Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) responded angrily when asked about including protections for same-sex couples in immigration reform during a panel discussion Wednesday.
During a Politico breakfast discussion at the W Hotel in D.C., Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) indicated the issue hadn’t yet come up in Senate discussions on immigration reform, and they had wildly different takes on whether to include language for same-sex couples in the bill.
McCain warned that using comprehensive immigration reform as a vehicle for advancing “social issues” would lead to failure for the legislation when asked by Politico’s Mike Allen about including bi-national same-sex couples in the bill.
“I think it is a red herring,” McCain said. “I think then, do we want to guarantee a tax payer free abortion? I’m telling you now, if you load this up with social issues and things that are controversial, then it will the endanger the issue.”
McCain referenced a similar question he answered on the issue Tuesday during an appearance on “CBS This Morning.” At the time, he said such language was “not of paramount importance” and would be a “red flag” for him.
“Yesterday morning the first question was that,” McCain said. “Look, we are talking about four principles that we have to act on.”
Asked by Allen whether McCain’s response indicates opposition to gay inclusion in the bill, McCain relented, saying, “I’ll be glad to talk about it, discuss it, what the ramifications are and all that. But if somebody views that as the most important aspect of comprehensive immigration reform, then we just have a fundamental disagreement.”
Schumer chimed in to indicate his support for the proposed language — which would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States — but said discussion on the issue hasn’t yet begun. Standalone legislation that would address the issue is known as the Uniting American Families Act.
“I’m a sponsor of this bill,” Schumer said. “I’m for it, I care about it. We haven’t discussed it yet, and certainly it’ll be one of the issues on the table, but as John said, we first got to get our basic structure and framework before we make decisions on this.”
But McCain wasn’t yet finished with expressing his displeasure.
“Which is more important, LGBT or border security, huh?” McCain said. “I’ll tell you what my priorities are. So, again, if you’re going to load it up with social issues, that is the best way to derail it in my view.”
Both senators took part in the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that unveiled a blueprint for a comprehensive immigration reform on Monday that lacks references to bi-national same-sex couples.
President Obama included a line for bi-national same-sex couples as part of his fact sheet for comprehensive immigration reform unveiled on Tuesday, which states the plan “treats same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner.”
As an aside, McCain’s use of the acronym “LGBT” is notable because in 2007 when running as a presidential candidate, he was unaware of the term when asked about it during a high school rally, saying, “I had not heard that phrase before.”
Watch a video of the exchange here: