Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that a bipartisan immigration bill introduced this week would enhance national security. His comments came as supporters of the measure tried to pre-empt concerns about terrorism as police hunted for an immigrant from Kyrgyzstan suspected in the Boston Marathon bombing after a second suspect -- his brother, also an immigrant -- was killed in a gun battle.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
JULIANNA GOLDMAN, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Welcome to “Political Capital.” I’m Julianna Goldman, in for Al Hunt this week. We begin the show with Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin.
Senator, thank you so much for the time. I want to start with the tragedy out of Boston this week. Authorities say one suspect is dead, a manhunt is underway for the second. But this is all going on 72 hours after the first successful terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. Is this an example of the system working? Or is this more about us being in the era of social media?
SENATOR DICK DURBIN: Well, understand we live in a free and democratic society. People move here and there with freedom. And that’s something we value very much in America.
But we also live in a dangerous world. So there are ways for us to zero in on challenges. Sometimes we can’t prevent everything from happening, but look what happened here. They went to the finish line of the Boston Marathon and knew that’s where the bombs were detonated and, in a short period of time, started gathering this huge amount of information, going through it, all of the videotapes that were being taken, the cellphone conversations, and they started closing in on the two suspects. It’s really a triumph of work in investigation, not over, as we tape this, but an indication of how quickly our law enforcement can move on these scenes.
GOLDMAN: Are you impressed by that? Is that something that surprises you now, 10 years, 12 years after 9/11?
DURBIN: I’ve been watching since 9/11. We learned a bitter lesson that day when we lost 3,000-plus innocent Americans, and we started making dramatic investments in intelligence-gathering, as well as law enforcement, hoping to protect America from anything like that ever happening again, knowing how tough a challenge that would be in such an open society.
But I have great confidence in the FBI and in our military. They also were part of this effort.
GOLDMAN: I want to transition to guns this week. A major defeat for legislation, for new gun-safety laws. You said on Wednesday, this is not the end, but when, if ever, will we realistically see the opportunity for new gun safety laws again?
DURBIN: Veteran senators came up to me after that vote on Wednesday, and they were distraught. You know, we go through disappointments here all the time. You call a bill and it loses, or you can’t get an amendment up for a vote, but I have never seen so many senators so down after the defeat of the most basic background-check information when it comes to firearms.
And to look up in the gallery and see those families for Newtown, families that we’d all come to know personally, as they filed out with their heads down, you thought to yourself, we let them down, we let America down. But it isn’t over.
GOLDMAN: Well, you had dinner with the president just hours after that vote. I mean, it sounds like we’re going to have to wait until after the 2014 elections for another shot at this.
DURBIN: I don’t believe so. And sadly, I’m afraid, there will be some other incident -- I pray it isn’t as terrible as what happened at Connecticut -- but some other incident is going to remind us of our vulnerability.
In the meantime, something else is happening that is historic. And don’t overlook it. I ran against the National Rifle Association when I ran for Congress in a district that was pretty conservative. They almost beat me, because I really didn’t have anybody standing my corner supporting my position. That’s changing.
GOLDMAN: Well, it seems like time was NRA’s friend here and your enemy. Do you regret not putting a bill on the floor in January or February?
DURBIN: Here’s the dilemma. You have to make sure that what you put on the floor is good law, not just a response, emotion. It has to be sound and thought out. Secondly, it has to be crafted politically, and we did, with Joe Manchin, one of our most conservative Democrats from West Virginia, Pat Toomey, a very conservative Republican from Pennsylvania. We had the two proper people bringing this forward and an issue of real substance that would have helped without infringing on Second Amendment rights.
GOLDMAN: Well, you’re in leadership. And a lot of progressives are sitting here saying, OK, look, we helped elect these guys, and leadership can’t keep four senators in line on this issue that’s pivotal to the president’s second-term agenda. Are there any consequences from -- political consequences that they’ll face from the president, the party, for breaking with Democrats on this?
DURBIN: You know, I’m troubled by your question, and I’ve heard it before. When 90 percent of the Democrats vote for sensible gun safety, and 90 percent of the Republicans vote against sensible gun safety, the argument isn’t, “Well, why didn’t you get 100 percent of the Democrats?” That still wouldn’t have been enough. We needed support, bipartisan support for this to happen.
I’m not going to make any explanation, excuse, whatever it may be for the Democrats who voted the other way from where I voted, but I do want to say, there is responsibility on the other side of the aisle to make this happen. In the Senate, you have to deal with it on a bipartisan basis.
GOLDMAN: Well, let’s -- let’s turn to immigration. You’re a member of the Gang of Eight, dropped comprehensive immigration legislation this week. The debate now is happening in the context of renewed terror threats. What role is that going to play?
DURBIN: It’s the right question at the right time, because we’re talking about what to do with foreigners in the United States or coming to the United States. And it’s put in the context, clearly, of our national security first.
Let me tell you why this immigration bill is important for national security.
First, we’re going to make a dramatic investment in our border with Mexico. We’re going to close the gaps in that border once and for all. That’s important.
Secondly, everyone, the 11 million people who were basically living in the shadows in America have to come forward, register with the government, go through a criminal background check. That will make us safer.”
And then, two other things. You won’t be able to get a job in America without E-Verify checking who you are and your identity.
And, finally, we’re going to have a system where we monitor visitors’ visas, bringing people into the United States. We want to monitor their departure so we know if anyone overstayed their visa.
GOLDMAN: Well, a number of -- some immigrant-rights activists are saying, OK, you have the pathway to citizenship, but you also have the triggers, and so this pathway to citizenship is just too onerous. Are you going to be pushing to make it any easier?
DURBIN: Well, I think what we’ve done is to say, this is your chance, a chance over a long period of time, 13 years, just like the immigration bill that Senator Kennedy suggested, but over that 13-year period, you have to step up and earn your way to legalization.
How do you do that? Well, you register. You go through a criminal background check. You learn English. You pay a fine. You pay your taxes. And you are monitored for a 10-year period of time. Then and only then could you qualify to move forward towards citizenship.
GOLDMAN: What sort of outreach are you doing or any other members of the Gang of Eight doing now to work with members in the House, as we start to look toward final legislation?
DURBIN: Well, that’s a good question, because we can’t do it alone. I think we have a good start on a bipartisan Senate bill. I can tell you the efforts underway. My colleague in Illinois, Congressman Luis Gutierrez, moved to the Judiciary Committee so he’d be in the right place for this debate.
We’ve been talking. He knows what’s in this bill. I think he believes it’s a good bill. I think that he believes the House can do better, and I invite them to. So I hope they won’t wait on us. I hope they’ll get moving, too.
GOLDMAN: Any other outreach beyond Congressman Gutierrez?
DURBIN: Well, of course. It’s a bipartisan effort over there. They’re engaging Republicans and Democrats, as we have in the Senate.
GOLDMAN: So Republican members of the Gang of Eight are also reaching out to Republican members -
DURBIN: They are. And some of them are running into some resistance, but they’re also finding those who want to talk.
GOLDMAN: And you think we’ll still get this done by the summer?
DURBIN: I think we can. And with the president really pushing us, saying let’s do it once and for all, that helps.
GOLDMAN: All right. Senator Durbin, thank you so much for the time, a very, very busy week on Capitol Hill and in Washington.
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