Roundtable: Immigration Debate, Rice in 2008?

Topics: Debate on a bill to curb illegal immigration heats up on Capitol Hill; Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she won't run for president in 2008; and a look at racism in France. Guests: Washington Post editor Joe Davidson; Callie Crossley, a social and cultural commentator on the television show Beat the Press; and Robert George, editorial writer for the New York Post.

ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon. On today's Roundtable, thousands hit the street to fight to stay in the United States, and the French say they have a bit of a prejudice.

Joining us today to discuss these topics and more from our NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., Joe Davidson. He's an editor at the Washington Post. From our New York bureau, Robert George, editorial writer for the New York Post, and Callie Crossley, social and cultural commentator on the television show Beat the Press, which is seen in Boston and its surrounding areas. She joins us today from the Harvard University studios in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it says here.

All right, guys. Thanks so much. So many people, Robert George, talking about the sheer numbers of people we saw out in the streets this weekend. I think it surprised some. Upwards, when you do the math, we got close to a million people across the country demonstrating the issue of immigration, illegal and otherwise, as the Senate judiciary committee meets starting today to take a look at what has been talked about. What did this demonstration mean, if anything, to this fight?

Mr. ROBERT GEORGE (Editorial Writer, New York Post): Well, I think, obviously, the supporters of either relaxing or, in a sense, creating, whether you want to call it guest worker or amnesty for illegal immigrants or undocumented workers, whatever you want to call them. I mean, I think want to show that there's, that the number is so large, that some major policy has to be done.

I'm concerned, however, that it may very well have a backlash. I think it could very well inspire some of those people. We've got Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, who is practically fashioning his own dark house 2008 campaign around the fact that they're illegal here, and he had some very vitriolic language about it. So, I'm wondering whether these kind of protests actually may have done a disservice to the immigration fight.

GORDON: Joe Davidson, the interesting point here, and we'll have Senate majority leader Harry Reid on with us tomorrow, is this is really starting to draw the battle lines between Republicans and Democrats, and also internal fighting between Republicans. How much of the political issue is going to take over and lose sight of the human issue of those just trying to survive, quite frankly?

Mr. JOE DAVIDSON (Editor, Washington Post): Well, I think that was very much on the minds of those demonstrators around the country over the last several days. A lot of these people were saying, look, we simply want to work, and the employers, many employers of course, are saying that they need these workers in order to keep the economy going. So, it is not just a political argument. It's not just an economic argument.

There are some very real human dynamics here that sometimes can get lost in all of the politicking and the policy debates certainly here in Washington. But I think those kinds of questions definitely come home to politicians when they have to face the voters. Now, many of these people, of course, if they're in the country illegally, they cannot vote, but they do have many supporters, and I think that was seen in California several years ago when they passed proposition 187, which was kind of a harsh state measure directed at immigrants.

And many Republicans ended up losing because of that, so it's, you know, it's a political calculation that, I think, Republicans, in this case in particular, need to be aware of.

GORDON: Callie, quite frankly, I think we're seeing a lot of knee-jerk reaction to a problem that has been growing and growing over the years. And when you start hearing phrases like amnesty and guest worker program, and you go to middle America--I saw a report yesterday with a group that clearly suggested that the town didn't want to do some of these jobs that the illegals were doing, but when you went to the coffeehouse, you know, the guy with the trucker's hat on literally said, shoot them. Send them back. We don't need them anymore.

Ms. CALLIE CROSSLEY (Commentator, Beat the Press): Well, you know what? It's knee-jerk in one way, Ed, but at the same time, it's the same kind of reaction that's been building over time. As some of the politicians that Joe and Robert referred to have been stirring the pot, thinking that it's going to be to their advantage to characterize the good Americans, the guy with the hat that says shoot them and send them back, because I'm here paying taxes and they aren't.

Well, the bottom line is, and I think Joe pointed this out, in those crowds of millions, or at least a million, there were people who are not illegal. They are here legally. They are working. They are paying taxes, and they're saying, hello, wait a minute. What's going on here? We are sick and tired of being demonized in the way that this conversation often goes. And so I think it really is going to come down to some really hard choices and not maybe so clean a line as just Democrat and Republicans might like it to be, because there's some tough issues there, and by them time that people really have to stand up and be clear about what they mean when they say this is how we should offer work here, what they mean by this is how we should keep folks out.

And here's the thing. Wait a minute. Let me just make this point. If the United States really wanted to make that border so that nobody could get in, they could do it. So they're not doing it, and it all centers around the employers, in my opinion. This is a wink and a nod. The employers have been doing this and people are doing the work that a lot of Americans don't want to do, and it's been going on for years and now push has come to shove.

Mr. GEORGE: But you know, I'm a little bit concerned though...

GORDON: Let me just make this note, Robert, before you go any further, just so we'll get the phone calls, I know. There will be some who will say that Callie's being a little Pollyanna about really, truly securing the border, because it's not just the border entering Mexico, you know, or Tijuana, or a small hole in the fence. It's a long border we're talking about across the country.

Mr. GEORGE: Well, there were two things there. A, it's a long border we're talking about here, but I mean, there's also this issue, though, of, I mean we're looking at this in terms--the reason why the Republicans are kind of split on it, and there's also the Republican versus Democrat dynamic...

Mr. DAVIDSON: Well, they're split because '06 is midterm.

Mr. GEORGE: Well, yeah, but...

Mr. DAVIDSON: Come on. Let's be honest about it.

Ms. CROSSLEY: That's right.

Mr. GEORGE: People are focusing on the Hispanic issue here, but you know, what about the question of where black people are on this? I mean, it was only just, I think it was just last year where Vicente Fox said, well, you know, America needs to deal with this immigration problem, because my people want to go to America because they want to get the jobs that nobody else, including black people, want to do, which I thought was a rather outrageous statement.

However, the issue, this issue, is impacting black folks to the extent that there's a lot of struggle for some of these same entry-level jobs, and I think we shouldn't just completely ignore about the fact that the black folks do get impacted by the...

GORDON: All right. Joe Davidson...

Mr. DAVIDSON: Well, I think that's true.

GORDON: Let me do this, Joe, because I've got to move off this topic. Pick up on that point if you will. While Robert's clearly correct in that there is an impact to the African-American community when he talks about blacks' role in all of this. I don't hear black people talking about this fight.

Mr. DAVIDSON: Yes, I was just getting ready to say that. I think there clearly is an economic impact. You can walk down any of the construction sites, certainly, in Washington and other cities, and you can see that the lower-level workers are by and large Hispanic, where a few years ago, many of them would have been black. So there's clearly that economic impact, but nonetheless it does not become a political issue. It has not become a political issue with the same currency in the black community that it has in the communities of the southwestern part of the United States.

GORDON: All right. All right. I've got to stop you there, Robert, because I've got to move on to the next topic, and that is that whoever, whether we want to believe it or not, in terms of it being solely a political issue, and it's certainly going to be one in '06, but whoever wins the White House in '08 will probably have to deal with this issue. I don't think we're going to come to any conclusion in two years, and one of the people and one of the names being bandied about consistently and constantly is Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state.

Here's what she had to say when our friend at NBC News, Tim Russert, asked her once again whether she's a real candidate.

Mr. TIM RUSSERT (Reporter, NBC News): If the President came to you and said, Dick Cheney's going to resign. I want you to be my Vice President, because I want you to run in 2008, you wouldn't say no.

Secretary of State CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Tim, I think we've been through this conversation about 2008. I'm not going to do that. That's not what I want to do with my life.

Mr. RUSSERT: Laura Bush said you'd make an excellent president, and I don't think we can talk her into running.

Ms. RICE: Well, I really appreciate that the First Lady, who I admire very much, thinks that, but the last part of that's right.

Mr. RUSSERT: Will not happen.

Ms. RICE: I don't think it's going to happen.

GORDON: Don't think it's going to happen. Didn't say it wouldn't, but here's the point. Often, those of us who sit in these chairs want to make news, so every time we sit with someone like that, or Colin Powell years ago, we push that question and push that question. Here's my question, Callie. If she ran, if she ran, can a black woman win?

Ms. CROSSLEY: That black woman might be able to win. because I would say a fair amount of...

GORDON: You think so.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Yes. Well, I've just got to say. Even despite some serious political differences, there would be some about of crossover from folks from other parties just out of the, you know, credit to the race thing going on. And she has a lot of strong support...

GORDON: That being said, there'd be probably some defection, too.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, that would be true.

GORDON: From white America, I would bet.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Some, but there'd also be some gaining there, as well. I think, you know, she'd have a reasonable shot.

GORDON: Joe, handicap it for me.

Mr. DAVIDSON: Well, I think it would be still very difficult. I think one for Condoleezza Rice to, talking specifically as opposed to generically, she really doesn't have a political base. She would have to develop one. She's never run anywhere, so you can't really cite a political base at this point. And often, dealing in foreign policy doesn't develop you, doesn't help you develop a base, because a lot of people don't care about foreign policy.

You know, more generally, could a black woman or a black person win? I think that time is coming. I think certainly, somebody like Colin Powell would have a good possibility. He, again, would have the political base question, or issue, but I think that time has come. It's not going to be the next election, but maybe a few more down the road.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Let me address, if I could...

Mr. GEORGE: She...

GORDON: Hang on, Callie, hang on.

Mr. GEORGE: She's certainly the fantasy candidate, I think, for a number of Republicans. She, of course, I think would have difficulty actually getting through the Republican primary. But I think there's also something that we have to look at reality here. There has been only one unmarried president of the United States and that was James Buchanan. There's never been a woman candidate, a woman president, and there's never been a black candidate, president.

And I just don't think we're going to be breaking three glass ceilings at once, with say a Condoleezza Rice. And I think she actually, she recognizes that and that's why she wants to go in a different direction.

GORDON: Callie, go ahead.

Ms. CROSSLEY: That may well be true. I just wanted to say that, with regard to the political base. One of the things that's interesting about a lot of the, so-called frontrunners on both sides of the isle, is that many of them are trying to garner some really, just some name recognition, but also their own base. So to a little bit she could maybe, because nobody else has a really, really strong base so far, unless you're looking at McCain.

Mr. DAVIDSON: But she also doesn't have any experience running as a candidate.

Mr. GEORGE: Exactly.

Mr. DAVIDSON: You know, you get, you learn things when you're a candidate even if it's for county commissioner.

Mr. GEORGE: Nor, Joe, does she have...

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well I agree.

Mr. GEORGE: ...seem to have the stomach and this is just an observation from afar, but a stomach for the political side of the game.

Mr. DAVIDSON: Look she doesn't want it; she wants to be NFL commissioner. She doesn't want it if the president asked her. She doesn't want it if Laura Bush asked her. She wants to be the NFL commissioner. And I agree with your original statement, Ed, that folks in our positions we keep asking people these questions, as if we have...

Ms. CROSSLEY: Mm hmmm.

Mr. DAVIDSON: ...no imagination or we have no other subject to talk about. I mean, she doesn't want to do it.

GORDON: All right, I think if the president did ask her to be vice president she would accept it, but she would say with the proviso, I'm not going to be running in 2008.

Mr. DAVIDSON: I agree with that.

GORDON: All right let me take us to something interesting that we found out of France again, perhaps no surprise, that one third of French people suggested that they felt themselves a bit racist. This is a survey taken face to face, we should note, face to face, which is often different in this, with this kind of questioning of over a 1,000 people. Some 33 percent suggested they were somewhat or a little bit racist and that's up from eight percent last year.

Many people suggesting the poll revealed the deep economic and social anxiety, which often raises these tensions. But Callie any surprise or applaud to the French, who are admitting this upfront?

Ms. CROSSLEY: No surprise. And I think we could get some sense of that when, when the last elections were, came around and the right-wing guy won and people were saying, oh my goodness, oh my goodness.

I think that the fact that the people are in the streets protesting issues that have been going on for a number of years and yet have been pretty much swept to the side. When those riots burst on the scene and brought international attention, I think we got a window into what was really happening in France. So I'm not surprised at all by this report.

GORDON: And, Joe, we should note that often in this country when we talk about prejudice or racism we think black/white. But in France and certainly in Europe and in particular in France, we're talking about a large Jewish population, Muslims, North Africans, et cetera.

Mr. DAVIDSON: Yeah that's true. And kind of one interesting aspect, or maybe a side show perhaps to this, is there's a black comedian in France by the name of Dieudonne Z(ph), and I'm sure I'm butchering his name. But he's being criticized for being anti-Semitic. So you're right about that, Ed. This situation in France takes on other dimensions that perhaps we aren't so familiar with here, where everything is basically literally black or white, or now brown as well.

Mr. GEORGE: Well, first of all I don't think it's much a surprise. In fact, the only thing that's a surprise is that I think that one-third is probably actually low. First of all, I mean we know about the Oprah incident that happened last year. And that was in the context of the tensions that were going on between the native born French and the North African and the African Americans.

GORDON: That incident being, for those who are not familiar, Oprah was not let into a high-end boutique store...

Mr. GEORGE: The big Hermes.

GORDON: ...in Paris.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Hermes.

GORDON: Hermes Store in France, exactly. And I also think that the riots were, I think, were both a symptom and also a cause of what these numbers are. Because I think it said that the last time they asked this question it jumped from eight percent, it's jumped from eight percent to 33 percent. And I think that those riots definitely...

GORDON: It jumped up eight percentage points.

Mr. GEORGE: Oh I'm sorry it jumped up eight percentage points. And I definitely think those, I think those riots definitely had something to do with that.

Mr. DAVIDSON: And you know, speaking of...

Mr. GEORGE: You know, it's interesting, they're also blaming the expanding, the expanding hip-hop in France as well for some of that as well.

Mr. DAVIDSON: You know, another interesting aspect of that is the student demonstrations that got violent here recently. I was reading the European press over the weekend and it said that, and this is what the report stated, I'm not confirming it. But that the demonstrators who become violent were those from "the immigrant suburbs," which is often...

GORDON: Mm hmmm.

Mr. DAVIDSON: ...euphemism for North African and darker people from other parts, not necessarily North Africa.

GORDON: Here's what's interesting to me, Callie, about this and why I raised the issue of it being face to face and it may show you how deep this is running right now as a blip on the screen. But often when you ask this question face to face, people aren't as honest as they might be on the phone, because you're identifying them.

So to see this increase in a face-to-face survey really does speak to perhaps the boiling tension that we see.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Maybe their just not as sophisticated at telling of fibs as we are here when the people do those exit polls. And people just lie right to the faces of a lot of pollsters, even at that point after some elections.

I think face to face says that it runs deep, and I think Robert is right that probably what we, what they have said the percentages are, are really quite low. And I think that there's going to be more bubbling up and I fear more horrific kind of rioting that took place that we saw last summer happening again.

GORDON: Let's hope that does in fact doesn't happen. But we, we will see. Robert Gorge, Callie Crossley, Joe Davidson, and Joe if you see the secretary, don't forget to ask her, are you running in 2008?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GORDON: And Callie I think you need to join a paper called The Post as well, Callie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GORDON: Thanks guys appreciate it.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Okay.

GORDON: Next up on NEWS AND NOTES our tech contributor Mario Armstrong has tips for avoiding information overload on the Web. And the union fight to get African-Americans back in the hotel industry. We'll take a look.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: I'm Ed Gordon next time on NEWS AND NOTES, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid joins me to talk about the War in Iraq, immigration and the upcoming mid-term elections, can democrats capitalize on The Presidents falling poll numbers. That's next time on NEWS AND NOTES from NPR News.

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