In a brief fly-by media avail, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour on Saturday ducked two of the more contentious issues facing any Republican seeking the GOP nomination for president in California: oil drilling off the California coast and a path to citizenship for immigrants living and working here illegally.
Before a dinner speech to the California Republican Party meeting in Sacramento, Barbour (who says he’ll decide on running for president by the end of April) took questions for about 10 minutes from reporters, demonstrating his masterful ability to respond without answering.
Asked about his stance on a path to citizenship, Barbour first cut off and argued with the premise of a question from San Francisco Chronicle reporter Carla Marinucci, who began, “You lobbied for the government of Mexico on the issue of amnesty and a path to citizenship . . . ”
“Actually, your facts are incorrect,” he said, saying his firm (but not he) had lobbied for the American Trucking Association in an attempt to ensure that American trucks would not be prohibited from Mexico if truckers had to return home before getting their visas renewed.
Not only is that version harshly at odds with documented reporting, which shows Barbour personally was a lobbyist for the Mexican government and helped push for more lenient treatment of Mexican nationals seeking to remain in the United States (which his critics called “amnesty”), but it also side-stepped the real question – which Calbuzz asked in a follow-up: Where does he stand on the issue of providing a path to citizenship?
“First, we have to close the border,” Barbour replied “Once we have a closed and secure and controlled border, then you can start talking about what should we do and what shouldn’t we do. But I can tell you, there’s not going to be any agreement among Americans until we close the border.”
In other remarks, Barbour has gone further, saying that whatever is decided, it cannot include “amnesty.”
When we tried another approach – “Is it your position that until the borders are closed, you cannot support a path to citizenship?” – Barbour replied:
“I don’t think there should be any attempt at overall immigration reform until the border’s closed. Now, there’s one thing that’s not part of the greater sort of broader immigration reform and that’s H1B visas. We ought to have a whole lot more H1B visas in the United States.
“It is silly for us to take these very, very bright young people from other countries that come here to go to school and they get great educations, PhDs, whatever, and then we make ‘em go home. We ought to make it easy for ‘em to stay here because we’re in a global battle for talent in the United States as well as a global battle for capital. So we need to do everything we can do to be the place where all the best talent in the world wants to come.”
He cut off another follow-up from Calbuzz that began, “What about housekeepers…”
We also asked whether he’d like to see more oil drilling off the coast of California and Barbour again took a duck:
“I’d like to see more drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Thirty percent of the oil produced in the United States year before last come out of the Gulf of Mexico. Now we have a permatorium on the Gulf of Mexico drilling. The administration, now that gasoline has shot up, is saying ‘oh well we’ve given two permits in the last two weeks.’ Well, if you look at the fine print, the two permits are not for new wells to be drilled, they’re permits to resume drilling on wells that had already been started more than a year ago.”
What about here?
“I don’t know enough about it here. What I do know about is the Gulf because we have been drilling oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico for 50 years – 31,000 oil wells. And the United States depends on that production, a lot of people in my part of the country worry about the loss of jobs.
“Well, I do too. But more than that I worry about how when we reduce the amount of petroleum we produce in the United States it makes us more reliant on foreign oil and every president since 1973 has had a policy to try to make us less dependent on foreign oil . So stopping drilling in the Gulf, taking lands off line in Alaska, fighting the bringing in of tar sands produced oil in Canada – all of these things are contrary to a country that needs more American energy. And that’s what our policy should be – more American energy.”