Republican leaders and consultants were probably letting out sighs of annoyance on Tuesday night upon seeing Iowa Representative Steve King’s newest offensive comment pop up on their Twitter feed. “
#Obama perverts “prosecutorial discretion” by inviting a deportable to sit in place of honor at #SOTU w/1st Lady. I should sit with Alito,” read his tweet. King was probably referring to the undocumented immigrant, Ana Zamora, who was sitting next to Michelle Obama.
It was yet another in a long line of questionable or outright offensive statements when referring to undocumented immigrants for King. Some Republicans will likely defend him or downplay the statement (King himself told NBCNews to simply “shake it off” as a joke), though others did not. Yet what really has to be aggravating to Republican leaders who want to improve relations with the Hispanic community is just how unnecessary all of King’s incendiary comments are. Do you really have to personally degrade human beings to make a point about immigration? Are there not enough other reasons to back his arguments? Or does King simply want to get his place on Fox News and rally a certain type of right-wing voter to his cause?
In the end, all it seems King accomplishes with remarks like these is to highlight the complete inhumanity of what mass deportation would really mean. You would almost have to see these undocumented immigrants as a lesser class of people to be fine with breaking up millions of families and deporting children who have been in this country for decades through no fault of their own.
This all presents a problem for Republican candidates for president as they come to Iowa. King’s “deportable” comment was particularly ill-timed, as he welcomes an impressive number of GOP luminaries to his Iowa Freedom Summit this weekend. Senator Marco Rubio was already asked about the comments (though he’s not attending the summit) and, as The Hill reported, replied, “We’re talking about human beings with hopes and dreams and families.” Others will be pressed too, including from local Iowa activists.
The organization America’s Voice, a national immigration reform advocacy group, looks to nail down the presidential hopefuls’ beliefs on immigration as they attend King’s summit. “As 2016 hopefuls continue to pass through Iowa, they must be prepared to answer some key questions on immigration: As president, would you continue the President’s DACA and DAPA programs?” questioned Matt Hildreth of American Voice in a press release, also a resident of Larchwood, Iowa. “Do you support the efforts of Steve King and the majority of House Republicans to deport DREAMers and the parents of children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents?” The group also took out an ad in the Des Moines Register touting local Iowan support for reform, and Hildreth’s op-ed ran in the paper as well (I personally disagree with the idea that social conservative dominance on the Republican side makes the caucus “irrelevant” as Hildreth wonders, but that’s a topic for another time).
Unfortunately for groups like America’s Voice, many Republican candidates’ answers will likely be, “Why yes, yes I do support King’s policies.” But for those who do not, they will need to seriously consider whether appearing with Steve King is worth the risk of being associated with his needlessly-incendiary anti-immigration comments and jeopardizing the party’s already-poor standing with Hispanic voters.