Chris Christie on immigration: We need a path to citizenship; Update: Was Christie talking about illegals?

Some righties, Ace among them, are shrugging this off, which I kind of understand. For one thing, conservative rock star though he be, Christie’s still a Republican leading a deep-blue state. We may want to believe he’s Reagan reincarnated but there’s probably a little of Rudy Giuliani in that political DNA. For another thing, he’s wisely chosen not to be too specific about this issue so the quotes end up being ambiguous. What kind of path to citizenship, precisely, does he have in mind? No idea, which is just how he likes it, I’m sure. And of course, he gets the “true conservative” benefit of the doubt that grassroots righties always extend to GOP icons until they say or do something irretrievably RINO-ish. Palin used to be the paradigm example: If she said something sketchy, like, er, about supporting a path to citizenship for illegals, excuses would immediately be offered that she was misquoted or the media was out to get her or (more credibly) that she was only saying that under duress from the McCain campaign, etc. Ever since she endorsed Maverick in Arizona and Fiorina in California, my sense is that people are a bit (but only a bit) stingier towards her in that regard. Christie is still in the full flush of his “the next Reagan?!” buzz, though, he gets the full complement, which means this shouldn’t make too many waves. I think.

On the hot-button topic of immigration reform, he said he has long declined to “demagogue” the issue as a former U.S. Attorney, because “I come from law enforcement and it’s not an easy issue.”

But he did intimate that he thinks stringent state-by-state laws – such as in Arizona – are the wrong approach, and added, “I think President Obama doesn’t do this at his own risk because it’s affecting the economy in the country…to me, I think the president’s really gotta show the leadership on this.”

“This is a federal problem, it’s gotta have a federal fix,” he said. “I’m not really comfortable with state law enforcement having a big role.”

He said that without border security, enforcement of existing laws and a “clear” path to legalization for immigrants, there would never be a fix.

I posted that in Headlines this morning and some readers immediately objected that the description was unclear, that that damned Politico was trying to make trouble, that it was telling how they refused to quote him directly — the “true conservative” benefit of the doubt, in other words. So I asked Ben Smith to provide a direct quote. And voila:

“What I support is making sure that the federal government [plays] each and every one of its roles: Securing the border, enforcing immigration laws, and having an orderly process — whatever that process is — for people to gain citizenship.”

He added: “It’s a very easy issue to demagogue and I’m just not going to participate in that.”

Christie said more resources — specifically, “money” — were needed to support federal law enforcement and border security, along with “having a clear understandable law that people can follow.”

Ace describes that as being “a lot more GOP-friendly” than the description in the first blockquote, but I’m not sure why. The second quote clarifies that he’s talking about full-fledged citizenship for illegals, not mere “legalization” as might be had in a guest-worker program. “Whatever that process is” leaves some wiggle room but I’m sure it’s the standard amnesty caveats: Pay back taxes, learn English, go to the back of the line, blah blah blah. As for the part about securing the border, that’s a universal talking point for Democrats too; I’d bet dollars to donuts that it’s the first policy plank Obama mentions in his big amnesty shpiel tomorrow. The national debate, after all, isn’t between enforcement or amnesty, it’s between enforcement with amnesty or enforcement without. Says Philip Klein, “In practice, his preferred policy on immigration, which involves a path to citizenship, would likely put him to the left of where the primary electorate is.” A tough spot for the Next Reagan to be in — although in fairness, Reagan was a big ol’ amnesty shill too. Maybe that’ll be CC’s campaign slogan: “Amnesty — good enough for the Gipper, good enough for me!”

He’ll be on “Hannity” tonight so maybe we’ll get some further clarification. As for my reaction to his quote, here’s documentary footage of how I responded after reading the Politico piece this morning.

Update: One of the objections below is that Christie never specifies that he’s talking about illegals who are already here when he refers to an “orderly process … for people to gain citizenship.” Could be he simply means that we need a way for people in Mexico and elsewhere to come here legally and become citizens if they want to. Which is fine, except that virtually no one this side of Tom Tancredo disputes that. Of course there should be channels for foreigners to apply for citizenship; to acknowledge that when it’s not seriously being debated would be meaningless, which is why I assume that he was, in fact, talking about illegals who are already here. But like I say, maybe we’ll find out more on “Hannity.”