By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 4, 2007 5:38 PM
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) today offered a robust argument for the immigration reform legislation pending in Congress while directing scorn at his rivals, especially former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, for what he said was pandering to Republican Party conservatives who oppose the measure without offering alternatives.
In a speech to the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, McCain said passage of the massive compromise bill is an "imperfect" effort to deal with the issue, but he called it "a serious, comprehensive and practical attempt to secure our borders, defend the rule of law, help our economy grow and make it possible for the United States to know who has entered this country illegally."
McCain has stepped up his immigration rhetoric on the stump as his colleagues in the Senate are heading toward a legislative showdown on the measure this week. He has also stepped up his criticism of Romney, accusing him of carping at the bill from the sidelines.
"If someone objects to it, especially if they are a candidate for president, they should have the responsibility and courage to propose another way," McCain said in the speech. He added later, "Pandering for votes on this issue, while offering no solution to the problem, amounts to doing nothing. And doing nothing is silent amnesty."
McCain did not mention Romney by name in today's speech. But the two have been engaged in an increasingly heated back-and-forth over immigration since the compromise bill was unveiled last month.
In a statement released after McCain's speech, Romney said he has "respect" for McCain, but he linked McCain to another sponsor of the measure, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), and said their bill "falls short" of a solution to the immigration problems.
"In reforming our immigration system, we must meet three priorities," Romney said. "First, we can and must secure our borders. Second, our country must have an enforceable employment verification system. Third, in reforming our immigration system, we must do so in a way that rewards immigrants who obey the laws and guards against providing special incentives for those who show no regard for them."
In late 2005, Romney praised a similar measure that McCain sponsored. But more recently, he has taken to calling the approach "amnesty," and he was one of the first Republican presidential candidates to blast the latest bill. The "Issues Watch" page on his presidential Web site has one paragraph and one quote from Romney.
"We must reform the current immigration laws so we can secure our borders, implement a mandatory biometrically enabled, tamper proof documentation and employment verification system, and increase legal immigration into America," the Web site says.
In McCain's speech, the border-state senator offered an impassioned plea for his proposal to do that. He argued that the change in laws will help secure the country's borders against terrorism while also keeping the country open to the legal immigration that he said makes it strong.
"I defend with no reservation our proposal to offer the people who harvest our crops, tend our gardens, work in our restaurants, care for our children and clean our homes a chance to be legal citizens of this country," he said. "They will have to earn it. They must come out from the shadows, pay their penalties, fees and taxes, stay employed, obey our laws, learn our language and history, and go to the back of the line and wait years for the privilege of being an American."