Republicans and conservative media figures have pounced on comments from Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), in which the congressman called White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly a “disgrace to the uniform he used to wear.” But the congressman, who is arguing for the DREAM Act to be attached to must-pass bills, is refusing to back down.

In an interview Tuesday afternoon, Gutierrez doubled down on his strident comments about Kelly, describing his conversations over the last several months with the former homeland security secretary about the fate of “dreamers.”

“This is a man that says to me to my face, ‘I feel so bad for those dreamers. I’m the only one between them and their deportation,’ ” Gutiérrez recalled. “Well, if you think it’s wrong, then act on your principle.”

Leon Panetta, who became defense secretary when Kelly served as senior military assistant at the Pentagon in 2011, defended the former general Wednesday.

“He is somebody who respects the orders of the commander-in-chief. That’s built into his fabric as a person,” Panetta said. “I don’t know you can lay everything you object to in this administration on the lap of John Kelly.”

Democrats decried the Trump administration's decision to wind down DACA, while many Republicans agreed that the program was an "overreach." (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Meanwhile, Republicans who have hesitated to criticize beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, have found a worthy political target in Gutiérrez. In several Fox News stories, commentators pointed out that Gutiérrez had not served in the military, while Kelly had lost a son in Afghanistan.

“What I would say to Mr. Gutiérrez, sit down with a Republican in the House and try to find a solution instead of slandering Gen. Kelly,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who is attempting to wrangle votes for a version of the DREAM Act.

Doug Rivlin, a spokesman for Gutiérrez, told the Post that when Kelly accepted a role in the administration, “he became a politician just like his boss who has done nothing but attack Latinos since he first descended the golden staircase at Trump Tower to call Mexicans murderers and rapists in 2015.”

“General Kelly would not have abandoned his troops, but Chief of Staff Kelly apparently will,” Rivlin said.

Gutiérrez said that he’s “tired of all this ‘I love them, they’re great, but don’t expect me to help them’ ” rhetoric from Republicans. “If I saw someone in need and I did nothing, I’d be defacing my own humanity.”

He added: “We hear the same thing time and time again. They get out their ‘Hay bendito, pobrecito’ ” — Spanish that roughly translates to mean, “Oh, you poor thing.”

“They do this all the time,” Gutiérrez said. “It’s liked they watched too many telenovelas. But that’s not going to help us. You know what will? Taking on your own right-wing, xenophobic, anti-immigrant sectors of your party and saying ‘No.’ ”

Despite his sore feelings about Kelly, Gutiérrez said he’s optimistic that Congress and the administration will be able to sort out a rescue plan for dreamers.

“My gut tells me it’s going to happen. We’re going to be on the streets. This is not going to end. There was one day we went to the airport for the Muslims? Well, this is going to go on day in and day out — constant, constant, constant — day in and day out,” he said.

The Trump administration is appealing an injunction on the phaseout of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and asking the Supreme Court to get involved. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)