Former Mississippi Governor and Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that U.S. immigration laws need to be changed and urged his party to reach out to minorities.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT, HOST, POLITICAL CAPITAL: We begin the show with former Mississippi Governor and RNC Chair Haley Barbour. Good to be with you.
HALEY BARBOUR, FORMER GOVERNOR, MISSISSIPPI: Thank you, Al. Thanks for having me back.
HUNT: Four years ago, at a very -- Barack Obama was dancing at his inaugural ball, there’s now a well-chronicled story of a bunch of prominent Republicans meeting in a restaurant that you owned at the time and plotting the way they were going to oppose Obama and win back the House. They were at least partially successful there. What’s the challenge Republicans face now, compared to four years ago?
BARBOUR: Well, I think you need to start off that a lot of Republicans think we could have won the election in ’12 for president and for the Senate, that we didn’t run a very good campaign. Mitt Romney, I think, would have made a great president. He is a wonderful human being. But his campaign allowed him to be turned into an ogre for -- so many people in the United States think he’s a rich white guy that doesn’t care about the people like them.
So we have to come out with a better campaign in 2016. We’ve got to face up to some demographic issues, you know. But, remember, both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush did very well among Hispanics. And Asian-Americans, who voted more for Obama this time than Hispanics.
HUNT: Obama laid down the gauntlet in that inaugural address. Did you see anything that you thought Republicans could find common ground with him?
BARBOUR: Very little. And that was, of course, intentional. And inaugural addresses -- State of the Union addresses, that’s not that unusual -- but for an inaugural address, I thought it was quite unusual. He talked -- what he seemed interested in was gun control, global warming, gay marriage. But when it came down to talking about the budget, he essentially said, yeah, we ought to reduce the deficit, but -- and here we’re going to spend this money and spend this money and spend this money and spend this money. And almost everything in there accented the polarization that we have in the American political system today.
HUNT: You brought up the question of the Latino vote and the Asian vote a minute ago. There’s now talk about immigration reform, and some Republicans saying we have to get on the right side of this and disavow that kind of platform we had before. George W. Bush, as you pointed out, did very well. He called for a pathway to citizenship for all the 11 million undocumented or illegal workers who are here now. Should Republicans embrace that?
BARBOUR: Well, let me just start off by reminding your viewers two presidents in our lifetime have pushed for a comprehensive immigration reform, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, both Republicans.
HUNT: Right. Right.
BARBOUR: I -- when I was thinking about running for president -- talked about immigration reform. If we will follow what’s good economic policy, we will recognize that we are in a global battle for capital and for labor. We need the labor, not just H-1B visas for Ph.D.s and engineers from India, but also we need agricultural labor. California, our biggest ag state, they say 50 percent to 70 percent of the workers who work there are undocumented. That’s bad for our economy.
Republicans need to be for what’s good for -- what is good for the economy, and immigration reform is needed for -
HUNT: Would the Bush pathway to citizenship be the way to go?
BARBOUR: Well, I think this. We’ve got 3 million, 4 million Latinos who are in this country, many of whom have worked for years and years and years and years. We don’t need to replace them. If they’ve got a job, paid their taxes, never committed a crime, been a good citizen, why would we want to send them home?
HUNT: If they meet those tests, then we ought to come up with some kind of pathway?
BARBOUR: Then we ought to let them have a -- whether you call it a guest worker visa or legal status. Now, if they want to become a citizen, there’s another way -- another process -
HUNT: But we’re not going to send them back.
BARBOUR: Of course we’re not.
BARBOUR: I mean, even if you want to, you couldn’t send them back.
HUNT: Haley, let me ask you this. Newt Gingrich said the other day that Republicans have to start to reconsider their views on marriage equality. Should the party now disavow their opposition to gay marriage?
BARBOUR: No, of course not. Look, in the two-party system, both parties are necessarily coalitions.
BARBOUR: Abortion has been the issue most of my career that sort of this is settled on. Well, about 40 percent of Republicans are pro-choice, and about 40 percent of Democrats are pro-choice -- I mean, are pro-life. You’ve got a large, large number of African-Americans who are as pro-life as the most conservative Republican.
The same thing is true about gay marriage. There are people in our party who are perfectly comfortable with that, who are advocates of that. There are gay people in the Republican Party.
HUNT: But -
BARBOUR: And they’re just as good a Republican as I am.
HUNT: You know, Haley, the difference is, abortion views don’t change. Young people have the same views as the elderly. With gay marriage, young people overwhelmingly support it. It seems that the trends of history, which are unchanged on abortion, are against that position on gay marriage.
BARBOUR: I’m not -- I’m going to take your word for what you said about abortion. I’m not sure that I would have thought that. But there’s no question that every generation of Americans is more tolerant. And the biggest thing for me about Republicans is, you know, I am pro-life. You know, I believe that marriage is an institution, a union between one man and one woman. And I believe other people have every right in the world to have a different opinion, and they’re just as good of people and just as good of Republicans as I am.
BARBOUR: You don’t have to agree with Haley Barbour on everything -
HUNT: So you need to be more tolerant or inclusive of people with different views on those sort of issues?
BARBOUR: And every other sort of issue. You know, my old boss man, Ronald Reagan, used to say, remember, a fellow who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is your friend and ally, he’s not some 20 percent traitor.
HUNT: Exactly. How about women? You lost it by 11, 12 points each of the last two elections. What should Republicans do to alter that trend?
BARBOUR: Isn’t it interesting that Republicans lost women, but we carried married women, carried white women by like 14 points? And so I think it would be a mistake to just focus this problem on women, because there are a lot of minorities that these women were affected more by the perception that we were not welcoming to Hispanics.
What we’ve got to do is, A, be for what we think’s good policy that -- particularly for economic growth and job creation. And then we need to go and sell that to tell people, here’s what we’re for, here’s why we’re for it, here’s why we think it’ll help you and your community and your hometown. And we want you. When Mitt Romney said that Hispanics should self- deport -
HUNT: It made it hard to win the Latino vote in the fall, didn’t it?
BARBOUR: How do you vote for somebody who wants to make your grandmamma leave?
HUNT: Let me ask you this. On the question of there are some Republican state legislators, Virginia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, who want to change the ground rules, they want to change the system so you elect presidents by congressional districts, the way a couple small states do now. Is that a bad idea?
BARBOUR: I don’t think it’s a good idea. First of all, I don’t think anybody can predict with any form of precision who it’ll help from this election to the next.
HUNT: That can change.
BARBOUR: But I would note two things about this. This broke into the news as if this was about to happen. And then today, the chairman of the committee in the Virginia legislature said it isn’t going to get out of committee. And apparently Governor McDonnell is going to announce today -- and I hate to predict -- but it is said that he’s going to say he’s not for it.
HUNT: Haley Barbour, thank you so much for being with us today.
BARBOUR: Thanks, Al.
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