Here is how a politically sensitive issue becomes a nightmare for the Republican Party: The sponsor of House Republicans’ only concrete, yet divisive, action on immigration this year makes a comment comparing unauthorised immigrant college students to drug mules with “calves the size of cantaloupes.”
He follows that up by defending his comments, even as Republican leaders openly slam and denounce them.
“When people start calling you names, that’s what confirms you’ve won the debate,” King told Breitbart.com Wednesday.
And when these leaders outcast King as a “fringe” member of the House Republican caucus, Democrats can gleefully point out that he has largely guided the party’s legislative actions on immigration in 2013.
“Steve King has been the driving force behind the GOP’s immigration policy,” one Senate Democratic aide told Business Insider.
“For Republicans who wanted to oppose immigration reform, they would consequently have to stand with Steve King and would therefore have to answer why they share his hate-based views. We’ve long known that the hard opposition to immigration reform is based in illogical and misconceived stereotypes of immigrants. King makes that obvious for everyone.”
Republicans can point back to June 6 as the day King became a major problem for the party as a whole, at a time when many are actively trying to work to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws and improve the party’s standing with Latino voters.
On that day, all but six Republicans voted to pass an amendment sponsored by King that would have, in essence, resulted in more deportations of so-called “Dreamers” — unauthorised immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
The amendment would have barred the distribution of funds to “finalise, implement, administer, or enforce” an Obama administration policy that directed Department of Homeland Security employees to avoid deporting “low priority” undocumented immigrants.
A week later, King freaked out when unauthorised immigrants advocating immigration reform “invaded his office,” as he put it. And he also organised a marathon press conference to rail against the Senate’s bill.
King stirred controversy last week when he suggested to the conservative publication Newsmax that there was a 1-to-100 ratio between young, undocumented immigrants who were good students and those who are drug traffickers.
“They’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’ve been hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert,” he said.
King has refused to back down from those comments, saying he has seen “data and video that support what I say.” Despite strong rebukes from as high up as House Speaker John Boehner, King has continued to flaunt his comments — most recently, in a rambling speech on the House floor Thursday in which he invoked the entire history of Western civilisation as proof of his theory about needing stricter border security.
“No nation like the United States of America can continue to grow and be a strong nation if we are going to judge people because they disagree with our agenda rather than the content of their statements,” King said on the House floor, responding to critics of his comments. “We have to be critical thinkers. We have to be analytical. We should understand facts from emotion.”
The problem King’s comments have created for Republicans is hard to overstate. His remarks have been blasted and portrayed as the standard for the overall party everywhere from the Hispanic media to the Today show.
“The influence of Steve King’s ineloquence is limited to an extremely small group of members,” said one House GOP aide.
But they find it hard to escape the fact that more than 200 members voted for King’s controversial amendment. When one GOP aide was asked if there was regret over the King amendment, the aide only said, “Nightmare.”
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.