support even among Democrats who are in the country legally and leading other Democratic officials to keep their distance. But what does New York’s junior senator, running now for President, think of the state’s unilateral effort to hijack federal immigration policy? Up to now, Hillary Clinton has been quiet on the subject, but in an interview she finally had to answer the question:

I think it’s important to bring everybody out of the shadows. To do the background checks. To deport those who have outstanding warrants or have committed crimes in the United States, and then to say to those who wish to stay here, you have to pay back taxes, you have to pay a fine, you have to learn English, and you have to wait in line. And I hate to see any state being pushed to try to take this into their own hands, because the federal government has failed.
So I know exactly what Governor Spitzer’s trying to do and it makes a lot of sense, because he’s trying to get people out of the shadows. He’s trying to say, “O.K., come forward and we will give you this license.”
But without a federal policy in effect, people will come forward and they could get picked up by I.C.E. tomorrow. I mean, this can’t work state-by-state. It has to be looked at comprehensively. I agreed with President Bush and his efforts to try to approach this. He just didn’t have the political capital left by the time he actually got serious about it.
And it’s unfortunate that too many people are using this to demagogue the issue, instead of trying to solve it: you know, people in politics, people in the press, and there’s a kind of unholy alliance.

Spitzer’s camp immediately rushed to claim this as support:

“We are gratified that many state leaders understand the security value of bringing people out of the shadows and into the system,” said spokeswoman Christine Anderson.

The NY Times and NY Daily News, however, recognized this for what it is: a typically Clintonian effort to have it both ways without answering the question and taking some responsibility for the answer. What else is new?

The drivers license flap has been a disaster for Spitzer:

Seventy-two percent of New York voters who have read or heard about the Governor’s proposal to allow undocumented aliens to obtain New York driver’s licenses oppose the Governor’s plan, while only 22 percent support it, according to a new Siena (College) Research Institute poll of registered voters released Monday.
The Siena New York poll also shows that Eliot Spitzer’s job performance rating is lower than it has ever been, with a majority of voters saying he’s doing a fair or poor job.
If the 2010 gubernatorial race were held now, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, running as a Republican, would beat Democrat Spitzer 50-37 percent.
“Nearly three-quarters of voters – including 59% of Democrats – oppose the Governor’s plan to give driver’s licenses to undocumented aliens,” said Steven Greenberg, Siena New York Poll spokesman. “. . . Opposition to the Spitzer proposal is intense, with 41% strongly opposing it and only 7 percent strongly supporting it.
“Nearly two-thirds of voters believe that the Governor’s proposal poses a national security risk, and two-thirds disagree with the argument that it will lower auto insurance costs. Even most Democrats are on the opposite side of the fence from the Governor on those questions. Voters from every region of New York overwhelmingly oppose Governor Spitzer on this issue,” Greenberg said.
Spitzer’s favorable/unfavorable rating is 54-36 percent, down from 56-26 percent last month, and a high of 75-10 percent in January. His job performance rating is 41 percent positive 55 percent negative, down from 44-49 percent last month, and a high of 57-36 percent in May.

After Spitzer threatened to retaliate against GOP critics of the plan by slashing funding for parks and schools in their districts, the NY Post ran a blistering piece subtitled “‘HE CARES MORE FOR ILLEGALS THAN KIDS'”. While the NY GOP has been conducting a petition against the plan, Democrats have been coming out against it as well. Former NY Mayor Ed Koch, an independent-minded Democrat who has endorsed some Republicans over the years, has blasted the plan. Freshman Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand was compelled to distance herself from the Spitzer plan after a torrent of criticism from her potential Republican opponents.
Hillary obviously doesn’t want any part of the heat for an idea that is repellent even to voters in her own party in her own liberal state – yet she remains desperately in thrall, like so many in her party, to a faction of people who – lacking (at least until this plan passes) proper identification as citizens – are not even entitled to vote. And thus, the straddle continues. But at this late date, does anyone believe anything she says?

6 thoughts on “That Ol’ Clinton Straddle”

  1. Spitzer is very stubborn. Will he back down?
    Is in on the path for being “recalled”? Can you do that in NY?

  2. He is a remarkable disaster. I had high hopes, though I loathed his conduct re wall street. Pataki was utterly useless, and I wrongly assumed the new guy, with an eye on bigger things, would get better results. This license thing is the latest debacle. His response, to strip school and children’s health care funding from a leading opponent’s district, is rather shocking.
    Taking into account his despicable conduct re Bruno, and the resulting coverup, he is NYS’ Nixon. A deranged rabid animal wandering the streets, won’t someone please take him down?

  3. “But without a federal policy in effect, people will come forward and they could get picked up by I.C.E. tomorrow.”
    Hillary makes this sound like a bad thing. In fact, this would be the only redeeming consequence of the plan, which is otherwise a disaster.

  4. “effort to hijack federal immigration policy”
    State drivers licenses are in no way hijacking federal immigration policy, as they don’t do anything around proving that a user is a citizen or not. Even Spitzer’s awful plan. Especially the REAL ID, which centers around security – not immigration policy.
    You can argue that it makes it harder for people to be spotted, sure – but that’s not immigration policy, that’s lazy and inefficient execution.
    “typically Clintonian effort to have it both ways without answering the question and taking some responsibility for the answer.”
    Funny, I didn’t think a Senator had much to do with responsibility for state policies, outside of being a citizen. And at a federal level, the immigration reform (which would have touched on this) was voted down in the Senate, so she can’t have that much responsibility there. Really, what responsibility do you want her to take?
    Her exact quote is almost ideal for a Senator – it makes a lot of sense on a State level, but needs something to be done at a federal level. Along with the unnecessary-but-expected shot at Bush.
    “has been yet another fiasco for the Empire State’s unpopular new governor”
    “Spitzer’s favorable/unfavorable rating is 54-36 percent”
    Fiasco quite – unpopular, not so much. 54% isn’t as high as when he came in, but it’s not unpopular. He will be soon if he doesn’t change this to a “not for federal ID” license.

  5. I agree about Spitzer’s political tin ear, but Hillary’s answer seems pretty sensible to me. As far as I can tell, she’s endorsing the underlying idea behind Spitzer’s approach, but doesn’t think it’s a good idea unless it’s part of a comprehensive solution. Which is, ironically, a position where she finds herself agreeing with the President.

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