GOP platform backs off pet issues to help McCain

Published 6:04 pm Friday, August 29, 2008

Republicans are putting John McCain’s campaign priorities above some of their pet issues, including drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and denying citizenship to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.

Members of the GOP platform committee adopted a platform Wednesday that proclaims their party united behind McCain while skirting some enduring points of contention.

That came after they voted to stick with an energy plank that doesn’t mention drilling in the refuge, saying it would only highlight an area where they differ with the Arizona senator. McCain opposes drilling in that protected land, and some committee members said they would rather bring him around on the issue once he’s in the White House than widen their disagreement now.

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“He’s not there yet,” said delegate Jeff Grossman of Oregon. “Prudence would dictate that we leave the text as it is until our candidate catches up with us.”

Delegates endorsed expanded drilling generally, both offshore and in Alaska, North Dakota and Montana, and declared that the Alaskan refuge should not be put off limits to the oil industry permanently.

McCain doesn’t have to follow the platform and it’s unclear whether he will give it much weight; presidential candidates often don’t. But the 112-member committee working on the statement of party principles in Minneapolis is trying not to stray too far from McCain’s views, while also satisfying the conservative base.

The panel turned back a move to deny citizenship to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. Opponents raised constitutional concerns and said the proposal would complicate life for McCain, who has sponsored legislation giving illegal immigrants a path toward legal status but now prioritizes border security.

“I want to give him a platform he can run on,” said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. “I don’t want to stick my finger in his eye.”

On immigration, Barbour said the platform is the toughest ever put forward. It calls for a border fence and English as the official language, and opposes amnesty, driver’s licenses, in-state tuition rates, Social Security and other government benefits for illegal immigrants. GOP delegates also aim to block federal funds to cities that bar police from working with immigration authorities under so-called sanctuary ordinances.

Republicans are also doing a balancing act on climate change.

The platform acknowledges a human role in increased carbon emissions — although a sentence linking those emissions to “a warming effect on the earth” was yanked. The GOP is calling for climate change policies that are “global in nature, based on sound science and technology” and don’t hurt the economy. The document also decries “no-growth radicalism” and says solutions should not “force Americans to sacrifice their way of life or trim their hopes and dreams for their children.”

Committee member Trey Grayson of Kentucky called the document “the greenest platform we’ve ever had.” But it lacks an explicit endorsement of McCain’s call for mandatory cuts in emissions in a federal cap and trade program that goes beyond anything supported by President Bush.

Before the final vote, delegates waded deep into a debate over embryonic stem cells — another area where many differ with McCain, who supports relaxing federal restrictions on the funding of such research. They voted to ban human cloning and “the creation of or experimentation on human embryos for research purposes.”

The platform goes before the full Republican National Convention across town in St. Paul on Monday.