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Interview With Tom Tancredo

Aired March 4, 2007 – 11:00 ET


TANCREDO: There’s nothing compassionate about giving amnesty to millions of people who have broken into our country.


BLITZER: Congressman Tom Tancredo, Republican of Colorado, speaking on his turf on the issue of immigration reform. He was speaking Friday at the conservative Political Action Conference that’s been underway here in Washington. The congressman is joining us now from Denver to talk about his outspoken views on immigration, the war, how he expects to stand out in such a crowded presidential field.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us on “Late Edition.”

TANCREDO: Sure. It’s a pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: I want to talk about Iraq, first of all. Explain precisely your stance on the president’s new strategy to increase the number of U.S. troops in Baghdad and Al Anbar province.

TANCREDO: OK, I would not have and I did not support that, whether you want to call it a surge or a reinforcement or whatever, and I didn’t so because primarily I listened to the people on the ground, I listened to the generals who were in charge of the operation. I remember General Casey specifically in front of a Senate committee saying that he had talked with every single commander on the ground. Not one of them supported such an increase or believed that it was necessary, and in fact, would be counterproductive because it would only make the Iraqis more dependent on the United States. As a matter of fact, I believe that is exactly what the problem is that we’re facing today.

And I should tell you also, Wolf, that contrary to what I’ve heard everyone else say so far, either condemning the idea of the surge or, as the president wants to explain it, a reinforcement, and in talking about an immediate withdrawal and whether we should have it or not, here’s what I really believe is happening.

I think it’s a relatively moot point, and here’s what I mean by that. I think we are at the end game. I think that the increase in the number of troops that we’ve sent to Iraq is simply the beginning of the end game. We are leaving Iraq. We are leaving there relatively soon. I don’t why a lot of people have not paid more attention to what the president said when he talked about the war…


BLITZER: When the U.S. is leaving, is the U.S. going to leave with a defeat or with a victory?

TANCREDO: It remains to be seen, quite frankly. We don’t know. But I’m telling you that we are going to be leaving. The president has sent a message. Do you remember when he said — I don’t know why a lot of people haven’t focused on this, but he said, “I’m establishing a benchmark. And that benchmark is November. And by November,” he said, “every single province” — 18 provinces — “in Iraq will be under control of the Iraqi government.”

Well, to me, that is a pretty strong statement to anybody who’s listening that that’s the end of the line. And Iraq better understand it, the people of the United States certainly want it. There is not enough support in this country to continue beyond that.

We are leaving Iraq, we are leaving relatively soon. There are various scenarios that will play out, that could play out, after we leave, and we can talk about them and how we can address them, but the fact is we are leaving.

BLITZER: There was a report that came out this week on the National Guard in the United States, basically saying they are stretched way too thin, they’re on the verge of collapse, the equipment is not there, the training is not there, in large measure because of the emergencies in Iraq and Afghanistan and also to a lesser degree the Katrinas, the other natural disasters that have occurred here in the United States. How worried are you that the National Guard right now is broken?

TANCREDO: I am worried about it. I feel as though we have, just as you say, stretched them as far as they can be stretched. I believe that they have done yeoman’s work. We should be proud of every single person who has served in this war. We should be especially proud of the families and consoling to the families that have lost family members or have had family members injured in this war.

Look, it could have been and, in fact, was a noble endeavor. No one should go back on and no one should have recriminations about the fact that we tried. But at the point in time we now are looking at the situation, I’m telling you that we must begin the process of withdrawal from Iraq. It is not helping us in the all-out war, the bigger war against radical Islam.

BLITZER: All right. Let’s move on to talk about your signature issue as you seek the Republican nomination. That would be border security, immigration, illegal immigrants here in the United States. I want to play for you a clip of what the president said in his State of the Union Address to Congress last month.


BUSH: We cannot fully secure the border unless we take pressure off the border, and that requires a temporary worker program. We should establish a legal and orderly path for foreign workers to enter our country to work on a temporary basis.


BLITZER: Do you have a problem with that?

TANCREDO: Hello, Mr. President, Wolf, we have it. There are literally scores of programs that we now operate to let people come into this country legally. The immigration program alone lets about 1.25 million people into this country every year, more than any other country, we take in legally through the immigration process. That’s just immigration. That’s not visas.

In terms of visas, wolf, do you realize — and I don’t know whether the president realizes this, but let’s talk about H-2A visas which are the kind that allowed for people to come in and do agricultural work. There are no limits on those visas. You can have as many as you want.

People don’t use them because, of course, there are restrictions in terms of pay, in terms of providing some sort of housing, in terms of providing some sort of health care. So they would rather use illegal immigrants.

If any of our visa programs need modernizing, need some sort of change, I’m for looking at that. But the idea that all of a sudden — he’s presenting it as if we do not have a guest worker program today, and we do, and is also suggesting, which I think is really — it borders on disingenuous to say that the only way we can secure the border is to have a guest worker program. Baloney. We can secure our borders. We choose not to secure the border. We can do so, though.

BLITZER: All right, let’s continue, because, as you know, there’s an effort underway right now, especially in the Senate, to revive an effort to get comprehensive immigration reform. Senators McCain and Kennedy are working on that together with the president. They roughly agree on what the U.S. should do.

You disagree with them, but listen to Senator Arlen specter, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He disagrees with you as well. Listen to this.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, R-PA.: But it’s a practical impossibility to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. It is not amnesty to have legislation which imposes a fine, requires people to learn English, that requires people to pay back taxes, puts them at the end of the line.


BLITZER: He’s talking about a pathway towards citizenship for some of the millions of illegal immigrants in the country right now. The president supports something along those lines as well. You don’t. Why?

TANCREDO: I do not. I do not, and when he starts out with the statement that is so often thrown out there and then just left to linger, well, you know, what are we going to do? You can’t just simply deport people who are here, you can’t deport 11 million to 20 million people.

Well, first of all, Wolf, you could. I mean, the reality is you could. So people should not be allowed to just state that as an absolute fact.

The other reality, however, is you don’t have to. All you have you have to do is begin enforcing the law, especially against people who are hiring people who are here illegally, and you will see an attrition process that will reduce the number of illegal aliens in this country quite dramatically.

And then the people will not go home voluntary, you do deport, because that’s the law, and yes, you can do it.

BLITZER: All right. Here’s what Senator John McCain says. He’s quoted in the February issue of Vanity Fair.

BLITZER: He disagrees with you as well: “In the short term, it probably galvanizes our base. In the long term, if you alienate the Hispanics, you’ll pay a heavy price. By the way, I think the fence is least effective.”

He says you have to find a way to have comprehensive immigration reform. He doesn’t like the idea of building a fence along the U.S.- Mexican border. He wants the reform to include not only the guest worker program, but the pathway towards citizenship.

TANCREDO: You know what else he went on to say in that particular interview? He said, well, if those — essentially pointing to, you know, the unwashed masses, all the stupid people out in the United States who are demanding a fence, if they really want it, he’ll give them a g-d fence. That’s the rest of the article. It goes to show you what his attitude is toward the American people. I mean, he’s quite an elitist there.

BLITZER: Let me press you on that point. If he’s the Republican presidential nominee, would you vote for him?

TANCREDO: No, I would not. And I’m going do everything I can to make sure that he is not the Republican presidential nominee. But I should tell you also that beyond that, just the idea of a — some sort of guest worker program again that will solve all of our problems, we did it in 1986.

Doesn’t anybody remember that? We tried exactly what these people are proposing. All it led to, of course, was what you would just expect it would lead to, far more illegal immigration. When you reward people for a certain kind of behavior, you’re going to get more of it. When you reward illegal immigration, you’ll get more people who are illegal coming into the country.

BLITZER: All right. Congressman, we’ll end on a political note. The conservative Political Action Conference, you addressed the group here in Washington over the weekend. They had their straw poll last night. Mitt Romney came in with 21 percent. Rudy Giuliani 17 percent, Sam Brownback 15 percent, Newt Gingrich 14 percent, John McCain 12 percent.

You were down below, as you are in all of the recent Republican presidential polls. You have a long way ahead of you, Congressman. TANCREDO: We sure do. That’s absolutely true. Never did I get into this thinking that I’d be at the top of the polls, certainly at this particular point in time. I recognize fully well what’s ahead of me and what’s in store and how much we have to work.

I’ll also tell you that Romney, for instance, paid for hundreds and hundreds of people to come in, and they turned into votes for him. Other campaigns did the same thing. We should not be too surprised that we see these kinds of things, and we should not think of them as truly reflective of the broad population of Republican primary voters.

I think I’ll do better when it’s really people walking into a voting booth, and it’s just between them and that voting booth. There’s nobody looking, and there’s nobody paying.

BLITZER: Tom Tancredo, Republican of Colorado. He’s seeking the Republican presidential nomination. Congressman, thanks for coming in.

TANCREDO: You bet, Wolf. It’s been a pleasure.

C O M M E N T S : now closed