From NBC's Mark Murray and NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
About a week ago, we chronicled all of Clinton's responses to the drivers'-licenses-for-illegal-immigrants issue, and we concluded that Clinton was actually consistent in her answer -- but also consistently not answering the question. That consistency seemed to change yesterday.
Here's a timeline of what she has said on the matter.
October 16 editorial meeting with the Nashua Telegraph
"I hate to see any state being pushed into trying to take this into their own hands because the federal government has failed. So I know exactly what Governor Spitzer is trying to do and it makes a lot of sense, because he's trying to get people out of the shadows, come forward and we'll give you this license – but without a federal policy in effect people will come forward and they could get picked up by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) tomorrow. This can't work state by state – it has to be looked at comprehensively."
October 30 MSNBC debate
RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer has proposed giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. [You] told the Nashua, New Hampshire, Editorial Board it makes a lot of sense. Why does it make a lot of sense to give an illegal immigrant a driver's license?
CLINTON: Well, what Governor Spitzer is trying to do is fill the vacuum left by the failure of this administration to bring about comprehensive immigration reform. We know in New York we have several million at any one time who are in New York illegally. They are undocumented workers. They are driving on our roads. The possibility of them having an accident that harms themselves or others is just a matter of the odds. It's probability. So what Governor Spitzer is trying to do is to fill the vacuum. I believe we need to get back to comprehensive immigration reform because no state, no matter how well intentioned, can fill this gap. There needs to be federal action on immigration reform.
Then moments later at the debate…
DODD: This is a privilege. And, look, I'm as forthright and progressive on immigration policy as anyone here. But we're dealing with a serious problem here, we need to have people come forward. The idea that we're going to extend this privilege here of a driver's license I think is troublesome, and I think the American people are reacting to it…
CLINTON: Well, I just want to add, I did not say that it should be done, but I certainly recognize why Governor Spitzer is trying to do...
RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, I just want to make sure of what I heard. Do you, the New York senator, Hillary Clinton, support the New York governor's plan to give illegal immigrants a driver's license? You told the New Hampshire paper that it made a lot of sense. Do you support his plan?
CLINTON: You know, Tim, this is where everybody plays "gotcha." It makes a lot of sense. What is the governor supposed to do? He is dealing with a serious problems. We have failed. And George Bush has failed. Do I think this is the best thing for any governor to do? No. But do I understand the sense of real desperation, trying to get a handle on this? Remember, in New York, we want to know who's in New York. We want people to come out of the shadows.
October 31 statement from the campaign
"Senator Clinton supports governors like Governor Spitzer who believe they need such a measure to deal with the crisis caused by this administration's failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform."
The New York Times reported on that statement:
"Mrs. Clinton's aides said her statement Wednesday expressing general support for Mr. Spitzer's plan was intended to signal that she broadly supported his goal of granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. But they said she had not studied — and was not endorsing — any specific plan."
On November 2, per the Associated Press:
Clinton said she generally supported efforts by New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and others who have tried to address public safety questions in absence of federal immigration reform. Last weekend, Spitzer announced a plan backed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to give licenses with limited privileges to some undocumented workers. "I don't know all the details," Clinton said, adding that the issue was going to be hard to resolve. "We've had, now, seven years of an administration that saw things in black and white, yes and no, up and down. I think it's time we actually had a conversation with the American people," she said.
Clinton campaigning in Clinton, IA on November 4
"I wasn't as clear as I should have been the other night. I have had a number of occasions where I have spoken to it and I believe clarified it, but I'd be happy to do it again. I believe in comprehensive immigration reform and I have been in favor of that for years. I have signed onto bills. I have voted for provisions and I think it is the only answer for our country."
"Unfortunately, because the Bush administration has failed and as has the Congress, the federal government as a whole to bring about comprehensive immigration reform, governors are left holding the bag. They're the ones having to deal with the security issues, the safety of their roads and so much else. Therefore, I broadly support what governors like Eliot Spitzer are trying to do. I don't pretend to know the details. That's up to the governor and the legislature to try to work out. But I think that it's understandable that states are trying to fill a vacuum left by the failures of the federal government."
November 6 interview with CNN's Candy Crowley
CROWLEY: If I wrote a story that said: "Absent a broad illegal immigration bill, Hillary Clinton agrees about giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants," is that correct?
CLINTON: No. What I have said is that I support what governors are trying to do. And governors are on the front lines because of the failures to get comprehensive immigration reform. There are already eight states that issue driver's licenses without any verification of citizenship. That is a decision that the governors and legislatures and the people of those states have made. I understand…
CROWLEY: But you see why people think…
CLINTON: Well, but you know, Candy…
CROWLEY: … that you are not answering the question.
CLINTON: Well, but you know, Candy, well, but I think that if you go back and look at the complexity of this issue, I don't think a lot of these hard questions lend themselves to raising your hand. And I know that that's easier in a 30 second context to try to do. I think the fact that governors are being forced into this position is really unfortunate. They should not be making immigration policy. The federal government should be making immigration policy and that's what I'm going to try to do as president again and I do not believe that in the context of federal immigration reform that that would be an issue that governors would have to contend with.
CROWLEY: So it's – I know it's not a yes or no question to you but you've had some time here and the problem is that people can't quite get a hold of is for a governor at this time, do you think it's a good idea for them to offer drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants?
CLINTON: It depends upon what state they're in. It depends upon what they think the risks are. You know. A governor of New York that has a lot of immigrants, many of whom we know are not their legally, has to worry about security. A governor of another state where that's not a problem doesn't. This issue has been so politicized and I understand that because you can score points. You can score all kinds of political demagogic points but the fact is if we don't have comprehensive immigration reform, which for me includes toughening the borders, much harder sanctions on employers, doing more to help local communities that are stuck with the bill on all kinds of services. And bringing immigrants out of the shadows.
And if they ever committed a crime where they came from or here, immediately deport them. But for the others, have a tough path to earned legalization. Pay back taxes. Pay fines. Learn English. Wait in line. And once you got somebody on the record registered, deported the criminals, instead they had to keep on the right side of the law, keep making a living and do all of these other things I've outlined, that would be the appropriate time to give them some kind of license. But I understand – I'm not going to be second guessing governors who have to do the hard work of figuring out what's best for their state.
November 14 statement
I support Governor Spitzer's decision today to withdraw his proposal. His difficult job is made that much harder by the failure of the Congress and the White House to pass comprehensive immigration reform. As President, I will not support drivers' licenses for undocumented people and will press for comprehensive immigration reform that deals with all of the issues around illegal immigration including border security and fixing our broken system.