New York Times: Newt Gingrich sought to turn the fractious issue of illegal immigration from an Achilles heel of his campaign into a spear aimed at opponents. He attacked both the Obama administration for failing to control the Mexican border, then pivoted in an interview to warn his Republican rivals, Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann, that they would pay a price for distorting his position.
At a town-hall-style event at the College of Charleston on Monday evening, Mr. Gingrich assailed the Justice Department for filing a lawsuit against the state's new immigration law, which would require the police to check the legal status of people they stop.
"Instead of coming down here and having him apologize for the absolute failure of the federal government to stop illegal immigration at the border," Mr. Gingrich said, "the Obama administration filed a lawsuit against the state."
Reading off a list of 16 Latin American and Caribbean countries that have filed friend of the court briefs, Mr. Gingrich questioned whose side Mr. Obama was on. "No American president has the right to side with foreigners," he said.
The foreign countries believe that the new law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, would lead to racial profiling of their citizens. The Justice Department has said the law, like those in Alabama and Arizona, undermines the federal governments role.
Last week Mr. Gingrich's call for humane immigration policies lead Republican presidential rivals to sharply attack him and exposed his vulnerability on a visceral issue with many voters. Asked about his policies, as he invariably is at campaign stops, Mr. Gingrich says he would unceremoniously deport recent illegal immigrants. But for those who have been in the country 25 years and put down family and community roots, he favors a system of legal status, which he says is not amnesty because it does not include voting rights or citizenship.
Asked how many of the estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in the country would be eligible for this status, Mr. Gingrich was imprecise. "I think the number that will affect is relatively small, but it is not nonexistent," he said Monday.
Both Mr. Romney and Mrs. Bachmann have accused Mr. Gingrich of favoring a form of amnesty that would serve as a magnet to more illegal immigrants.
Mrs. Bachmann told Fox News last week: "He's saying that all people who are here as illegal workers would be given that status. That's over 11 million people who are here. Mr. Romney used the word amnesty repeatedly in attacking Mr. Gingrich's position last week in Iowa, where the issue is playing a central role in the shifting terrain leading up to the state's caucus on Jan. 3."
Mr. Gingrich, who plans to visit Iowa on Thursday, said Tuesday after a fund-raising event in Hilton Head that Mr. Romney's and Mrs. Bachmann's criticism would backfire. Candidates who decide to use things that are factually false run a real risk of being repudiated by people, because people are sick of negatives and they're sick of politicians who can't be candid, he said in the parking lot of the Crazy Crab restaurant.
"So I think they're both making a strategic mistake," he said. "I'll be in Iowa tomorrow night. I'm going to deal with it very directly. These things are not true. I don't mind debating anybody any time. Lincoln said if you can't get someone to agree that 2 plus 2 equals 4, you can't win the argument because facts have no meaning. It is impossible to look at what I've said and conclude I am for amnesty for 11 million people. And anyone who says I am is simply saying something that is false."