A friend of mine and I were discussing Hillary Clinton’s putative presidential candidacy over email, and he flagged for me a YouTube video of a debate from the fall of 2007. In it, Tim Russert queried her thusly:
Senator Clinton, Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer has proposed giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. You told the Nashua, N.H., editorial board it makes a lot of sense. Why does it make a lot of sense to give an illegal immigrant a driver’s license?
To which Clinton responded:
Well, what Governor Spitzer is trying to do is fill the vacuum left by the failure of this administration to bring about comprehensive immigration reform.
We know in New York we have several million at any one time who are in New York illegally. They are undocumented workers. They are driving on our roads. The possibility of them having an accident that harms themselves or others is just a matter of the odds. It’s probability. So what Governor Spitzer is trying to do is to fill the vacuum.
I believe we need to get back to comprehensive immigration reform because no state, no matter how well intentioned, can fill this gap. There needs to be federal action on immigration reform. ...
Okay, fair enough. The basic gist seems to be: I support driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants with reluctance. It is a public safety issue and, absent federal action, governors have a responsibility to do something about it.
This prompted Chris Dodd, the “Friend of Angelo,” to go on the attack. Dodd argued that driver’s licenses are a privilege, not a right, and they should not be given to anybody here illegally.
Again, fair enough. That seems like a clear contrast for primary voters. If you care about this issue and want illegal immigrants to have licenses, Clinton is your candidate. If not, consider Dodd.
But then Clinton just had to interject:
I just want to add, I did not say that it should be done, but I certainly recognize why Governor Spitzer is trying to do it.
Wait...what? I thought she was in favor of it. Now, she isn’t. But then Dodd pushed back:
(A) driver’s license goes too far, in my view.
And then Clinton again defends Spitzer’s move:
Well, you may say that, but what is the identification if somebody runs into you today who is an undocumented worker…
After a bit more back-and-forth, Russert interjects with this pointed question:
Senator Clinton, I just want to make sure what I heard. Do you, the New York Senator Hillary Clinton, support the New York governor’s plan to give illegal immigrants a driver’s license? You told the Nashua, N.H., paper it made a lot of sense.
To which the senator from New York...objected in principle to the question:
You know, Tim, this is where everybody plays gotcha.
Then she once again tried to split the difference:
It makes a lot of sense. What is the governor supposed to do? He is dealing with a serious problem. We have failed, and George Bush has failed.
Do I think this is the best thing for any governor to do? No. But do I understand the sense of real desperation, trying to get a handle on this? Remember, in New York we want to know who’s in New York. We want people to come out of the shadows. He’s making an honest effort to do it. We should have passed immigration reform.