Hillary draws fire for aliens answer
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on Oct. 31 declined to clarify her position on enabling illegal aliens to get driver’s licenses despite sharp attacks from both Democrats and Republicans.
Democrats called her debate answer evasive, and Republicans rebuked her for saying New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s policy of enabling illegals’ licensing “makes a lot of sense.”
In the Oct. 30 debate, Mrs. Clinton, in response to a question, said Mr. Spitzer approved granting the driver’s licenses to “fill the vacuum left by the failure of this administration to bring about comprehen- sive immigration reform.” She called it a public-safety issue.
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, the only Democratic candidate to say directly that he opposes the idea, took note of its apparent unpopularity with most voters. “The idea that we’re going to extend this privilege here of a driver’s license, I think, is troublesome, and I think the American people are reacting to it,” he said.
Mrs. Clinton later added: “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.”
When Mr. Dodd said driving is a “privilege, not a right,” Mrs. Clinton attempted to explain the governor’s plan for “three differ- ent licenses” to deal with security, driving and “then a special card that identifies the people who would be on the road.” Mr. Dodd dismissed that as a “bureaucratic nightmare.”
“Unless I missed something, Senator Clinton said two different things in the course of about two minutes,” gibed former Sen. John Edwards. “America is looking for a president who will say the same thing, who will be consistent, who will be straight with them.”
Sen. Barack Obama said he was “confused” by the former first lady’s response. “I can’t tell whether she was for it or against it,” he said, adding he thinks giv-
ing illegals licenses is the “right idea” to make the roads safer.
She made no attempt to clarify her remarks in a press call with several reporters and as she accepted a union endorsement, and the Clinton team used its Web site to accuse critics of “piling on.” Her campaign produced a video meshing clips demonstrating how often her name was mentioned in the debate.
Mrs. Clinton declined to answer a reporter’s question about the debate during the telephone call about nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. She said the telephone call was to be only about nuclear waste storage in Nevada. Her campaign did not respond to repeated requests for further comment.
Clinton strategist Mark Penn’s post-debate discussion with reporters, posted on YouTube, invited further accusations of parsing words.
“What she supports as a senator is comprehensive immigration reform. On a federal level, she does not see that as a solution,” Mr. Penn told reporters. “I think she said it was a good idea for the governor. She’s a senator and a presidential candidate. I think that she said she supports [. . . ] Spitzer’s idea for New York, but on a federal level, she would not do that.”
Several news organizations received a campaign statement that she “supports governors like Governor Spitzer who believe they need such a measure to deal with the crisis caused by this administration’s failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform.” The argument was essentially the same position Mr. Penn had used the night before, but came hours after she said in the debate: “Do I think this is the best thing for any governor to do? No.”
Much of the Oct. 31 response from critics centered less on the policy, which polls show Americans overwhelmingly oppose, and more on whether Mrs. Clinton was being straight with voters.
Daily Kos blogger “icebergslim” came to a negative conclusion after watching the debate, saying Mrs. Clinton botched a basic question.
“We will not get any straight, complete, honest answers from Clinton,” the blogger wrote. “If a candidate cannot answer a simple driver’s license question, why should we commit to uncertainty in a candidate?”
Former Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican, accused her of “speaking out both sides of her mouth,” and called the Spitzer plan “a recipe for increased voter fraud.”
Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani told talk-radio host Sean Hannity he was surprised Mrs. Clinton said “two totally contradictory things about a simple subject [. . . ] . This is not like a really complex question.”
Mr. Giuliani, who leads national polls for the Republican presidential nomination, told another talkradio host, Glenn Beck: “Of course you don’t give out driver’s licenses to illegals. Among other things, it’ll make it even more difficult to deal with all the fraud, all the forgery that’s going on.”
The former mayor praised Mr. Obama’s “right idea” response to the driver’s license question as at least a clear answer, despite the disagreement between the two men on the substance.
A spokesman for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, said the debate exchange involving Mrs. Clinton was “emblematic of someone who is both dismissive of efforts to enforce our nation’s immigration laws and entirely unwilling to offer a straight answer to a very direct question.”
Peter Gadiel of 9/11 Families for a Secure America, who strongly opposes the licenses idea, said his organization is offering a $1,000 reward to anyone who can get Mrs. Clinton to “definitively answer” whether she supports Mr. Spitzer.
“It’s crystal clear that driver’s licenses were crucial to the 9/11 terrorists,” Mr. Gadiel said. “Illegal aliens’ true identities are unknown, which means, inevitably, terrorists and violent felons will get licenses.”
The Obama campaign sent a memo saying Mrs. Clinton’s debate performance “raised more questions than it answered” and suggested her strategy is “to tell the American people as little as possible, avoid the difficult issues, and try to blur as many differences as possible.”
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton picked up the endorsement of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union on Oct. 31, one day after her answer to a debate question set off a firestorm of controversy.