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updated 6/25/2007 10:55:33 AM ET 2007-06-25T14:55:33

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday:  Immigration, what should happen to the 12 million undocumented immigrants now living in the U.S. ?  How much does our economy rely on their work?  Are we serious about border security?  And what does this issue mean for the Republican and Democratic Parties?  With us, former Republican presidential candidate and author of “State of Emergency:

The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America,” Pat Buchanan.  And the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Immigration Task Force, Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois.  Buchanan and Gutierrez square off on immigration.

Then, Bloomberg flirts with the presidency.  Clinton is cheered and booed.  And Giuliani hits some hurdles.  Insights and analysis on the 2008 race for the White House from David Broder of The Washington Post, John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal and CNBC, Gwen Ifill of PBS’ Washington Week, and syndicated columnist Roger Simon.

But first, the immigration reform bill is front and center in Congress, debated all across the country.  Should it be approved?  Pat Buchanan says no;

Congressman Luis Gutierrez says yes.  They’re both with us today.

Good morning, and welcome.

MR. PATRICK BUCHANAN:  Good morning, Tim.

REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ (D-IL):  Good morning.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me frame the issue for you and our viewers.  This is an outline of the bill, the provisions of the Senate bill, here they are.  Illegal immigration:  “Allow nearly all of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants who entered the country before 2007 to apply for a ‘Z visa’ that would permit them to live and work in the country as long as they pay a series of fees and renew their visas every two years.  Applicants must pass a background check, remain employed, and receive a counterfeit-proof biometric card.”

Two, “temporary workers:  Create a temporary-worker program that would grant a two-year work ‘Y visa,’ renewable twice, as long as foreign workers leave the country between each period.  Through a mostly merit-based ‘point’ system based on education, job skills, market needs and English proficiency, immigrants can work toward receiving a visa.  Allow as many” six—“as many as 600,000 foreign laborers a year into the country.”

Lastly, “the border:  Make provisions above contingent on—make provisions above contingent on increased border security by raising the number of border patrol agents from 13,000 to 18,000, building new vehicle barriers, fencing, ground-based radar and camera towers.”

Pat Buchanan, what’s wrong with that?

MR. BUCHANAN:  Well, what we have, Tim, is amnesty, pure and simple.  You’ve got 12 to 20 million illegal aliens in this country, massive criminality being rewarded with blanket amnesty and put on a path to citizenship.  I think that is outrageous in a nation that’s supposed to be built on a rule of law.  The businesses that hired the 12 million get automatic amnesty.  I think you do this and the whole world is watching, I think you will be the—that will be the beginning of a massive invasion of this country by a third world, Tim, that adds a new Mexico, 100 million people every 18 months.  Something like three to—by three to one the number of illegals from nations not Mexico, outside of Mexico, the number coming into the country has tripled since 2003.  The whole world is watching.  If we give this amnesty, I truly believe it is the beginning of the end of the United States as we know it.

MR. RUSSERT:  George W. Bush, hardly a liberal Democrat, has heard arguments from you and others, and this is the way he has responded.  Let’s listen.

(Videotape, May 29, 2007)

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH:  This bill is not an amnesty bill.  If you want to scare the American people, what you say is, “The bill’s an amnesty bill.” It’s not an amnesty bill.  That’s empty political rhetoric, trying to frighten our fellow citizens.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  You’re scaring people and you’re frightening people.

MR. BUCHANAN:  Well, that’s preposterous.  Look, if you’ve got 12 million people here illegally and you make them legal in 24 hours, and you got millions of businesses who’d have hired them, and they get amnesty and no prosecution and punishment, that’s amnesty, Tim.  That’s all it is.  The president of the United States, quite frankly, does not have great credibility on this issue because he has failed to enforce the borders of the United States.  The Constitution of the United States obligates the president to defend the states from an invasion.  The president himself says in his first five years, six million people tried to break into this country.  One in 12--500,000--had criminal records.  Five hundred thousand criminals trying to break into our country, Tim, is equal to the entire Army of the United States of America, which is 500,000 people.  This is not immigration, Tim.  This is not Ellis Island.  This is an invasion of this country.  I don’t think the president realizes the magnitude of it, and the fact that he agrees with Teddy Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid tells me this is not a conservative bill.

MR. RUSSERT:  Congressman, is this amnesty?

REP. GUTIERREZ:  It isn’t amnesty.  What it is is a pathway to legalization.  We have an immigration system that is broken, that’s a nightmare.  It’s a nightmare for American citizens.  We saw the specialist missing in Iraq, Jimenez, from Massachusetts.  His wife is being deported.  That’s how broken our system is, that those that are on the front line, defending us in the war against terrorism and in Iraq are having their wives deported from the United States of America.

Look, it’s a broken system, but I think what we say is, “What are you going to do with the 12 million people?” If you listen to Pat this morning, we have had the most aggressive enforcement in the last 30 years in our interior enforcement, 160,000 people deported this past year.  At that rate, it would take us 65 years to rid this nation of all the undocumented workers.  It’s not realistic, it’s not humane.  It isn’t practical to our national security, nor does it secure our economy.  The fact is we create, in the United States, this vibrant economy, 400,000 low skill jobs a year, but there’re only 5,000 visas.  We need new workers to keep our economy vibrant and strong.

The fact of the matter remains is that our economy would almost come to a standstill if not for the work of the millions of undocumented workers that are here.  I say let’s have a humane, a compassionate road.  Many of the arguments that Pat has made here this morning were made in the 1850s against the Irish, the 1910s against the, against Italians.  As a matter of fact, we passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in the 1880s, and 10 years later, we had unprecedented immigration to this country when we opened up Ellis Island.  Immigrants have contributed immensely to the fabric and the structure of our great American society, and they continue to do so today.  The same arguments that Pat makes today are the arguments that have made in the past.  They were wrong then; they’re wrong today.

MR. BUCHANAN:  Let me tell you the differences here.  We’ve got 12, 12 million is the low number of illegal aliens in the United States, Tim.  That is a figure equal to all the Irish, all the English and all the Jewish folks who ever came to the United States from Jamestown to JFK.  We stop, each month, 150,000 people on the border.  That is an equivalent of all the troops we’ve got in Iraq.  The point of this is the, the thing is an invasion, it is illegal, it is huge.

Now, the congressman makes a good point.  You can’t deport 12 million people.

We don’t want to set up a Gestapo and try to do that.  Where do you begin?

You begin by enforcing the border, prosecuting businesses hiring illegals.  And you go after, in deportation, the 600,000 who’ve been ordered deported who are now criminal felons who have stayed in this country.  Many of them are child molesters, they’re drunk drivers, they’re rapists, they’re robbers.  They’ve got a variety of crimes, but they commit a felony by being here.  Start with them, go to the gang members who don’t belong in the country, continue with them.  Go after the folks who getting out of prison.  These are the ones Chertoff should be after.

Meanwhile, you get rid of the magnets that draw them here.  There are two main magnets.  One is corporations that are corrupt and hire illegal aliens and don’t hire American workers.  And the second is social welfare benefits, which are very generous in this country, and people come for them.  Get rid of the magnets, secure the border, enforce the law, you don’t need this bill.

MR. RUSSERT:  A woman comes from Mexico...

MR. BUCHANAN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...marries an American man...

MR. BUCHANAN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...has a baby.  Do you send her home?

MR. BUCHANAN:  No, of course not.  If she’s here—I mean, if she’s the wife

of an American citizen, the baby’s a citizen, the American’s a citizen and his

wife can stay.  Of course not.  But if she walks across the border, as many of

them do.  I think something like two thirds of the babies in Los Angeles born,

women come into the country, cross the border, they have a baby, the baby’s an

anchor baby, entitled to a lifetime of social welfare benefits and

citizenship.  That’s not what citizenship should mean in our country.@

REP. GUTIERREZ:  Let me, let me, let me just try to respond very, very quickly.  You know, the tone and the texture of the debate that Pat has brought here to MEET THE PRESS is really what is wrong with this debate.  We need to have a debate that doesn’t chastise people, that doesn’t criminalize people, that doesn’t cast a shadow over everyone.  The fact is, the vast majority—the vast, the overwhelming majority of immigrants who come here to this country come here to work hard...

MR. BUCHANAN:  Mm-hmm.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  ...sweat, toil and make our country a better place.  And to cast aspersions on them...

MR. BUCHANAN:  I’m not casting...

REP. GUTIERREZ:  ...and to generalize them all—let me just finish, Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN:  Well, let me ask you a question.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  If I could just finish.

MR. BUCHANAN:  Sure.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  And to cast aspersions on them as though they were—is what is wrong with the texture and the tone of this debate.

MR. BUCHANAN:  All right.  OK.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  And let me just—let me try to respond to issues that you have raised.  The fact is that our economy is strong and vibrant.

MR. BUCHANAN:  Mm-hmm.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  Pat, 60 percent of our work force...

MR. BUCHANAN:  Mm-hmm.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  ...is part of the baby boomer generation.

MR. BUCHANAN:  Mm-hmm.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  In 20 years, 79 million Americans, the youngest of those 79 million Americans, 60 percent, will be 63 years of age.  They will need to be replaced in our work force if we’re to keep our work force...

MR. BUCHANAN:  Can I—can I tell you now where you’re wrong?

REP. GUTIERREZ:  ...vibrant and strong.

MR. BUCHANAN:  All right.  (Unintelligible)...

REP. GUTIERREZ:  I just want to—I just want to finish on the second issue that you brought up.

Mr. BUCHANAN:  All right.

RUSSERT:  Let me—stay on the employment issue.

MR. BUCHANAN:  OK, let’s do the employment issue.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me—let me frame it with a Wall Street Journal editorial and offer this.

MR. BUCHANAN:  All right.

MR. RUSSERT:  And this is the Pew Hispanic Center did this research and provided these numbers.

MR. BUCHANAN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  According to the Pew Hispanic Center, “illegal immigrants represents less than 5 percent of the U.S.  work force, yet they make up 24 percent of those working in farming occupations...”

MR. BUCHANAN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  “...17 percent in cleaning services, 14 percent of construction laborers and 12 percent of those in food preparation industries.  Many of these occupations are among those expected to grow the fastest in coming decades.”

If those numbers are accurate—and no one challenges them...

MR. BUCHANAN:  Right.  They are accurate.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...if you take those workers and ship them back to their native countries...

MR. BUCHANAN:  Uh-huh.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...what happens to our economy?

MR. BUCHANAN:  First, I don’t think you’d have to ship all the workers back.  But secondly, look, Tim.  Let’s take one of those figures.  Was construction 14 percent?

MR. RUSSERT:  Yes.

MR. BUCHANAN:  OK, that means 86 percent of construction workers are American citizens or people here legally whom the illegal aliens are competing with, and they say the Americans won’t do their jobs.  That’s nonsense.  Secondly, the congressman talks about working folks.  In the nonmanagerial, 80 percent of American workers, or something like 93 million, their wages and the Bush boom, so-called, have been arrested.  They are not going up.  Productivity goes up, but wages aren’t going up.  It defies common sense to say you can bring in 36 to 40 million legal immigrants and 12 to 20 million illegal and not have those huge number of uneducated, unschooled folks, who many of whom don’t speak the language not drive down the wages of working Americans.  That is prosperous.  The Wall Street Journal—I don’t know what the editorial is—but The Wall Street Journal has been an open borders, pro-NAFTA, transnational newspaper for a long, long time.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  The fact is that they do jobs.  Every time you go to the grocery store and you get grapes, any agricultural...

MR. BUCHANAN:  Right.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  ...product, we know who is in those pesticide-ridden fields across this country...

MR. BUCHANAN:  Uh-huh.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  ...and, many times, inhumane conditions...

MR. BUCHANAN:  Right.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  ...picking the fruits and the crops that are necessary and vital to our economy, doing the kinds of work that, that truly other Americans won’t do.  The fact is, Pat, we have a society in which we have an older population of workers.  It’s just the truth.  It’s getting older.  I want to go back to this point, and I hope you would let me finish at this time.  There are 144 million workers in our work force.  Seventy-nine million of them are baby boomers.  I just want to reiterate, in 20 years the youngest of that 79 million will be 63.  This population will need to be replaced.  We continue to have a more educated, more sophisticated work force that we create in America.  Someone, as in the past...

MR. BUCHANAN:  Congressman...

REP. GUTIERREZ:  ...is going to have to do those kinds of jobs.

MR. BUCHANAN:  ...you better wake up—you better wake up and smell the coffee here.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  And you want to know something?

MR. BUCHANAN:  Let me—look...

REP. GUTIERREZ:  Here’s the problem, Pat.  I have not interrupted you one time.  I know that you have a position on this issue, but I would like to respond to you...

MR. BUCHANAN:  OK.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  ...and to finish.  Thank you.  And secondly, Pat, we passed welfare reform.

MR. BUCHANAN:  Mm-hmm.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  For you to come to this program to say that immigrants get benefits from our welfare state is just an outright untruth.

MR. BUCHANAN:  Mm-hmm.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  The fact is we passed—all means-tested programs are—immigrants are ineligible for them.

MR. BUCHANAN:  Right.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  But the two most expensive programs, entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare...

MR. BUCHANAN:  Uh-huh.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  ...let me just tell you something.  You have to be a citizen of the United States to get supplemental Social Security...

MR. BUCHANAN:  Right.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  ...and you don’t get Social Security benefits and Medicare...

MR. BUCHANAN:  Two points.  Just two quick points.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  ...until you’ve paid into the system.

MR. BUCHANAN:  Two, two quick points, congressman.  Look, under Plyler v.  Doe, every single state has to give free public education to children who are here illegally.  In D.C., that costs between $12- and $16,000 per child.  Those folks are not paying $12- to $16,000 in taxes.  Secondarily, the folks—grapes were picked in America for a long, long time.  These jobs washing cars were done, mowing lawns were done.  I used to do those jobs, congressman.  Construction jobs, in the ‘50s, were the best job a kid could get out of school.  Your father had to have some contact with the union to get it.  These are good jobs.  They’re for working people.

Let me tell you something.  African-Americans, a sad and tragic figure, African-American and Hispanic-Americans, 50 percent don’t graduate from high school.  And of those who do, the average level of math and English is seventh, eighth, ninth grade.  There are 85 million of those folks; there’s going to be 160 million if we don’t control the border.  What I’m saying is you are risking having two countries.  Let us stop—no amnesty.  Stop this, secure the border, enforce the laws, then we can debate what to do with the folks who illegally—who are not criminals.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  The fact is there is no amnesty in either of the bills.  We say come out of the darkness, come out of the shadows.  We will fingerprint you.  If you’ve been convicted of any felony, you’re out of the program.  Number two, pay fines.  They do exactly what you propose to do, learn English, learn civics...

MR. BUCHANAN:  If they were illegal yesterday, and they’re legal today...

REP. GUTIERREZ:  Let me...

MR. BUCHANAN:  ...isn’t that amnesty?

REP. GUTIERREZ:  But you see, once again, we’re not listening to one another.  We’re not having a discourse here on this program, and that is wrong with what the texture and the tone of the debate that we’re having in America.  Everybody wants to fix—criticize the immigration system, tell us what’s wrong with the immigration system.  But are we ready to meet the challenge of fixing the immigration system so that we can end illegal immigration as we know it...

MR. BUCHANAN:  Congressman, I wrote a book on it.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  Wait, but let me finish something.

MR. BUCHANAN:  Did you read it?

REP. GUTIERREZ:  Let me, let me, let me say one other thing.  We have the largest—the largest guest worker program in the history of the United States.  It’s called 12 million undocumented workers.  I want them to stop reducing wages of American workers...

MR. BUCHANAN:  They don’t have documents because they’re here illegally.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  ...and protect American workers.  I want them to protect American workers.  You know what they do because of their undocumented status?  They actually do compete in the work space unfairly, damaging American workers.  So if we’re not going to deport them, which you said is unrealistic, then we need to legalize them, document them...

MR. BUCHANAN:  No, no, no.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  ...so that they can become part of the fabric of our society.

MR. BUCHANAN:  They will go home.  Attrition—they will go home by attrition if you enforce the laws.  When the Italian folks came to this country late 19th, early 20th century, many of them stayed, got jobs, became citizens.  Some didn’t find what they wanted.  But because there was no welfare state, others went back home.  What I’m saying is don’t—you don’t run around, start deporting workers in this country who are nannies or mowing lawns or washing cars or things like that.  Deport the criminals, deport the gang members, deport the people who are a real problem.  The other thing can be taken care of itself by attrition.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  Well...

MR. RUSSERT:  Before we get—I want to talk about the politics of this.  According to The Wall Street Journal, NBC’s latest poll, Pat Buchanan, Hispanics now identify themselves as Democrats over Republicans 51 to 21.

MR. BUCHANAN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  When Governor Pete Wilson of California enacted Proposition 187 in 1994, he had received 47 percent of the Hispanic vote, it went down to 25.

MR. BUCHANAN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you believe that the Republican Party can continue to be a viable national party if Hispanics align against them by a margin of two to one?

MR. BUCHANAN:  Well first, take Pete Wilson.  He was 20 points behind, and he ran on the anti-illegal immigration Prop 187.  He won by 10 points, it was the greatest turnaround in California political history.

Second, your point is well taken.  You certainly do need Hispanic votes, I mean, because they’re a growing percentage of the population, 14.4 percent.  But, Tim, I’d remind you, Proposition 20 in Arizona, which all the Republicans opposed, said no welfare for people who can’t prove they’re citizens.  Forty-seven percent of Arizona Hispanics who were American citizens voted for it.  It won in a landslide.  It is wrong to say Hispanic-Americans don’t want the laws enforced, or don’t want their borders secured.  We can win those folks.  But you do not win them by granting mass amnesty to mass illegality.

MR. RUSSERT:  Will this bill pass the Senate?  Will it pass the House?  Will it be signed into law?

REP. GUTIERREZ:  It must.  It must pass in the Senate.

MR. RUSSERT:  Will it?

REP. GUTIERREZ:  I believe it will, Tim.  I believe it will.  And let me just say to Pat, I’m not for welfare benefits for the undocumented.  That’s not in our bill.  As a matter of fact, they’re ineligible for them.  We all know that.  That’s the law of the land.

Number two, I want to fingerprint them, Pat.  I want to get rid of those immigrants that have come here to cause damage and harm.  But I suggest to you that I want to keep the vast majority of them that do the kinds of labor that sweat and toil and that make America a better place for all of us to live in.

And Latinos are the fastest-growing segment of the electorate.  And let me just share with you, Pat, they’re not hordes to us.  They sit in the pew with me at church on Sunday.

MR. BUCHANAN:  Mm-hmm.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  Their children go to school with my children.  We play in the same playgrounds.  They’re an integral fabric of our community.  The last time I was on this program, I was with Congressman Bonilla and J.D. Hayworth.  They were both here.  They lost their re-elections.  They have espoused the same kinds of political positions on immigration that you have brought here today.

MR. BUCHANAN:  Mm-hmm.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  That’s Arizona...

MR. BUCHANAN:  Mm-hmm.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  ...lost two seats to Democrats.  The fact is that George Bush was able to win the presidency...

MR. BUCHANAN:  Mm-hmm.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  ...in great measure because he received 40 percent of the Hispanic votes.

MR. BUCHANAN:  OK.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  But Republicans are going to become a party of the past and irrelevant in national elections...

MR. BUCHANAN:  Right.  Well, what you’re saying...

REP. GUTIERREZ:  ...and in the Congress of the United States...

MR. BUCHANAN:  What you’re saying is...

REP. GUTIERREZ:  ...if we don’t change the texture and the tone of this debate and stop blaming immigrants...

MR. BUCHANAN:  Well, I—what you’re saying—yeah, but...

REP. GUTIERREZ:  ...and specifically Latinos for every ill that exists in this society.

MR. BUCHANAN:  Congressman, what you are...

REP. GUTIERREZ:  They are good contributors.  They are faithful Americans.

MR. BUCHANAN:  What you are saying...

REP. GUTIERREZ:  They die in Iraq.  Their names are etched in the Vietnam Memorial, and to make us all be criminals, I just think is wrong, unfair, and it is what is going to cost the Republican Party dearly in the future.

MR. BUCHANAN:  But—you know, if it’s saving this country from a mass invasion which has taken place on our southern border that the president will not stop and your party will not stop, if that means some of us have to go down to political defeat, then so be it.  But we’re going to defend this country, my friend...

REP. GUTIERREZ:  Pat, half of the undocumented that live in the United States did not come through that...

MR. BUCHANAN:  They over—they overstayed their visa.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  They didn’t come through that border.

MR. BUCHANAN:  Are they here illegally?

REP. GUTIERREZ:  They come from Ireland.  They come from India.

MR. BUCHANAN:  Are they here illegally?

REP. GUTIERREZ:  They come from Poland.  They come from all parts of the world...

MR. BUCHANAN:  What do they have in common?  They all have in common that they are illegal.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  ...to make this country.  Pat, if you focus simply on the border, they will continue to come as students, as guest workers to this country, as tourists to this country, and overstay.  I want to end illegal immigration as we know it.

MR. BUCHANAN:  They way to do it is punish it.

REP. GUTIERREZ:  Let’s work together to get that done.

MR. BUCHANAN:  Punish it!

MR. RUSSERT:  That has...

MR. BUCHANAN:  Punish illegal immigration, then, if you want to end it.

MR. RUSSERT:  That has to be the last word.  A pretty good microcosm of the debate we’re hearing all across the country.

Pat Buchanan, Congressman Gutierrez...

REP. GUTIERREZ:  Thank you so much.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...thank you very much.  Thank you.

Coming next, the race for the White House in 2008.  Lots of Democrats, lots of Republicans, and maybe one very wealthy independent, Mike Bloomberg the mayor of New York.  Our roundtable is next, only on MEET THE PRESS.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Our political roundtable, David Broder, John Harwood, Roger Simon, Gwen Ifill.  They are all here next, right after this station break.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Welcome all.  Let’s just pick up on immigration.  Here’s an article from the Los Angeles Times.  “Two conservative senators [Saxby Chambliss]” of Georgia, “[Lindsey Graham]” of South Carolina, “were booed by Republican crowds in their home states for endorsing the legalization effort.  And conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh attacked the Bush-backed plan as the ‘Destroy the Republican Party Act.’”

John Harwood, what is the immigration debate doing to the Republican Party?

MR. JOHN HARWOOD:  You know, one of the problems, Tim, is when your party is down, when it’s shrinking, your base has even more impact on incumbent officeholders.  And so the pressure that the right is bringing on this issue on Republicans is really isolating their party, putting them in a dangerous position for 2008.  Because when, you, you know, Pat talked about Pete Wilson.  There is some short-term gain that some advocates of his position can get.  But really, over the long term, you put your party in a bad place.  President Bush is right about this in a political sense, question is whether he can prevail this year.  A lot of Republican presidential candidates are hoping—who are attacking this bill are hoping it passes, because they want to get this issue off the table for general election purposes.

MR. RUSSERT:  David Broder, the Democrats—you stirred things up, you wrote a column about Harry Reid, the majority leader, suggesting some ineptitude in his behavior.  And 50 Democratic senators wrote a letter in lockstep to The Post, saying he’s done a skillful job, Broder’s wrong.  But you followed up with another column about Mr. Reid and his handling of immigration.  Let’s read it.  “[Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid may think that Bush will suffer if immigration reform is killed.  But the public is likely to put the blame where it principally belongs—on the leader of the party that runs the Senate.” Explain.

MR. DAVID BRODER:  Well, the Democrats have taken the position that they now will do with the nation’s business.  And if they’re not doing that business, and clearly the immigration issue is very much on people’s mind, I think they will suffer the same consequences that the Republicans suffered a year ago.  People are fed up with seeing Washington bickering, fighting, infighting and never dealing with the issue.

MR. RUSSERT:  Gwen Ifill, the approval rate for Congress is lower than that of President Bush.  One poll had it at 23, one had as low as 18.

MS. GWEN IFILL:  That’s why the president could come out in his radio address yesterday and call for political courage on the part of Congress on immigration because he’s got nothing to lose.  It’s a question of who do you despise more, according to these polls.

But, hey, David has a point.  What we just saw, this, this, this debate between the congressman and Pat Buchanan, Congressman Gutierrez, is exactly what this has all boiled down to, which is people taking their sides, digging in their heels and not searching for any middle ground at all, which is what would have to happen for this Senate bill, when it comes back up this week, to actually come to something.  So you wonder if, if there is any good faith left at all to come up with any conclusion that would actually get a bill out of the, out of the Senate or the House.

MR. RUSSERT:  The Democrats...

MR. HARWOOD:  Mike Bloomberg’s liking this debate.

MS. IFILL:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  We’re going to get to Mike Bloomberg in a little bit.

Roger Simon, the Democrats have told President Bush, “We can’t pass this alone.  In the House of Representatives, we’re going to need at least 60 of your members to come with us.” Does the president have the political juice to deliver 60 Republican congressmen?

MR. ROGER SIMON:  No.  His juice was spent on the war in Iraq.  But the point is how did the immigration matter become a crisis?  Was it a crisis a few years ago?  Immigration is a legitimate problem; it is not a legitimate crisis in America.  It was ginned up as a national security crisis to get Republican gains in the ‘06 elections, and it didn’t work, and now we’re still left with it as a crisis.  There are not thousands of terrorists coming over the border from Mexico.  The terrorists from 9/11 came legally from Saudi Arabia.

The difficulty of this bill—and the bill is worse than the status quo.  The illegal system we have now is better than this bill because it doesn’t promise anything.  The difficulty with this bill is that you can’t stop illegal immigration at the border.  You can only stop it at the work site, and this bill really doesn’t do anything to give employers a legitimate way of knowing illegal workers from legal ones.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to the 2008 race for the White House, start with Hillary Clinton.  Ron Fournier, the veteran political correspondent for the Associated Press, wrote a column in which he talked about Hillary Clinton’s sense of humor and her experience and her abilities on the campaign trail, but then wrote this.  “Slick Hillary?  Former president Clinton earned the nickname ‘Slick Willy’ for his mastery in the political arts of ducking and dodging.  He had a knack for convincing people on both sides of an issue that he agreed with them.

“His wife may not be as smooth, but Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is doing a passable impression of the ever-parsing former president.

“Would she pardon Scooter Libby?  No comment.  Would she nominate a union leader to be secretary of labor?  Maybe.  Would she repeal the North American Free Trade Agreement?  Can’t say.

“She told a crowd that she’d been calling for troop withdrawal ‘for some time,’ not mentioning that her rivals have held that position for a longer period.  On the other hand, she said some troops will need to remain in Iraq to contain al-Qaeda, protect Kurds, keep an eye on Iran, protect the U.S.  embassy and maybe train Iraqi forces.

“The answer offered a little something for everybody for or against U.S.  involvement in Iraq.  Pretty slick.”

Gwen Ifill, what’s your take?

MS. IFILL:  Come back with me for a moment, Tim, to 1992 when Bill Clinton was called Slick Willy.  And there was a restaurant in Little Rock that was called Slick Willy’s.  And we, as reporters, got infuriated by the fact that he always seemed to parse the facts.  Guess what?  He got elected.  Guess what?  Almost every other candidate in this race has some sort of slickness which has been attributed to them from Mitt Romney to Rudy Giuliani to Barack Obama.  And guess what?  It turns out that that doesn’t matter as much to people as the issues which concern them:  How are they going to get their kids in school?  How are they going to get their health care paid for?  So even though it infuriates us, and Ron is completely right about the questions that Hillary Clinton is really good at not answering, I don’t know that there’s any evidence that voters are sitting here thinking, “Well, I don’t know what she thinks.  I’ll have to vote for someone else.” No, they’re just paying attention to what she says they think they agree with.

MR. RUSSERT:  David Broder.

MR. BRODER:  I think Gwen’s right, and what Mrs. Clinton has done extremely well in every appearance that I’ve covered is to be well-briefed, well-prepared and delivers a message that resonates with that particular audience.  And in that respect, she’s very much like her husband was.

MR. RUSSERT:  The Clinton campaign, as you well know, released a video on their Web site, an excerpt, we’re going to show you.  This is a takeoff from the finale of “Soprano.” Let’s watch.

(Clip from Hillary Clinton campaign video)

MR. RUSSERT:  An attempt to soften her image...

MS. IFILL:  Can I just say as a “Sopranos” fan, after I watched the final “Sopranos” finale, I really felt jerked around, and I wonder if people are having this same response to this ad.

MR. RUSSERT:  We’ll find out, won’t we?  Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal wrote this:  “Hillary Clinton doesn’t have to prove to people that she’s tough enough or aggressive enough to be commander in chief.  She has to prove she has normal human warmth, a normal amount of give, of good nature, that she’s not, at bottom, grimly combative and rather dark.  A longtime supporter of Mrs. Clinton’s spoke with candor some months back of her friend’s predicament.  ‘We’re back where we were in ‘92--likability.  Nothing has changed.’”

John Harwood.

MR. HARWOOD:  Well, look, if you take a look at how weak the Republican brand is right now, how strong Democrats are generically as against Republicans, she’s in a very good position.  She doesn’t need to make mistakes at this point.  She’s solidified herself in the campaign trail.  As Ron’s article pointed out, she doesn’t exactly swing for the fences in all these public appearances, but she’s not making mistakes, she’s executing her campaign and, you know, we see—we saw a way for Barack Obama in the earlier part of the spring.  Now she’s sort of strengthened her position.

MR. SIMON:  Peggy, I think, is dead wrong on this one.  The calculation in the Clinton campaign is that after eight years of George Bush, the American people want competence this time, not likability.  And competence and strength is what’s going to win in 2008, not who do you want to go to the bar and have a beer with.  We’ve had eight years of that.  That’s the calculation.  And I think she’s executing that game plan very well.  Plus, since the bar is set so low, when you go to her speeches and you talk to the crowds afterwards, she always make a few self-deprecating jokes.  Everybody laughs.  You interview the people and they say, “She’s not so stern.  She’s not such a bad person.  She’s kind of funny.” It’s working.

MR. HARWOOD:  And, Tim, you saw in our Journal/NBC poll how low Barack Obama scored on the question of “has the experience ready to be president on day one.” She did very well on that.  That’s her key advantage right now.

MR. RUSSERT:  Obama’s money numbers apparently will be quite impressive, however.  Is he still in this race?

MR. HARWOOD:  He’s definitely still in this race.  And, look, John Edwards, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, they’re all going to have enough money to run a decent campaign.  Edwards isn’t going to have as much as the other two, but they could all compete.  Barack Obama definitely has a chance in this race.  He’s an exciting candidate, very charismatic.  He has a lot of assets.  But right now he’s got to show he can make some distance on that competence, ready to be president.

MR. RUSSERT:  Competitive in Iowa and New Hampshire and ahead in South Carolina is Obama as we speak.

MR. HARWOOD:  Sure.  And John Edwards remains ahead in Iowa.  He’s run a strong campaign there.  He’s got that four-state strategy, wants to do well in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and he’s not in a bad place right now.

MR. RUSSERT:  Rudy Giuliani, this is the way The New York Sun described his week.  “After a particularly tough day for his campaign, Mayor Giuliani has lost two top supporters—one to the White House, one who” would “be headed to prison on charges of distributing cocaine.  Mr. Giuliani’s top adviser in Iowa, Jim Nussle, is headed back to Washington to lead the Office of Management and Budget.  The Giuliani campaign announced the departure of its South Carolina chairman, Thomas Ravenel, after a federal grand jury indicted him on charges of distributing cocaine.

“The developments came on a day when the campaign was responding to a report in Newsday that Mr. Giuliani quit the Iraq Study Group last year after failing to show up for a single meeting.  The report said Mr. Giuliani missed the meetings to give paid speeches and that his absences prompted the panel’s Republican co-chairman, James Baker, to ask him either to start showing up or leave the group.” The Giuliani campaign said part of the equation was he was considering running for president at that time and that presence on the group may pose a potential conflict.  Several commission members have said to me that presidential politics never entered the discussion.  It was all about Giuliani’s schedule and commitments vs.  showing up for the Iraq Study Group.  What—does this week matter?

MS. IFILL:  Even if it were his presidential ambitions that kept him is that really a good answer?  That you were so political that you’d rather focus on politics than focus on the nation’s security when you were supposed—running as the top cop?  I don’t think he had a really good particularly good answer for that.  But, but the interesting thing for Giuliani is that he continues to lead all these national polls.  And we can debate to what degree national polls matter at this point.  But when you put him up against Senator Clinton, dead heat; when you put him up against Senator Obama, dead heat.  When you put Senator Clinton up against Senator Obama, she’s well ahead.  I mean, all of these mixtures right now of these polls don’t really matter because there’s such a—there’s such uncertainty about who these candidates are, that only—even the—even with Mayor Bloomberg, whom I’m sure we’ll get to in a moment, most people who know him say they wouldn’t vote for him.  So what’s—what is to read into any of this, including a single bad week for, for Mayor Giuliani?

MR. RUSSERT:  David Broder, Giuliani had been leading in the polls, was high as 48 percent at one time in the Republican Party, now down to about 25.  How do you size up his campaign?

MR. BRODER:  What goes up real fast can come down real fast, and I think his lead has looked fragile to me for some time.  I have had very few dealings with Mayor Giuliani, but I don’t know of anybody whose reputation is such that—I mean, the stories that you hear about Giuliani from people who’ve covered him in New York are devastating stories.  And this history of his—business history, political history and so on—I think will catch up with him.

MR. RUSSERT:  And yet terrorism is still a central issue on the minds of Americans, and there’s no one who can shape that issue and point to his performance on September 11th better than Rudy Giuliani.

MR. HARWOOD:  He’s got a strong card to play, but he’s also got some big problems within the Republican base.  And you look at somebody like Fred Thompson, not even in the race, not very well defined among Americans, but among those very conservative Republicans, he’s dominating Giuliani and the rest of the field.  And it just shows you that there’s a big softness to that Giuliani lead right now.  We’ll see how long he can keep it up.

MR. RUSSERT:  Roger Simon, Mitt Romney.  You wrote an article as a syndicated columnist about Mitt Romney and pardons.  And this is what you said:  “Romney says he had a standard when it came to” handling out—“handing out pardons as governor.  He didn’t want to overturn jury verdicts, and so he never granted a single pardon in his four years in office, a fact” he’s “enormously proud of today and repeatedly raises in his speeches.  But Romney’s standard is flexible when it comes to Libby, who was Dick Cheney’s chief of staff and whose cause has been taken up by the conservative Republican establishment.  And Romney’s true standard seems to be:  No pardons for nobodies.  Somebodies can catch a break.”

MR. SIMON:  Anthony Circosta, at age 13, shot another kid with a BB gun, didn’t break the skin, got arrested and was convicted of assault.  Doesn’t matter, grows up, works his way through college.  Goes to Iraq as part of the National Guard, wins a bronze star, wants to become a cop when he returns home to Massachusetts.  Applies to Mitt Romney from Iraq for a pardon so he can get this felony taken off his record, Romney says, “No, I don’t give pardons.” This is why people hate politics.  That doesn’t make any sense.  You make a political decision, “I don’t want to give any pardons, so I can say when I run for president I didn’t give any pardons,” and you work over a guy who’s just trying to be a cop and do good things for the state of Massachusetts.  Does that make sense?

MR. RUSSERT:  And we had this bizarre story where the—Governor Romney’s chief of operations, Jay Garrity, was accused of being a state trooper—trying to imitate...

MS. IFILL:  Posing.

MR. RUSSERT:  Posing as a state trooper, pulling a reporter over and, and, and—what is that about, John?

MR. HARWOOD:  Honestly, I’m mystified by that, the idea that you would try to run a New York Times reporter off the road and say you can’t go cover my campaign rally, I don’t get it.

MR. RUSSERT:  Romney is ahead, however, in Iowa and New Hampshire.  Does the entrance of Fred Thompson affect his race?  Or how do you see him?

MR. HARWOOD:  Well, it could.  We don’t really know what—how Fred Thompson’s going to define himself.  You know, what, what is his candidacy about?  He seems to be identified favorably by conservative Republicans as their guy of the moment.  That wasn’t necessarily his reputation as a United States senator.  He had some of that McCain maverick in him, certainly on campaign finance reform and other things.  So we don’t really know exactly how he’s going to position himself in the race and where he’s going to fit.  But I tell you what, Mitt Romney is quite well-positioned right now.  He’s doing very well in Iowa, doing well in New Hampshire, he’s doing well financially.  He’s becoming much better known, and his negatives are very low.  Watch Romney in this race.

MR. RUSSERT:  John—I’m sorry.

MS. IFILL:  For, for a guy who doesn’t readily identify himself anymore as a former Massachusetts governor, he’s doing very—one very cool thing today, he’s renting out Fenway Park for a fund-raiser.  So you got to, you got to give him some cleverness.

MR. BRODER:  One thing about Fred Thompson, I mean, that we do know, when he was a United States senator, he started a bunch of projects, but he didn’t finish very many of them.  And I’m a little skeptical about whether he really has the will and the energy and the, and the stick-to-itiveness to make this presidential race work.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, in a presidential race, we’ll find out pretty quickly or not about that.

Gwen Ifill, John McCain having some difficulties raising money, by his own admission, slipping in the polls a bit, even in—particularly in the early states.  What’s your sense of his campaign.

MS. IFILL:  I read somewhere he’s give—having, like, a fund-raiser a day between now and the second quarter deadline at the end of this month.  So he’s trying to re-establish himself as, at least, a serious person.  Immigration’s been a tough one for him because he actually took an issue and stuck with it.  I mean, there’s no slipperiness on where he’s been on immigration even though you could raise questions about other issues.

MR. RUSSERT:  And Iraq.

MS. IFILL:  And on Iraq.  And both of those issues have actually worked against him.  Credit is due to someone who sticks with an unpopular issue, even when they’re running for president.  That said, Fred Thompson is a huge threat to him because, in fact, the two of them have almost identical records, to the extent, extent that they have records in the Senate on, on issues like this.  And to the extent that anyone’s casting about in this campaign for somebody else, on both sides, it seems to me that John McCain is far more put in peril by that, that curiosity, that hunger, than someone like Hillary Clinton is.

MR. SIMON:  John—Fred Thompson is John McCain without the pain, without the pain of immigration, without the pain of being the poster child for the Iraq war, without the pain of campaign finance reform, reform, which the Republican Party has still not forgiven John McCain for.  But mostly now, it’s not even the war with the Republican Party, it’s immigration.  Immigration is more problematic for McCain with his fellow Republicans than abortion is for Rudy Giuliani.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to a man who made a lot of news this week, Mayor Mike Bloomberg of New York.  He used to be a Democrat, saw his way blocked to the mayoralty of New York in that party, so switched to be a Republican.  Has been elected twice as mayor of New York, wildly popular across the board—blacks, whites, Hispanics.  He changed his affiliation this week.  He said, “I’m no longer a Republican, I’m unaffiliated.  I’m an independent,” which raised a lot of speculation.  Does this mean he’s positioning himself for a presidential race?  Here’s the mayor’s own words on Wednesday.

(Videotape, Wednesday)

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG:  My intention is to be mayor for the next 925 days.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Which would put us well into 2009, David Broder, according to my math.  But he did say “my intention.” What’s your take?

MR. BRODER:  I went to see him about six months ago when I heard these rumors, and he said the same thing to me then, that he’s going to finish his term as mayor, as the best mayor ever, and then he’s going to become a philanthropist.

MS. IFILL:  Did he know exactly how many days he had left then?

MR. BRODER:  He did, actually.

MS. IFILL:  He did?  Yeah.  Funny about that.

MR. BRODER:  And it’s been his standard line.  He has a deputy mayor, Kevin Sheekey, who told me in very plain terms, “This guy would make a perfect presidential candidate, and here’s how we could do it.” I don’t know enough of the dynamics there to know whether Sheekey is the real Bloomberg spokesman or not.  But there clearly are people very close to him who see him as a presidential candidate.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, they know if the candidates are chosen by early February in the Democratic and Republican Parties, they don’t have to file petitions as an independent until May in Texas.  They’re going to see who’s in the field.  They have—he’s worth $8 billion, he can spend up to $1 billion of his own money, and then decide, and this is a big if...

MR. BRODER:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...can he get 35 percent?  He has no interest in being a spoiler or being another Ross Perot.  If he runs, he wants to win.

MR. SIMON:  For the Bloomberg scenario, I was going to call it a fantasy, but that would be cruel.  For the scenario to work, not just one party, but both parties have to nominate candidates at the extremes.  You have to have a Barry Goldwater on one side and a George McGovern on the other.  How likely is that to happen, especially since both parties know that Michael Bloomberg might enter the race?  Secondly, there’s an overemphasis on Bloomberg’s money.  If you give $5 to a presidential campaign, you’re going to vote for that guy or that woman.  If you self-finance your whole campaign, you don’t build any base of voter support.  It’s just you and your checkbook, and voters, in the end, tend to resent that.

MR. HARWOOD:  Extremely unlikely he can get 35 percent.  The question is does he get in anyway because he’s convinced himself that he might be able to pull it off, and how does he affect the race?  If Rudy Giuliani’s the Republican nominee, that would be very bad news for Giuliani, the Republican Party; they’re competing for the same space.  But if you have a polarizing race, where Hillary Clinton, say, is the Democratic nominee and a conservative—if Fred Thompson runs as a hard right Republican in the primaries and wins, that’s a good scenario for Bloomberg, and it could hurt Hillary Clinton because a lot of those upscale independents, normally lean Republican, might go to Hillary Clinton in that scenario.  Mike Bloomberg would give them another option.

MR. RUSSERT:  The Bloomberg folks believe that if each of the candidates have negatives in the high 40s, the Democrat and the Republicans, Hillary Clinton’s there and the Republican will be there, it’s wide open.  There’s one poll they point to, June of 1992:  Ross Perot, 39; George Herbert Balk—Worker—Walker Bush, 31; Bill Clinton, 25.

MS. IFILL:  And Bill Clinton got elected, you will recall, because of Ross Perot’s presence in the race.  I, I think the best thing that Mayor Bloomberg realized in timing his announcement is that we were entering the summer, and we are desperate to pull out an electoral maps and begin to say, “Well, let’s see, if you shave some votes from California and a few votes from New York, and, wow, there’s a great big New York expatriate population in Florida, he could really upend things.” But let’s take this another way.  Let’s just look at the electoral college.  He could completely run an electoral college election.  Nobody is paying attention to those formulations except us.  But that’s all he needs is us.

MR. RUSSERT:  And they will...

MR. HARWOOD:  Here’s the key difference, though, Tim.  In 1992, the unpopular President Bush was running for re-election.  This President Bush is going to go off stage.  If he were the nominee against Hillary Clinton, maybe Ross Perot—I mean, maybe Mike Bloomberg would have an opening.  But that’s not going to happen.

MR. SIMON:  Let’s suspend our disbelief for Mayor Bloomberg.  We don’t say, as we say in Hillary, “Is he warm enough?  Is he captivating enough?  Is he good on the stump?  What’s his position on Iraq?  What’s his health care plan?” All we care about now is he has money.

MR. RUSSERT:  I...

MR. SIMON:  He doesn’t have a credible plan of getting 270 electoral votes, but he has money.

MS. IFILL:  Well, he does say he’s not running for president.  I mean, let’s give him credit.

MR. SIMON:  We should believe...(unintelligible).

MS. IFILL:  I’m willing to believe whatever they tell me.

MR. RUSSERT:  And the more, the more this is discussed, it only enhances his abilities and power as a lame duck mayor.

MR. SIMON:  Yeah.

MS. IFILL:  Yeah.

MR. BRODER:  You guys are much too dismissive.  There is such a distaste out there among the people for both these parties, and what the Democratic Congress is doing to destroy the reputation of any Democrat who comes out of Congress, as all of the major candidates do, and what George Bush has done to destroy the credibility of any Republican running as his successor leaves it wide open, if not for Bloomberg then for somebody else to come down the middle.

MR. HARWOOD:  You think an independent could be elected?

MR. BRODER:  Absolutely.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me show you one last poll question before we go.  NBC News/Wall Street Journal 2008 presidential election:  Prefer a Democrat, 52; prefer a Republican, 31.  Twenty-one point gap.  But as Gwen pointed out earlier, when you match Clinton vs.  Giuliani—one poll has a tie, one poll has Hillary up five or six points—it, it closes dramatically.  Why?

MS. IFILL:  Because people don’t know yet what they think.  And because people don’t yet—know yet who these—I mean, 44 percent of Republican voters—Giuliani’s supporters don’t know that he’s pro-abortion rights.  So what does that tell you about how strong his support is, or what these head-to-heads mean?  So you know, I think that the—this—the incredible unpopularity among—with the Republican Party that most Americans have right now does leave some sort of softness there for somebody to come in the middle.  I just—I’ll be curious.  I, I see—I bow to David Broder and his assessment, and I’ll be curious to see if Mike Bloomberg is the one who can walk down the middle of that.

MR. RUSSERT:  John Harwood, 21 point gap, and it’s a generic test, I’m for the Democrat over the Republican.  But when you put it candidate vs.  candidate, it narrows dramatically.

MR. HARWOOD:  What it tells you is the shape of the playing field is very decidedly tilted toward the Democrats.  People want change from President Bush.  However, these things all come down to, to contests of individuals.  Hillary Clinton has very high negatives.  Any Republican—credible Republican is going to be in a competitive position against her, is not going to be terribly far behind.  And so it tells you that there’s still some uncertainty about how this is going to go next year, if she’s the nominee.

MR. RUSSERT:  You all could stay right here, we’re going to have more with our roundtable later in the afternoon online.  We’re going to ask them about their most interesting and strangest moments on the campaign trail.  These are veteran political reporters.  Our MEET THE PRESS Take Two Web extra on our Web site this afternoon, mtp.msnbc.com.  We’ll be right back.

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MR. RUSSERT:  Start your day tomorrow on “Today” with Matt and Meredith, then the “NBC Nightly News” with Brian Williams.  That is all for today.  We’ll be back next week.  If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.

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