Interview with U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Tom Tancredo
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Tom Tancredo has been a member of the United States House of Representatives since 1999, representing the 6th Congressional District of Colorado. He rose to national prominence for his strong stance against illegal immigration and his announcement that he was a Republican candidate in the 2008 Presidential election. David Shankbone recently spoke with the Congressman and posed questions from Wikipedia editors and Wikinews reporters:
DS: Throughout my life my father, a lifelong Republican and an avid listener of Rush Limbaugh, told me that all we needed in this country was a Republican Congress, Republican Senate and a Republican White House to get this country on the right track. Last year he expressed his disappointment to me. So many Republicans, like my father, feel lied to or let down by the party. The rationale for the Iraq War, the sex and bribery scandals, the pork barrel projects, and, as Alan Greenspan recently pointed out, the fiscal irresponsibility. People feel there have been many broken promises. Why should someone vote Republican today?
- TT: The best reason I can give: we’re not the Democrats. The best thing we have going for us is the Democrats. Maybe that’s as far as I can go; I hope that there are candidates out there who will reflect and carry out the values that your father believes in when he votes Republican. To the extent you can ferret those people out from the others, that’s who he should vote for. The party was taught a pretty harsh lesson in this last election. I have noticed in the last several months we have done a better job of defending Republican principles as the minority than we ever did in the majority. I feel more in tune with the party now than I have throughout the Bush Presidency. Even before he came in, we were in the majority and we were still spending too much. Hopefully we can say that we were spanked by the American public and that we learned our lessons. There are true believers out there who will stick to their guns, and it’s a matter of principle. What’s the alternative? Hillary Clinton?
DS: You yourself said you would only serve three terms in Congress, but then broke that promise. What caused you to reverse yourself?
- TT: What happened was this: having ‘lame duck’ stamped on your forehead in Congress when they know you are not going to be around. Then the committee assignments become less meaningful. That was just one of the factors. Far more significant was my becoming the most visible Congressional member on the immigration issue. When I came into Congress I approached Lamar Smith, who was “The Man” on immigration, and said to him, “I’ve come to help you on this issue.” I felt it was one of the most serious we face as a nation. Lamar said, “It’s all yours! I’ve had it with 10 years of busting my head against the wall!” I started doing special orders—that’s when you speak to an empty chamber and whoever is watching CSPAN–and I did that night after night and wondered if it was worth it; was anyone paying attention? Then I’d go back to my office to pick up my keys and I’d see all the telephone lines illuminated, and the fax machine would be going, and a pile of e-mails would be handed to me the next day. I realized: people pay attention. I started picking it up, speaking around the country, leading the caucus on it. In time it became apparent there was nobody to hand the baton to; there were supporters, but not one single soul was willing to take it on as their issue. It was the first year of my second term that I sent a letter to every supporter I had. I said I had come to this conclusion that at the end of my third term (which is three years away) I don’t know if I will run again or not, but that the decision would not be based upon the term limit pledge, because immigration issue makes me feel I have a responsibility I can not shirk. I said that if anybody who gave me money based upon my term limits pledge wanted it back, I would do so. I received maybe three requests.
DS: There are an estimated 12 million illegal aliens in the U.S. To round up and deport millions of people would be a major government undertaking, requiring massive federal spending and invasive enforcement. What level of funding would be necessary for U.S. Immigration and Customs to achieve the level of enforcement that you’d like to see?
- TT: Only a relatively slight increase because the only thing you have to do, other than building a barrier on the southern border, is go after employers. We need to go aggressively after the employers, and try to identify some of the more high profile employers who are hiring illegal aliens. Go after them with fines, and if they are not only hiring them but also conspiring to bring them in, then they could go to jail. A perp walk would have a chilling effect. If you break that magnet, most illegal aliens would go home voluntarily. An article in the Rocky Mountain News stated there has been an employer crackdown in Colorado, and that they are going home or moving on to other states. If we did it nationally, they will return home, because the jobs are no longer available. It doesn’t have to happen over time or instantaneously. The costs to the American public for 12 million illegals are enormous and far more than are paid for by the illegal immigrants themselves in taxes.
DS: How long would full enforcement take for you to succeed?
- TT: It would be a couple of years before employers were weaned off illegal immigrants and then a couple more years before you saw a really significant reduction.
DS: Can you explain your remarks about bombing the Islamic holy sites of Mecca and Medina as a deterrent to terrorists operating against the United States.
- TT: The question I was answering was “What would you do if Islamic terrorists set off on or more nuclear devices in the United States?” My response was that we would need to come up with a deterrent, and that deterrent may very well be a threat to take out their holy sites if they did something like that in the United States. I still believe it is something we must consider as a possible deterrent because at the present time there are no negative consequences that would accrue to the people who commit a crime such as a nuclear, chemical or biological attack. There are no negative consequences; they may die in the attack but that is not a negative consequence for them. Usually they aren’t going to be state actors.
DS: But wouldn’t an attack on Mecca and Medina be an attack on a sovereign state?
- TT: You are not attacking the state, but the religious ideology itself. Holy sites are not just in Saudi Arabia; there’s a number of them. In fact, Iran has one of the holiest cities in Islam. And I never used the word nuclear device; I was talking about taking out a physical structure. The reason I suggested it as a possible deterrent is because it is the only thing that matches the threat itself. The threat is from a religious ideology. Not just from Islam, but from a nation whose requirements include jihad against infidels, and we are a threat to their culture, which is why they believe we need to be destroyed. We must understand what motivates our opponents in order to develop a successful response. I’ve received death threats, enormous criticism, and I’ve been hung in effigy in Pakistan, but nobody has given me an alternative strategy that would be a deterrent to such an event. I guarantee when you read the national intelligence estimates, you would be hard pressed to not walk away from doing something.
DS: Aside from becoming President, if you could be granted three wishes, what would they be?
- TT: It was the other night that I saw for the third or fourth time Saving Private Ryan and in the last scene Private Ryan asks, “Have I been a good man, have I earned it?” My greatest wish is to be a good father and to have earned everything I have been given in this life. And to be a better Christian.
DS: Farmers rely heavily on seasonal manual labor. Strict enforcement of immigration laws will inevitably reduce the pool of migrant labor and thus increase costs. Do you support tariffs or other government intervention to keep American farm products competitive?
- TT: No, I don’t , because I challenge the premise of the question. The ability for farmers to obtain workers in the United States is only minimally hampered by the immigration process because there is, in fact, H-2A, the visa that is designed specifically for agricultural workers. We can bring in 10,000,000 if we want to. There are no caps. There are restrictions in terms of pay and healthcare benefits, and that’s what makes hiring illegal aliens more attractive. The costs would increase for certain agricultural interest, but it would be regional. You would also see a very aggressive movement toward the mechanization of farm work. We are seeing it today in a lot of areas. We saw it in the tomato industry with the Bracero Program. That was a program many growers relied heavily upon: workers, primarily from Mexico would come up seasonally, work, and then went back home. It was successful. But liberals ended the program as a bad idea because the immigrants couldn’t bring their families. When that happened, tomato growers said they’d go out of business. Lo and behold they developed machinery that can harvest citrus fruit, and now they are genetically engineering trees that have a thicker bark but are more flexible so they can be shaken by these machines. You’ll see it more and more.
DS: Do you agree that our forefathers intended birthright citizenship?
- TT: No, the Fourteenth Amendment, upon which the concept of birthright citizenship is based, was a response to the Dred Scott decision.
- During the original Senate debate there was an understanding that it wouldn’t be provided to people simply because they were born here, but instead to people under our jurisdiction. For instance, nobody assumes a child born to an embassy employee or an ambassador is a citizen of this country. There was an understanding and a reference to “under the jurisdiction” of the United States.
DS: You and Karl Rove engaged, in your words, in a screaming match over immigration, and Rove said that you would never again “darken the doorstep of the White House.” Are you still considered persona non grata at the White House?
- TT: Yeah, even though he is gone, the President’s feelings about my criticism of him have not changed. It wasn’t my stand on immigration, it was my criticisms of the President that have made me persona non grata.
DS: Psychologist Robert Hare has discussed in his work the use of doublespeak as a hallmark of psychopaths, and social scientists have pointed out that the use of doublespeak is most prevalent in the fields of law and politics. Do these two trends alarm you?
- TT [Laughs] Yes and no. Unfortunately doublespeak is all too characteristic of people in my profession.
DS: What is the proper role of Congress in the time of war?
- TT: To first declare it, and then to fund it or not.
DS: Politics is dominated by lawyers. What other group of people or professions would you prefer to see dominate the field of politics and why?
- TT: I can’t think of a particular profession from which I would be more comfortable drawing politicians from.
DS: Do you think lawyers are better for handling legislation and as politicians?
- TT: No, they don’t offer anything particularly advantageous to the process. I don’t think it should be dominated by one profession. I’ll tell you what this profession is, and it doesn’t matter what field you come out of. There’s something I noticed here. I tell every single freshman I come across that there are very few words of wisdom, having only been here for ten years, that I can pass along to you but there is one thing I can tell you: this place is Chinese water torture on your principles. Every single day there is another drip, and it comes from a call from a colleague asking you to sign on to a bill you wouldn’t have signed on to; but it’s a friend, and it’s not that big a deal. Or a constituent who comes in and asks you to do something and you think it wouldn’t be such a big deal; or a special interest group that asks you to vote for something you wouldn’t vote for. After time it erodes the toughest of shells if one isn’t careful doesn’t think about it. Even if you recognize that these small steps lead to a feeling that remaining here is the ultimate goal; that the acquisition of power or the maintenance of power is the ultimate goal, that really does… it doesn’t matter if you are a lawyer or not, it does seem to have an impact on people. It’s a malady that is very common in Washington, and you have to think about it, you really do, or you will succumb to it. I don’t mean to suggest I’ve been impervious to these pressures, but I’ve tried my best to avoid it. One reason I am persona non grata at the White House is not just because of immigration, but because I refuse to support him on his trade policy, his education policy, Medicare and prescription drugs initiatives. I remember leaving that debate at 6:30 on a Saturday morning , after having the President call every freshman off the floor of the House to badger them into submission until there were enough votes to pass it. I remember a woman, a freshman colleague, walking away in tears saying she had never been through anything like that in her life. Here was a Republican Congress increasing government to an extent larger than it had been increased since Medicare had come into existence. Your dad should have been absolutely mortified, because it was against all of our principles. And I know the leadership was torn, but we had the President pressing us: we had to do it, we had to stay in power, the President is asking us to do it. Principles be damned. There were people who caved in that night who I never in a million years thought would.
- And the threats! “You like being Committee Chairman?” Yes I do. “Do you want to be Chairman tomorrow?” And that’s how it happens. I was called into Tom Delay’s office because I was supporting Republican challengers to Republican incumbents. I had a group called Team America that went out and did that. He called me and said to me, “You’re jeopardizing your career in this place by doing these things.” And I said, “Tom, out of all the things you can threaten with me that is the least effective because I do not look at this place as a career.”
DS: You have supported proposed constitutional amendments that would ban abortion and same-sex marriage. You are also a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. Why do you believe that the U.S. Constitution should regulate medical procedures and personal relationships, but not gun ownership?
- TT: The issue of medical procedures and relationships: I don’t really believe the federal government or any level of government has any business in determining about who I care about, or who anybody cares about, but I do believe they have a legitimate role, and the federal government has a responsibility, because of reciprocity. We are only one federal judge decision away from having gay marriage imposed on all states. That’s why there is a need for a Constitutional Amendment. I really believe a family–male, female, rearing children–I believe that is an important structure for the state itself, the way we procreate, which hopefully provides a stable environment for children. That is important to the state, and that’s why I think it’s legitimate. The reciprocity clause forces us into thinking about a Constitutional Amendment. I believe Roe v. Wade should be overturned because I think it’s lousy law, and many liberal jurists think it’s lousy because it read into the Constitution a right to privacy. I don’t’ see a connection between these things and the 2nd Amendment. Same-sex marriage and abortion, perhaps, but I don’t see a connection to the Second Amendment question. I support the 2nd Amendment because it is one of the most important we have. It’s a right we have to protect a lot of our other rights. And in our urban centers…and I don’t’ believe as some Second Amendment radicals believe that every single person has that right. I don’t think so! If you have committed a felony, or if you are a danger to yourself or someone else, then you shouldn’t be able to obtain a firearm, but law-abiding citizens should because it gives them a sense of security and protection against people who would do you harm. I don’t believe urban communities are more dangerous because people are allowed to own guns, but because dangerous people have guns. I would feel more comfortable if in the District of Columbia I could carry a concealed gun. I have a permit.
DS: You recently spoke out against the Black and Hispanic Congressional caucuses, stating, “It is utterly hypocritical for Congress to extol the virtues of a color-blind society while officially sanctioning caucuses that are based solely on race. If we are serious about achieving the goal of a colorblind society, Congress should lead by example and end these divisive, race-based caucuses.” Do you also believe there is no longer a need for the NAACP?
- TT: No, I think it’s fine, because it’s a private organization, and people can belong to whatever private organization they want, and the need will be determined to a great extent by reality. If in fact people feel committed to an organization that they believe represents their interest, and it’s a voluntary association, that’s fine. All I’m saying is that for Congress to support these things, that run on money that is appropriated–though they fund them in a convoluted way, but it gets there– my point was about leading by example. If people said we don’t think it’s a good idea, maybe that would have an impact on how people feel about things like the NAACP. I would hope there would be, and I would assume Martin Luther King hoped–that’s his quite about a colorblind society–that there will come a time we don’t need them. That it’s an anachronistic organization. I also don’t believe in the creation of districts on race.
DS: You were one of a handful of Republicans who voted for a bill proposed by Maurice Hinchey and Dana Rohrabacher to stop the Department of Justice from raiding medical marijuana patients and caregivers in states where medical marijuana is legal, citing states’ rights concerns. On the other hand, you have suggested state legislators and mayors should be imprisoned for passing laws contrary to federal immigration law, and you support the Federal Marriage Amendment to ban gay marriage nationally. How do you reconcile these seemingly contradictory positions?
- TT: We are talking about issues that are legitimately based upon the Constitutional roles of the state and federal government. I believe there is no Constitutional provision that suggests the federal government has a role to play in preventing states, or punishing states, over laws with regards to medical marijuana. I believe absolutely there is a role for the federal government for punishing states or laws when they contravene federal jurisdiction. For instance, protecting states against invasion. Immigration is federal policy, and there’s a law actually called “Encouragement”: you can’t encourage people to come in illegally or stay here illegally. I believe that is constitutionally a federal area.
DS: If you had to support one of the Democratic candidates, which one would it be and why?
- TT: Although I couldn’t vote for him, if I had to support one for a nominee it would be Obama, and I would do so because first, I believe we could beat him [laughs], but secondly, and less cynically, I think it would be very good to have a black man, a good family man, and a very articulate man, to have him as a role model for a lot of black children in this country.