Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) personifies the stereotypical anti-immigration right winger. His tone is intemperate if not downright vile. He flogs the issue incessantly while offering no remotely reasonable solutions. But in a telling sign, the House leadership is no longer putting up with him.
Last week King uttered this noxious comment (reported on Tuesday) on potential beneficiaries of Dream Act legislation:
Some of them are valedictorians, and their parents brought them in. It wasn’t their fault. It’s true in some cases, but they aren’t all valedictorians. They weren’t all brought in by their parents. For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.
House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) came down on him like a ton of bricks. Politico reports:
There can be honest disagreements about policy without using hateful language,” Boehner said in his statement. “Everyone needs to remember that.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the second-ranking House Republican, said of King’s remarks: ”I strongly disagree with his characterization of the children of immigrants and find the comments inexcusable.” Cantor is working on a bill that would legalize young undocumented immigrants.
Well, that’s good. But the episode is eye-opening: King and the band of anti-immigrant hardliners are not representative of the GOP House conference and actually represent a tiny minority viewpoint. In crafting the House version of immigration reform, House leadership can and should disregard King’s crackpottery.
Once the House leadership does just that, immigration reform may be easier, just as it was in the Senate once deal-makers gave up on grandstanders such as Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.). House leadership can focus on those members who have an interest in solving the immigration problem.
In that regard, conservative opponents of immigration reform may be surprised to learn that Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is talking like a man who wants to accomplish something. The Associated Press reported:
At a hearing of the House Judiciary immigration subcommittee Tuesday on how to deal with immigrants brought here illegally as children, Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., suggested that “we as a nation should allow this group of young people to stay in the U.S. legally.” House Republican leaders have embraced offering citizenship to such immigrants, and Goodlatte is working on a bill with Majority Leader Eric Cantor toward the goal.
It is something of a turnaround for Republicans, many of whom in the past have opposed legalizing immigrants brought here as kids. And some Democrats and immigration advocates said it was a welcome development showing the GOP has moved forward since nominating a presidential candidate last year, Mitt Romney, who suggested that people here illegally should “self-deport.”
When you get down to the fine print, there may be much more flexibility than anti-immigrant voices have been saying. Consider that the House is now entertaining a version of border security akin to the original Gang of Eight plan rather than the super-duper Corker-Hoeven amendment.
So let’s imagine the following: The House requires a different arrangement of sequencing that holds initial legal status in abatement until some progress is made on border security. Only after the full border security plan is implemented do any time limits and restrictions on legal status end. Green-card status is still available down the road. And thereafter nothing disqualifies these green-card holders from applying for citizenship like everyone else. Cruz (“fundamentally unfair!”) and King won’t like that, but significant numbers of House Republicans may.
And finally, whether it is evangelicals gathering in the District or farm interests in rural states that need low-skilled labor or high-tech companies that want H-1B visas, there will be considerable pressure applied to House Republicans to pass a bill. On the other hand, as Molly Ball and I have pointed out, the risk of being primaried for immigration reform votes is tiny; the smarter play is to pass a House version of immigration reform.
King’s outburst, if nothing else, is helpful in reminding us that he’s certainly not the center of gravity in the House. That makes sound legislation and old-fashioned deal-making possible.