U.S. Sen. Dean Heller waded into unfriendly territory today, speaking to a breakfast meeting of Hispanics in Politics and facing tough questions about his stances on immigration.
Despite the pressure, however, Heller stuck to his opposition to the DREAM Act, and even mentioned support for a bill to stipulate that at least one parent must be a citizen for a U.S.-born child to have citizenship, too. (Courts have held that under the 14th Amendment, all U.S. born children are citizens, regardless of their parents’ legal status.)
Expectations were high for the meeting, after an incident last year in which Heller literally turned around while on his way to a meeting with the Latin Chamber of Commerce. Heller’s staff objected to the presence of a staffer for his Senate rival, U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, and a camera at the chamber event.
But Heller stood his ground and sought to identify commonalities with his Hispanic audience Friday morning, promising Latin Chamber President Otto Merida that he’d sit down to discuss an acceptable immigration reform bill.
Briefly, here’s a look at what Heller said:
- Heller disagreed with presidential contender Mitt Romney, who said recently the DREAM Act was a “handout.” But Heller repeatedly said he opposed the act, which would grant citizenship to students who attend college or serve in the U.S. military. “I don’t believe that we should be giving benefits to non-U.S. citizens over U.S. citizens,” he said.
- But pressed by reporters after the event to specify precisely what he objects to in the act, Heller could only say he objects to out-of-state, non-citizen students being given in-state tuition rates. But the majority of states have interpreted the bill as disqualifying non-citizen students from receiving in-state benefits, although some have passed laws to allow for in-state rates for non-citizens.
- Heller also embraced his vote against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, although he did allow that he supports a provision of the law that bans insurance companies from denying coverage based on a pre-existing condition. “I believe the purpose of that legislation [health-care reform] was to ensure that all Americans have the same bad health care,” he said.
- Asked specifically what he’d cut to balance the budget, Heller replied with generalities and impossibilities. “There’s a lot of wasteful spending in Washington, D.C.,” he said. But he went on to name only the Troubled Assets Relief Program (aka TARP, or the bank bailout), much of which has been repaid; the stimulus, much of which has already been spent and the Cash for Clunkers program, which has expired.
- Asked to name the earmark he most regrets voting for, Heller could not conjure a single one. He defended earmarks by saying they only sped up spending that would have happened anyway, but conversely repeated his opposition to all earmarks.
Heller repeatedly stressed themes such as faith, family, self-reliance and hard work as principles Republicans and the Hispanic community share. But Merida, a Republican, asked Heller at the end of the event how Republicans could win the Hispanic vote when their anti-immigration rhetoric drives a wedge between the party and the community. That’s when Heller pledged to meet with Merida to craft a mutually agreeable reform bill.
Tags: Dean Heller