Over the weekend, Redstate broke the news that Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) had accused President Obama of using border security as leverage to pass comprehensive immigration reform. The White House denied the exchange, followed by a double-down by Kyl’s spokesman. At today’s briefing, Chip Reid and I asked Press Secretary Bill Burton about the conversation. While Burton wouldn’t specifically call Kyl a liar, his response, coupled with Kyl’s reaffirmation, doesn’t leave much wiggle room.
Q Another topic, immigration, and forgive me if this has already been asked of somebody in the administration. I was yachting with Tony so I didn’t see it over the weekend. (Laughter.) But Jon Kyl, on immigration at a town hall, said, “the problem” — that he met with the President in the Oval Office and he then said, that the President told him “the problem is if we secure the border then you all won’t have any reason to support comprehensive immigration reform.” And that’s on fire in the conservative blogosphere with people saying, ah-ha, the President is holding immigration reform hostage to this — or holding securing the border hostage to immigration comprehensive reform. He said he doesn’t want to secure the border because then that dooms the chances of immigration reform. Did the President really say that to Kyl?
MR. BURTON: No, the President didn’t say that. Senator Kyl knows that the President didn’t say that. But what everybody knows because the President has made it perfectly clear is that what we need to do is everything that we can to bring about comprehensive immigration reform. And that includes not just securing the border, but doing a lot of other things.
Now, when it comes to securing the border, we’ve put more resources at the border than have ever been there before. The President has doubled the number of border agents who are there. We’ve put other surveillance systems in. We’ve continued to work to make sure that we’re taking care of the security of the folks who live down in the border states, and we’re going to continue to do that.
But, no, that statement is not true. And we’re just going to continue to work and hopefully get the support of senators like Senator Kyl for comprehensive reform because that’s the only way we’re really going to be able to address this problem.
Q Did Kyl lie? Or is this within the range of acceptable political exaggeration?
MR. BURTON: I’ll let other folks make that determination.
Q Well, the White House would have to make that. You’ve said it’s not true. Is that just a lie?
MR. BURTON: Exactly, I said it’s not true.
Q Somebody from the White House reached out — Senator Kyl is a member of the leadership. This is somebody who comes into this building all the time. Did somebody from the White House reach out to Senator Kyl and ask him to clarify his remarks?
MR. BURTON: I don’t know if anybody specifically called his office, but as you know we are in constant contact with the leadership on the Hill and I’m sure this will come up in conversations.
Q So you assume somebody will reach out if they haven’t do so already?
MR. BURTON: I assume that we’ll be in contact with his office.
Tommy Christopher: You said that you know that the President didn’t say what Senator Kyl says he said, but do you have the White House’s version of what he did say, how that conversation went, or can you get that?
MR. BURTON: No. I mean, what the President — the President’s feelings on immigration are crystal clear. I went over them earlier in the briefing.
Q Well, why not release the quote? Why not release what —
MR. BURTON: Well, there’s not a transcript of the meeting.
Q Is there a taping system in the Oval Office? (Laughter.)
Q There’s not a steno — actually, there’s not a steno?
MR. BURTON: No.
Q There’s not a — there’s not anybody taking notes at that meeting?
MR. BURTON: There’s no — there’s no stenographer.
Tommy Christopher: Will there be one now?
Q There’s no — nobody taking notes at these meetings with the Senate —
MR. BURTON: If it’s just one-on-one, unless one of the people in the room is taking notes.
Q This happened at a leadership meeting.
Q It was just a one-on-one, right, that you —
MR. BURTON: What Senator Kyl said was one-on-one. Now, at the leadership meetings, there are more people in there and some people take notes, but even in that, there is no stenographer.
Q But in these one-on-ones, there’s nobody else in the room?
MR. BURTON: Not if it’s one-on-one.
Q Right. Now, the original denial came from Dan. Did Dan talk to the President specifically about that?
MR. BURTON: Rahm discussed it with the President.
Q So it went from the President to Rahm to Dan?
MR. BURTON: Yes.
It doesn’t appear that Burton had heard Kyl’s pushback, which makes it less likely that Kyl simply misspoke. According to Burton, the President says it’s not true, and Kyl says it is. Maybe it’s time for the President to start having a stenographer around when meeting one-on-one with Republican leaders.
Have a tip we should know? firstname.lastname@example.org