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Sen. Angus King: Executive Action On Immigration Could Backfire


We're going to hear more reaction now from Senator Angus King of Maine. He's an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. I asked him about immigration and about the Keystone XL pipeline. Just yesterday King was a crucial no vote on the pipeline bill that failed in the Senate by one vote and on immigration, Senator King told us he has concerns about President Obama taking executive action.

SENATOR ANGUS KING: I should say I am a very strong supporter of immigration reform. I voted for the bill last year, I worked for it and I'm very disappointed that the House hasn't acted. Having said that, however I am concerned if the president's action goes too far, that number one it will set the cause back, that it will inflame our politics, get us into a kind of retribution situation with the opponents of immigration reform and really change the subject from immigration to the president and whether he should've done what he did. And I also frankly am concerned about the constitutional separation of powers. You know, the Constitution says that the Congress makes the law and the president executes it. It's a very clear division. The Framers knew what they were doing and it doesn't say if the president gets frustrated and Congress doesn't act, he gets to do, you know, what he thinks is important for the country. Now, OK here's the conclusion.


KING: The best way for the opponents in Congress to do something if they're mad at what the president is doing is to do something themselves.

BLOCK: You mentioned fear of a backlash. You've heard Republicans in the leadership say that the president taking executive action on immigration would poison the well. It would be like waving a red flag in front of a bull. At the same time, the president today said he plans to work with Congress to encourage bipartisan support for legislation. I mean, do you think you can have it both ways - take executive action and still have partners within the Republican leadership in Congress?

KING: Well, you know, one way is - and I think you have to do this around here - and that is to take one issue at a time. If the president takes action on immigration that the Republicans don't like, OK, they don't like it. As I mentioned, they have a solution which is to pass their own bill and let's see if we can come up with something that everyone can agree to. But to have that bleed over into oh, should we do a budget or what we do with that the defense department I think is a mistake for everyone. So I think back to if LBJ or Jack Kennedy had tried to in effect impose the Civil Rights Act on the country prior to its passage in 1963, I think it would've made final passage much more difficult.

BLOCK: Let's talk about your vote yesterday on the Keystone XL pipeline. The Senate fell just one vote short of approving that pipeline. A lot of Republicans were hoping that you would join them in voting yes. Why did you decide to vote no?

KING: Well, I'm going to say something radical, Melissa.


KING: Climate change is a tremendous threat to this country. We just got a report - I'm on the Armed Services Committee - we just got a report from the Pentagon that they consider it one of the great threats to national security and it just - I couldn't in the end say, climate change is a really serious problem, we need worldwide work on this and by the way, we're going to intervene in a congressionally mandated, presidential process and give a building permit for a huge energy infrastructure project to facilitate the development of some of the world's dirtiest oil. I just - it just didn't make sense to me. The other piece, to be frank is, there's not much in this project for us.

BLOCK: For Mainers, you mean?

KING: This is a pipeline that runs from Canada to the Gulf where a lot of the oil is going to be refined and go overseas. We're basically a transit point.

BLOCK: Senator King, before you came to the Senate you were involved with and invested in alternative energy businesses including wind power. Does that shape your views of Keystone in particular?

KING: No, not at all. I've been involved in the energy business since the early '80s, hydro, biomass conservation. I've been a big supporter of natural gas. I'm not an absolutist on this. I realize that, you know, we're dependent on fossil fuels. We're going to continue to be for some period of time, but one of the reasons I got in the wind power business in the first place was, you know, I feel like if you're going to talk about climate change, you ought to put up or shut up. You ought to do something about it and I think we have an opportunity, a moral obligation to pass the planet along to our children and grandchildren in as good or better shape than we found it. I just think we've got to take some leadership and part of the leadership is to say OK maybe we don't need this very large infrastructure project to facilitate the utilization of some of the dirtiest oil in the world, we can find it in other ways.

BLOCK: Well, Senator King thanks for talking with us today.

KING: Glad to be with you. Thanks Melissa.

BLOCK: That's Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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