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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Mel Martinez returns to Capitol Hill and stumbles into immigration debate



Mel Martinez must have felt a powerful case of déjà vu today during his return to Capitol Hill. The former Florida senator was there to testify before a banking committee but found himself in a pack of reporters asking about immigration policy.

“Sen. Paul is some taking some leadership on an issue that needs a lot of leadership. I’m delighted to hear that,” said Martinez, who was a key player in the failed 2007 attempt at immigration reform.

He was asked what has changed for Republicans in the years since. “I think the climate is totally different. I still think it’s really important …

“I can’t believe I’m talking to you all, the same faces, about this again," he said, beaming.

“I think the climate is totally different than it was four years ago, five years ago. Obviously, elections have consequences, and I think the statements from the RNC and Chairman Priebus, I think it’s a much better climate. But also border security has improved. The migration coming from Mexico today is not what it was. And, by the way, we’re experiencing some labor shortages again as we begin to grow our economy and housing comes back. There’s just a much better atmosphere."

Martinez said he's read Jeb Bush's new immigration book and defended Bush's stance that immigrants wanting to become citizens would have to first return to their home country. "When we were doing the bill in 2007, we were saying go home and come back -- 'touchback.' That was kind of the way we thought we could get it through (Congress). I think that's the same think the governor was saying, is that he was setting something out there that he thought would be acceptable" politically.

While Paul dithered on whether he supported a path to citizenship, Martinez was unambiguous. "There should not be a group of people in our country that are denied the benefits and the privileges and the opportunities to contribute to society by being citizens.”

A reporter asked, “What are you doing here today, senator?”

“I came to testify in the Senate banking committee on GSE reform.”

Cackling, the reporter said, “Oh, that sounds interesting.”

[Last modified: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 9:13am]


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