The GOP push to change the Constitution to eliminate so-called birthright citizenship is already causing problems for some of its own members. Case in point: John McCain.
In the final moments of a morning press conference about the stimulus, cohosted by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), McCain asked for one final question from reporters…which happened to be about the 14th amendment and birthright citizenship. McCain abruptly ended the press conference.
“We’re talking about the stimulus right now,” McCain said, before darting off to the elevators down the hall from the Senate studio, where he again declined to take a question. Reporters eventually caught up with McCain in the basement of the Capitol, where he was walking toward to the man-operated train connecting the Senate with the Russell office building.
TPMDC asked, “Do you support the Minority Leader’s push for hearings into the repeal of birthright citizenship?”
“Sure, why not?” McCain said briefly.
“Do you support the idea itself?”
“I support the idea of having hearings,” McCain said.
“Do you have a problem with the 14th amendment?” another reporter asked.
“You’re changing the constitution of the United States,” McCain said. “I support the concept of holding hearings.”
“I support the concept of holding hearings,” McCain repeated, turning to the rail car conductor.
“Let’s go!” he snapped.
“I don’t have anything to add to that.”
McCain is seeking reelection in Arizona, a state with a large immigrant population, this year. In the past he’s supported comprehensive immigration reform, but recently has tacked to the right on the issue, most sharply during his primary campaign against conservative J.D. Hayworth. With his renomination all but secured, McCain might no longer feel as obligated to support deeply anti-immigrant positions. McCain’s Arizona colleague, Minority Whip Jon Kyl, has called for an inquiry into repealing birthright citizenship, while Minority Leader Mitch McConnell yesterday said the Senate should hold hearings about the issue.
Coburn’s take was significantly more straightforward.
“If you go back to the history of the 14th amendment, why was it passed, why did we take away from states the right to give citizenship and give it to the federal government, it was because we were worried states would disenfranchise newly freed slaves,” Coburn told reporters. “There was never an intent by our founders, nor if you take the readings, that just because you were here and you have a child born here and you were here not as a resident, that your child would become a citizen. So, I think it’s an interesting thing to look at I’m not sure I’m going to embrace it but might. I think we need to look at it.”
“There’s the other side of it, that we have a whole new cottage industry that people of great wealth are coming here to have children too,” Coburn added, “so that they can create a basis for anchoring themselves to citizenship in this country.”
Late update: This post has been updated since first published.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.