By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 7, 2011; 11:47 PM
In a surprise move, the House Judiciary Committee's most prominent voice against illegal immigration was passed over Friday in his quest to lead the committee's immigration subpanel.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) announced that Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) would head the immigration subcommittee, a move that came barely 24 hours after Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) had introduced a bill that sought to prevent children of undocumented immigrants from becoming citizens.
While King was the ranking Republican on the subcommittee in the last Congress, ahead of Gallegly, Smith's spokeswoman, Kim Smith, pointed out in an interview that Gallegly was the more senior member of the Judiciary Committee.
Yet the move may indicate fault lines within the Republican Party on immigration, with many rank-and-file conservatives embracing King's tough rhetoric against undocumented immigrants and their children but the party leadership perhaps preferring a leader with a quieter voice and a lower profile. Some within the GOP have warned that shrillness on the subject can be painted by opponents as an anti-Latino bias.
Smith himself said in a statement, "The House Judiciary Committee's agenda is going to be job creation and oversight. Everything else can wait."
A day before Smith announced his decision, King drew a contrast in an interview between the views of real conservatives and the views of Karl Rove, whose American Crossroads PAC funneled tens of millions of dollars to GOP candidates in the recent midterm elections.
King said that Rove and President George W. Bush had erred in seeking to offer "amnesty" to undocumented immigrants. King also called for the Internal Revenue Service to be enlisted to check the Social Security numbers of employees listed on the tax returns of companies. And he said he favored the construction of a concrete wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
On Wednesday, after Republican state legislators promised to introduce state laws that would challenge current interpretations of the Constitution's 14th Amendment on birthright citizenship, King introduced a bill that directly sought to keep the children of undocumented immigrants from becoming citizens. In the interview, King said he was confident his bill would pass constitutional muster.