I asked last week whether Hillary Clinton would or would not stick by her previous qualified semi-support for Eliot Spitzer’s plan to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Spitzer’s plan continues to draw fire from Republicans and Democrats alike – polls have shown even voters in liberal New York oppose the plan by margins exceeding 70%. In a weekend meeting with Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, Spitzer proposed a compromise under which licenses would be specially marked as not properly documented for identification purposes – a sensible concession that resolves the worst problem created by Spitzer’s plan but one that has not mollified his critics but has enraged his allies on the Left: while the statewide Sherriff’s Association opposes even the new compromise plan, Spitzer’s concession is devastating because “only weeks ago he said specially marked licenses ‘would be like a scarlet letter,'” and “the New York Civil Liberties Union, which cheered Spitzer’s original plan, said he’d ‘bowed to fear-mongering and turned New York into a poster child for the Bush administration’s assault on civil liberties.'”
In last night’s Democratic Presidential Debate, Tim Russert tried his best to do what Russert does best, and pin down the elusive Sen. Clinton on her position on the Spitzer plan, and caught her in full straddle on this issue – while only Sen. Chris Dodd, who presumably understands that he has no shot at the nomination anyway, was willing to accept Russert’s invitation to speak up in opposition. Let’s go to the transcript – the video is here:
Read On for the full exchange…
[Tim Russert:] Senator Clinton, Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer has proposed giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. [You] told the Nashua, New Hampshire, Editorial Board it makes a lot of sense.
Why does it make a lot of sense to give an illegal immigrant a driver’s license?
Clinton: Well, what Governor Spitzer is trying to do is fill the vacuum left by the failure of this administration to bring about comprehensive immigration reform. We know in New York we have several million at any one time who are in New York illegally. They are undocumented workers. They are driving on our roads. The possibility of them having an accident that harms themselves or others is just a matter of the odds. It’s probability.
So what Governor Spitzer is trying to do is to fill the vacuum. I believe we need to get back to comprehensive immigration reform because no state, no matter how well intentioned, can fill this gap. There needs to be federal action on immigration reform.
Russert: Does anyone here believe an illegal immigrant should not have a driver’s license?
(Unknown): Believe what?
Russert: An illegal immigrant should not have a driver’s license.
Dodd: This is a privilege. And, look, I’m as forthright and progressive on immigration policy as anyone here. But we’re dealing with a serious problem here, we need to have people come forward. The idea that we’re going to extend this privilege here of a driver’s license I think is troublesome, and I think the American people are reacting to it. We need to deal with security on our borders. We need to deal with the attraction that draws people here. We need to deal fairly with those who are here.
But this is a privilege. Talk about health care, I have a different opinion. That affects the public health of all of us.
But a license is a privilege, and that ought not to be extended, in my view.
Clinton: Well, I just want to add, I did not say that it should be done, but I certainly recognize why Governor Spitzer is trying to do…
(Unknown): Wait a minute…
Clinton: And we have failed. We have failed.
Dodd: No, no, no. You said — you said yes…
Dodd: … you thought it made sense to do it.
Clinton: No, I didn’t, Chris. But the point is, what are we going to do with all these illegal immigrants who are driving…
Dodd: That’s a legitimate issue. But driver’s license goes too far, in my view.
Clinton: Well, you may say that, but what is the identification?
If somebody runs into you today who is an undocumented worker…
Dodd: There’s ways of dealing with that.
Dodd: This is a privilege, not a right.
Clinton: Well, what Governor Spitzer has agreed to do is to have three different licenses, one that provides identification for actually going onto airplanes and other kinds of security issues, another which is another ordinary driver’s license, and then a special card that identifies the people who would be on the road, so…
Dodd: That’s a bureaucratic nightmare.
Clinton: … it’s not the full privilege.
Russert: Senator Clinton, I just want to make sure of what I heard. Do you, the New York senator, Hillary Clinton, support the New York governor’s plan to give illegal immigrants a driver’s license?
You told the New Hampshire paper that it made a lot of sense. Do you support his plan?
Clinton: You know, Tim, this is where everybody plays “gotcha.” It makes a lot of sense. What is the governor supposed to do? He is dealing with a serious problems. We have failed. And George Bush has failed. Do I think this is the best thing for any governor to do? No. But do I understand the sense of real desperation, trying to get a handle on this? Remember, in New York, we want to know who’s in New York. We want people to come out of the shadows.
He’s making an honest effort to do it. We should have passed immigration reform.
For the record, Hillary denied that she said that it makes sense, then she said that it does make a lot of sense, then she said that it was not the best thing to do. And that’s just in one debate. Oh, and everything is George Bush’s fault for not passing the comprehensive immigration reform that the Clinton Administration had…oh, that’s right, the Clinton Administration never did squat about this issue in eight years.
But at least you know where she stands, right?
UPDATE: Bryan Preston points out that if you watch the video, Obama and Richardson sort of raise their hands in opposition to the Spitzer plan, but neither was willing to actually say anything about it. Here is a screenshot – I can see Obama kind of limply sticking a hand up but I couldn’t catch Richardson doing anything.