America’s TV and radio talk hosts have been reportedly wooed behind the scenes to get their more conservative audience to back immigration-reform legislation.
The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza stirred up a hornet’s nest earlier this week by reporting that Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and John McCain, R-Ariz. – two of the “Gang of Eight” behind the Senate’s comprehensive immigration-reform bill – and others have talked privately to Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and other “top hosts” to get them on board.
Then Thursday evening, after he admitted to speaking with Rubio on the phone earlier in the day and getting certain assurances, O’Reilly announced he was now in favor of the legislation.
“It is time for the USA to pass immigration reform,” O’Reilly said, “For years I’ve called for a more secure southern border; you know that. And now it looks like the secure border is in reach. At least somewhat. So I hope this bill does become law.”
O’Reilly was likely referring to additional border security measures in an amendment to the bill unveiled only a few hours previously by Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
Yet O’Reilly also asserted, “Sen. Rubio told me on the phone today that it would be at least 13 years – 13 – before people in the country illegally right now could gain full legal working status, and even longer to achieve citizenship.”
Almost immediately, Rubio released a press statement touting O’Reilly’s support.
O’Reilly, however, was well-aware of Lizza’s suggestion that Rubio had been seeking a deal with him behind the scenes and vehemently denied the report.
“The writer Ryan Lizza reports that I, your humble correspondent, had private conversations with Republican senators and agreed to support the immigration bill in those conversations,” O’Reilly wrote in a piece on FoxNews.com Thursday. “That never happened. I never collude with anyone. This is a no collusion zone. I occasionally talk with politicians who give me information, as every political analyst and reporter does. But there are never ever any deals made here about anything.”
He further explained his position on backing the bill: “The Republican Party has a lot to lose here. If it doesn’t compromise, many Hispanic voters will reject the GOP entirely pretty much dooming the party in the future. That’s reality.”
Video of O’Reilly’s endorsement of the bill can be seen below:
Meanwhile, America's most-listened to host, Rush Limbaugh also commented on the Lizza story, claiming he, at least, had not been approached.
"The Ryan Lizza story says that McCain, Rubio and Graham had discussions with 'top hosts,'" Limbaugh said on his program earlier in the week. "I don't remember if any Republicans have ever approached me to come on board for amnesty. I don't think that's happened. I think I would remember it."
Sean Hannity, whom Lizza named specifically in his report as having been lobbied by the bill's Senate sponsors, has so far stood firm against the bill, telling guest Ann Coulter Thursday night that Republicans are "suckers" for backing it.
"You know what I don't understand here? It's like Republicans are suckers," Hannity said. "And I don't trust the government: Every time there is talk of a tax increase and spending cuts, you get the tax increase, never get the spending cuts. You always get the amnesty, never the border control."
Likewise, radio host and guest on "The O'Reilly Factor" Laura Ingraham, ripped O'Reilly for his endorsement of the bill.
"You've got to be kidding me," Ingraham told O'Reilly. "If Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Janet Napolitano and Barack Obama are cheering on this bill, this Hoeven-Corker, which I imagine they'll sign on to? That's a clue it's ultimately not going to be good."
Video of the Ingraham and O'Reilly's heated debate can be seen below:
Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions further took to the Senate floor Friday to argue O'Reilly's understanding from Rubio about 13 years to working status is wrong.
"It's not sufficient to pass this legislation based on talking points, on spin from the sponsors of the bill," Sessions charged. "We have to say, 'OK, does it really do that?'"
And does the bill really require people in the country illegally to wait 13 years before gaining full legal working status?
"Not so. Not so at all. Not even close," Sessions said. "Within a few months everyone applies for the [Registered Provisional Immigrant] status, the provisional status, will be given a social security card and the right to go to work and be lawfully in the country and cannot be deported unless they commit a serious crime. It's virtually immediately, not 13 years."
He continued, "This is how the citizenship and green card status works, permanent legal status: So, within months everybody that qualifies under the 11 million will be given R.P.I. provisional status, virtually immediately. They will be able to take any job in America, move anywhere they want to in America, displace workers in America, compete for jobs wherever. That's what will happen under the bill.
"But for about 2.5 million who are people who came here as teenagers, the so-called Dreamers, they get citizenship in five years, they'll have citizenship in five years, that's 2 million, 2.5 million," he continued. "And certain ag workers – those individuals who are illegally here become permanent legal residents permanently – they get their legal right to work immediately. But in five years they get permanent legal status, and the other eight to 10 million illegal immigrants would be eligible for green cards or legal permanent residence in ten years, not 13. So there is an immediate amnesty that precedes all this."
Politico reports that the Hoeven-Corker amendment is nonetheless helping the bill's passage: "Negotiators said as many as 15 GOP senators who were on the fence will now be inclined to vote for the landmark bill that revamps the U.S. immigration system and gives a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented residents."
"It is safe to say this agreement has the power to change minds in the Senate," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., one of the "Gang of Eight" architects behind the original immigration bill.