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NBC's Quintanilla Wonders If Gingrich Is 'Pandering' on Illegal Immigration

As Thursday's Today show on NBC gave attention to GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich's support for allowing some illegal immigrants to gain legal residency status rather than face deportation, substitute co-anchor Carl Quintanilla asked correspondent John Harwood if the former House Speaker was "pandering" to gain votes in the general election. Quintanilla:


You mentioned those comments about immigration during the debate, saying that he was open to the possibility of illegal immigrants becoming legal residents looking for some legality, in his words. Does that come back to haunt him? And do you think he actually really believes it? Or is this pandering to voters who might be with him in a general election?


Harwood defended Gingrich's sincerity and noted that he has a "long track record of articulating similar positions." Harwood:


Oh, I think he believes it. He's got a long track record of articulating similar positions, and, of course, the question that kicked off those comments from Wolf Blitzer was about his vote in favor of a bill that accomplished a similar goal during the Ronald Reagan administration. Newt Gingrich will lose some support over this, but I think he's better positioned than Rick Perry was to withstand the heat from conservatives.


Without noting the argument that many illegal immigrants would likely leave the country willingly if laws were enforced more comprehensively, Harwood went on to undermine what he labeled the "hard line" position on immigration by contending that even those who oppose illegal immigration do not support deporting 12 million illegal immigrants from the country. Harwood:

The other thing that helps him in an underlying sense, Carl, is that even people who take a hard line on immigration understand that we're not going to kick 12 million people out of the country. It's why you haven't heard a plan from Mitt Romney about how he's going to execute that.


Below is a transcript of the relevant exchange from the Thursday, November 24, Today show on NBC:


CARL QUINTANILLA: You mentioned those comments about immigration during the debate, saying that he was open to the possibility ofillegal immigrants becoming legal residents looking for some legality, in his words. Does that come back to haunt him? And do you think he actually really believes it? Or is this pandering to voters who might be with him in a general election?

JOHN HARWOOD: Oh, I think he believes it. He's got a long track record of articulating similar positions, and, of course, the question that kicked offthose comments from Wolf Blitzer was about his vote in favor of a bill that accomplished a similar goal during the Ronald Reagan administration. Newt Gingrich will lose some support over this, but I think he's better positioned than Rick Perry was to withstand the heat from conservatives. He's got a record of having led the Republican Party back to control of Congress. He's got a record on this issue and a reputation among conservatives that I think will help him.

The other thing that helps him in an underlying sense, Carl, is that even people who take a hard line on immigration understand that we're not going to kick 12 million people out of the country. It's why you haven't heard a plan from Mitt Romney about how he's going to execute that. Everybody is a little bit vague on what you actually do with those people. Newt Gingrich was a little more specific, and I think he's going to try to defend that position.


- Brad Wilmouth is a news analyst at the Media Research Center