Republicans won't be punished by conservative primary voters if they back comprehensive immigration reform legislation, Sen. John McCain predicted Sunday.
The Arizona Republican, who saw backlash from conservatives for his support of immigration reform proposals during his bid for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, said that as long as certain provisions were included in the plan, Republican voters would get on board.
"I think it's going to be OK, as long as they are satisfied we have effective control over our border," he told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley on "State of the Union."
An early backer of comprehensive immigration reform, McCain later backed away from supporting a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants after his position hurt him with GOP primary voters during his run for president in 2008. This year, he's been more vocal in his support of immigration reform measures, including the bipartisan framework proposed last month in the Senate.
That plan includes a pathway to citizenship that hinges on bolstering border security, something McCain said was necessary and supported by the American people.
"Just because they broke the law doesn't mean they're condemned forever to a twilight status," he said. "I believe that most Americans feel that for these people who have come illegally, as long as they pay back taxes, pay a fine, learn English and get behind everybody else, that's a key element of it. And most Americans now realize we can't have 11 million people sit in the twilight, the shadows of America, forever."
His support for a new immigration reform plan hasn't come without some pushback, however. During a town hall meeting in Arizona last week, McCain fielded spirited questioning from some people in the border state apparently frustrated with slow progress on the illegal immigration issue. Several rose at his forum in support of stringent deportation programs, which McCain does not favor.
"This is an Orwellian experience," he said to one agitated questioner, telling him to sit down. "You've had enough time, sir. You've had enough time."
On Sunday, McCain said those kinds of back-and-forths were why he held town hall meetings.
"That's what town halls are supposed to be about. That's why they're always packed, as you notice," he said, adding that his staff doesn't screen constituents who show up to his events.