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Topic: Steve King

The Steve King Freak Show Rolls On

Opponents of immigration reform got a reminder yesterday of their biggest liability as the House of Representatives prepares to deal with the issue after the August recess: themselves. Rep. Steve King may have gotten a stern rebuke from the Republican leadership of the House after his rant about young illegal immigrants being drug smugglers (with “calves the size of canteloupes”) and not hard-working students, but he is undeterred and enjoying the celebrity that comes from being willing to say outrageous things that smarter politicians would avoid because they undermine his case. That’s what led NBC to draft King to be the voice of opposition to current proposals for immigration reform on Meet the Press yesterday.

While I don’t agree with those who believe the bill passed by the Senate won’t help fix border security or that it will worsen the country’s economic problems, you can’t help but sympathize with the people who have put forward reasonable arguments on the issue who find themselves playing second fiddle to a loose cannon like King. If NBC wanted a serious debate about immigration, there are lots of people on that side of the issue they could have chosen who wouldn’t have turned the discussion into a food fight that only gave him another opportunity to embarrass his cause and allow opponents—including Republican supporters of immigration reform like Anna Navarro—to skewer him and by extension all those who agree with him. You can put that choice down to media bias, but this is one that conservatives who have thrown in with King, and others in the grass roots who have embraced his position as well as those who put forward “cultural concerns” about immigration, have brought on themselves. While William Kristol and Rich Lowry wrote last month that the current discussion about immigration had avoided the prejudicial tone about Hispanics that had characterized much of the arguments against reform articulated in 2006 and 2007, King is ensuring that they are being proved wrong on that point. And in doing so, he is both discrediting the opposition to reform and raising the stakes for Republicans who think they have nothing to lose by ensuring that Congress won’t pass any bill this year.

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Opponents of immigration reform got a reminder yesterday of their biggest liability as the House of Representatives prepares to deal with the issue after the August recess: themselves. Rep. Steve King may have gotten a stern rebuke from the Republican leadership of the House after his rant about young illegal immigrants being drug smugglers (with “calves the size of canteloupes”) and not hard-working students, but he is undeterred and enjoying the celebrity that comes from being willing to say outrageous things that smarter politicians would avoid because they undermine his case. That’s what led NBC to draft King to be the voice of opposition to current proposals for immigration reform on Meet the Press yesterday.

While I don’t agree with those who believe the bill passed by the Senate won’t help fix border security or that it will worsen the country’s economic problems, you can’t help but sympathize with the people who have put forward reasonable arguments on the issue who find themselves playing second fiddle to a loose cannon like King. If NBC wanted a serious debate about immigration, there are lots of people on that side of the issue they could have chosen who wouldn’t have turned the discussion into a food fight that only gave him another opportunity to embarrass his cause and allow opponents—including Republican supporters of immigration reform like Anna Navarro—to skewer him and by extension all those who agree with him. You can put that choice down to media bias, but this is one that conservatives who have thrown in with King, and others in the grass roots who have embraced his position as well as those who put forward “cultural concerns” about immigration, have brought on themselves. While William Kristol and Rich Lowry wrote last month that the current discussion about immigration had avoided the prejudicial tone about Hispanics that had characterized much of the arguments against reform articulated in 2006 and 2007, King is ensuring that they are being proved wrong on that point. And in doing so, he is both discrediting the opposition to reform and raising the stakes for Republicans who think they have nothing to lose by ensuring that Congress won’t pass any bill this year.

It is true that King is something of an outlier even among Tea Partiers, but the problem here is not so much that he is willing to say foolish things and try to debate the issue of where young illegals are more likely to be drug smugglers than valedictorians. It is that he is giving voice to a groundswell of anti-immigrant hysteria that has always bubbled on the margins of the public square. The more the mainstream media treats him as the spokesman for opposition to any bill that would seek to deal rationally with the dilemma 11 million illegals pose to the country, the more the debate on the issue gets diverted from rational discourse.

By not bringing any immigration bill to the floor before the recess, Speaker Boehner has taken some of the steam out of the antis who had hoped to hijack town hall meetings with vacationing members of Congress this month. But so long as King is braying away on the networks, the issue remains a hot one. While it’s far from clear that King is helping to undermine the determination of House Republicans to thwart reform, he is giving his foes an opponent who is fast becoming the poster child for anti-Hispanic bias.

Though conservatives may not like the Senate bill and have qualms about the variations on it that are being put forward in separate bills rather than one big one in the House, King’s freak show is reminding them that the costs of being seen to enable his veto of reform exposes them to the sort of scrutiny that won’t help in 2014 even in most solidly Republican House districts. The best thing King can do for his cause is to shut up. But since there is little chance of that happening, pro-immigration forces can only hope he keeps talking.

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GOP Leaders’ Wise Rebuke of Steve King

The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin is right to praise Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for their criticisms of Republican House member Steve King.

Representative King, speaking about legislation that would legalize illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents as young children, said this:

They will say to me and others who would defend the rule of law, “We have to do something about the 11 million. And some of them are valedictorians.” Well my answer to that is – and by the way, 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 they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act.

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The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin is right to praise Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for their criticisms of Republican House member Steve King.

Representative King, speaking about legislation that would legalize illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents as young children, said this:

They will say to me and others who would defend the rule of law, “We have to do something about the 11 million. And some of them are valedictorians.” Well my answer to that is – and by the way, 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 they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act.

In a statement, Boehner said, “There can be honest disagreements about policy without using hateful language. Everyone needs to remember that.” Mr. Boehner, later in the week, amplified his criticisms by saying this: “Earlier this week, Representative Steve King made comments that were, I think, deeply offensive and wrong. What he said does not reflect the values of the American people or the Republican Party.” And Cantor, 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.)

Representative King’s interview with NewsMax.com is worth watching. His comments actually started out with the goal of showing sympathy for young kids who were brought here by parents who are illegal. But King couldn’t contain himself; he felt compelled to portray a reasonable and humane idea as something that would “destroy the rule of law” and rip apart American society. In order to do that, he had to distort the fact. The Senate proposal says that to qualify for provisional status those applying would need to maintain clean criminal records, including no felony convictions, no more than three misdemeanor convictions or a conviction of a serious crime in another country, and no unlawful voting.  

Beyond that, one cannot help but sense that underneath it all, what animates Mr. King on this issue is a consuming rage against undocumented workers and their families. I wouldn’t deny for a moment that some illegal immigrants create problems for our nation. But that is far from the full picture. Some people who come to America illegally, and their children, make genuine contributions to our nation. The truth is it’s a mixed bag. But Mr. King has no interest in subtleties. He is a man on a mission. He wants to get people to think of illegal immigrants and their children simply as malignancies, a kind of existential threat to American civilization (he’s compared illegal immigration to a “slow-rolling, slow motion terrorist attack on the United States” and and a “slow-motion holocaust”), as bordering on being sub-human. Which is why the rebuke of him by the House Republican leadership was wise and necessary. It is imperative that the party of Lincoln and Reagan separates itself from the views of people like Mr. King. 

There are certainly reasonable and thoughtful critics of immigration reform. Steve King doesn’t happen to be one of them. His views need to be isolated, like a contagion–not by Democrats but by his fellow Republicans. John Boehner and Eric Cantor understand that. This was an important step and I hope other Republican leaders add their own voices to those of Boehner and Cantor. Because people like Steve King aren’t going away. Rather than ignoring them, influential Republicans need to confront them, as a way to illustrate what the true convictions of the GOP are.

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The Voice of the Know-Nothing Caucus

Rep. Steve King’s predilection for saying foolish things is well known. The latest shot from the Iowa Republican’s hip was his denunciation of those who might be beneficiaries of a bill that might legalize those illegal immigrants who were brought to this country as children. Rather than accept the fact that most of these youngsters are going to college, working, serving in the armed forces, and generally being a credit to their adopted country, King chose to smear them as predators and threats to society in a Newsmax interview:

“For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds — and they’ve got hands the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert,” King tells Newsmax. “Those people would be legalized with the same act.”

For this outbreak of hoof-in-mouth disease in which he stereotyped Latinos as drug smugglers, Republicans such as Speaker John Boehner as well as Rep. Raul Labrador, who has joined King in opposing the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill, spanked King. But the outspoken Iowan was unfazed and doubled down on his slander. King’s loose prejudicial talk will become a major headache for Republicans if he is able to rally enough Tea Partiers to help him get the GOP nomination for the Senate next year. Tom Harkin’s retirement creates an open seat in Iowa and it is a winnable race for Republicans if they can avoid nominating a loose cannon like King. But the real problem for the GOP isn’t so much that a loud mouth like King will be next year’s version of Todd Akin as it is the way he is giving voice to a nasty element of the party’s grass roots on immigration that threatens to hijack both the debate on the issue as well as the party.

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Rep. Steve King’s predilection for saying foolish things is well known. The latest shot from the Iowa Republican’s hip was his denunciation of those who might be beneficiaries of a bill that might legalize those illegal immigrants who were brought to this country as children. Rather than accept the fact that most of these youngsters are going to college, working, serving in the armed forces, and generally being a credit to their adopted country, King chose to smear them as predators and threats to society in a Newsmax interview:

“For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds — and they’ve got hands the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert,” King tells Newsmax. “Those people would be legalized with the same act.”

For this outbreak of hoof-in-mouth disease in which he stereotyped Latinos as drug smugglers, Republicans such as Speaker John Boehner as well as Rep. Raul Labrador, who has joined King in opposing the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill, spanked King. But the outspoken Iowan was unfazed and doubled down on his slander. King’s loose prejudicial talk will become a major headache for Republicans if he is able to rally enough Tea Partiers to help him get the GOP nomination for the Senate next year. Tom Harkin’s retirement creates an open seat in Iowa and it is a winnable race for Republicans if they can avoid nominating a loose cannon like King. But the real problem for the GOP isn’t so much that a loud mouth like King will be next year’s version of Todd Akin as it is the way he is giving voice to a nasty element of the party’s grass roots on immigration that threatens to hijack both the debate on the issue as well as the party.

Conservatives may agree to disagree on the virtues of various immigration reform proposals, but the dilemma for Republicans isn’t so much the question of who is right about the details of the gang of eight’s bill, or any possible alternatives that are probably going to be killed in the House by recalcitrant conservatives. The problem is that the driving force behind this debate isn’t whether it will help or hurt the economy or whether it will uphold the rule of law or undermine it. The unfortunate truth is that as much as the adults in the House GOP would like to shush King, his stupid remarks are a fair representation of what many of those baying about “amnesty” and calling conservatives like Marco Rubio and others who support reform “traitors” are thinking.

Lest you think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, Ramesh Ponnuru, who writes in National Review against immigration reform, agrees with my conclusion when he conceded in response to something I wrote that, “much of the opposition to the legislation is cultural rather than economic.” Ponnuru disagrees with my belief that “cultural concerns about immigration are necessarily disreputable or suspect” since he believes America’s social cohesion is undermined by having too many immigrants. But such arguments seem to be primarily about putting an intellectual gloss on hostility to newcomers that is a prejudice that is as old as the republic. 

There are legitimate worries about whether liberal policies have undermined the natural assimilation process that every generation of immigrants has undergone. But when Ponnuru speculates that polls that show hostility to immigrants are based on the “cultural” concerns he is championing, what he is doing is exposing the ugly underside of a movement that has more in common with 19th century Know Nothings than modern conservatism.

What those who try to defend this point of view fail to understand or acknowledge is that their belief that this generation of immigrants is somehow different from every previous wave of newcomers to this nation is far from original. The same arguments about the unsavory impact on American society that will result from importing a large number of low-skilled immigrant workers were made in the 19th century about the Irish, Germans, Italians, and Jews. Like today’s Hispanic migrants, those immigrants didn’t speak English, tended to isolate themselves in their own communities and didn’t have much in common with the WASPs that had preceded them on American shores. They also filled a need for low-skilled labor.

The Know Nothings and their successors didn’t believe in the power of American society to assimilate new arrivals. Neither do those who oppose immigration today. While contemporary conditions are different, that basic truth is not. Immigrants always change America, but there is no reason to believe that the impact of this influx will be any less salubrious than the tide of Eastern and Southern Europeans that previous generations of nativists so feared.

That brings us back to King. Though he is less cagey about his articulation of this cultural opposition to the bill than many other opponents, his insults probably are a better representation of the core beliefs of the anti-immigrant crowd than the more presentable views of Ponnuru.

What Speaker Boehner and other responsible Republican leaders must understand is that by allowing King and other knee-jerk anti-reform members to intimidate the GOP caucus into spiking any chance for reform, he is letting the House be governed by the basest instincts in our political firmament. The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol and National Review’s Rich Lowry wrote earlier this month that, unlike the case in 2006, opposition to the gang of eight’s bill had been “responsible” rather than being based in hostility to immigrants. King’s outburst is just the latest evidence to show that the “cultural” basis for opposing the legislation (as opposed to the reasoned approach taken by Kristol and Lowry) that is drenched in prejudice is the real driving force behind this debate.

The biggest long-term problem for Republicans isn’t the alienation of Hispanic voters. It’s that letting people like King call the tune in the House will turn off moderates and conservatives that don’t wish to be associated with bigots and their fellow-travelers. No amount of “missing white voters” or other possible solutions to the GOP’s dilemma can overcome that sort of image.

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GOP Congressmen’s Moscow Disgrace

When a terrorist attack is successfully carried out against American targets, belief that it could have been prevented provides its own odd sort of closure. If its success was owed to the lack of certain security measures, those tactics can presumably–at least in many cases, and within the bounds of law–be enacted. And if negligence is to blame, that makes prevention seem even simpler: pay better attention next time, and know what to look for.

But the desire to place blame for a security lapse can also lead political leaders astray, especially those who want to be seen by their constituents at home to be part of the solution. And that is the most generous explanation for the behavior of Republican Congressmen Steve King and Dana Rohrabacher in Russia this week to investigate the North Caucasus connection to the Boston Marathon bombing. But that explanation is incomplete, for King and Rohrabacher haven’t earned such generosity but instead indicated they possess a cynicism and gullibility unbecoming of their status as representatives of their fellow citizens in Washington and of the American Congress abroad.

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When a terrorist attack is successfully carried out against American targets, belief that it could have been prevented provides its own odd sort of closure. If its success was owed to the lack of certain security measures, those tactics can presumably–at least in many cases, and within the bounds of law–be enacted. And if negligence is to blame, that makes prevention seem even simpler: pay better attention next time, and know what to look for.

But the desire to place blame for a security lapse can also lead political leaders astray, especially those who want to be seen by their constituents at home to be part of the solution. And that is the most generous explanation for the behavior of Republican Congressmen Steve King and Dana Rohrabacher in Russia this week to investigate the North Caucasus connection to the Boston Marathon bombing. But that explanation is incomplete, for King and Rohrabacher haven’t earned such generosity but instead indicated they possess a cynicism and gullibility unbecoming of their status as representatives of their fellow citizens in Washington and of the American Congress abroad.

The Washington Post reports on a press conference with King and Rohrabacher in Moscow, and we can begin with the first indication that we were going to be exposed to some grade-A silliness. There was a third figure at the press conference: action-movie has-been Steven Seagal, who helped arranged the trip in part because of his friendship with Chechnya’s chief thug, Ramzan Kadyrov. The Post sets the scene:

The congressman repeatedly thanked Seagal, who took credit for arranging the congressmen’s meeting at the FSB, and said it helped avoid the experience of past foreign trips when all of the meetings had been arranged by the U.S. Embassy.

“You know what we got? We got the State Department controlling all the information that we heard,” Rohrabacher said. “You think that’s good for democracy? No way!”

So here you have a self-proclaimed advocate of human rights in the U.S. Congress unfavorably comparing a trip organized by the U.S. State Department to a visit with the FSB arranged by an apologist for a brutal autocrat. The State Department has its faults, to be sure, but if it’s the free flow of information you’re interested in, Ramzan Kadyrov is not your first call.

But that, unfortunately, wasn’t the worst of what the leaders of this bipartisan delegation had to say. The Post continues:

But Rohrabacher, who chairs the U.S. Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats, said the United States should be more understanding of the threats facing Kadyrov and Putin.

“If you are in the middle of an insurrection with Chechnya, and hundreds of people are being killed and there are terrorist actions taking place and kids are being blown up in schools, yeah, guess what, there are people who overstep the bounds of legality,” he said.

While the rule of law is important, Rohrabacher added, “We shouldn’t be describing people who are under this type of threat, we shouldn’t be describing them as if they are Adolf Hitler or they’re back to the old Communism days.”

Well yes, it’s true that Vladimir Putin is not Adolf Hitler. (Congratulations Volodya!) And perhaps Rohrabacher didn’t quite match Henry Wallace’s famous 1944 description of the Magadan gulag as a “combination TVA and Hudson’s Bay Company.” And it’s also true that Islamist terrorists tied to the Caucasus Emirate are conducting an insurgency that doesn’t lack for bloodlust and cruelty. But first of all, it’s obviously bad form for Rohrabacher to make excuses for the other side’s own excesses.

And more importantly, the brutality employed by Putin and Kadyrov in the Caucasus is not a case of random “people who overstep the bounds of legality” in the fog of war. It is a strategy of mass violence employed by the state that goes beyond any semblance of the laws of war. And what about the harassment of aid workers and the murder of journalists? Does the congressman consider Anna Politkovskaya to be collateral damage?

Both Rohrabacher and King also seemed to defend, or at least dismiss, the prison sentences of the female “punk rock” trio jailed for stomping around a Moscow church, with Rohrabacher adding that he wishes his colleagues back home would appreciate that the churches are at least open again–a comment that reveals a startling unawareness of the Putin government’s manipulation of the church and its public image.

As I have said in the past, the Caucasus conflict presents a dilemma for Western observers because both sides’ behavior is out of bounds and there are no clear “good guys” (aside from the human rights workers and journalists who risk their lives to expose the abuses in the region). It is just as wrong to pretend Russia faces no terror threat as it is to paint Putin’s regime as well-meaning defenders of peace and order. If Rohrabacher and King can’t visit Russia without doing so, they should stay home.

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Adding Fuel to the Akin Controversy

Republicans understandably want to move past the Todd Akin debacle as quickly as possible, but it’s not going to be easy. The Obama campaign is going to try to keep this issue alive as long as possible, if only to avoid a substantive debate on the economy and the deficit, and many in the media seem happy to help.

That means that any comment from social conservatives that relates to abortion is going to be scrutinized under a magnifying glass. Mike Huckabee, Tony Perkins, Kirk Cameron and Rep. Steve King from Iowa have all unfortunately added fuel to the controversy:

Rep. Steve King, one of the most staunchly conservative members of the House, was one of the few Republicans who did not strongly condemn Rep. Todd Akin Monday for his remarks regarding pregnancy and rape. King also signaled why — he might agree with parts of Akin’s assertion.

King told an Iowa reporter he’s never heard of a child getting pregnant from statutory rape or incest.

“Well I just haven’t heard of that being a circumstance that’s been brought to me in any personal way,” King told KMEG-TV Monday, “and I’d be open to discussion about that subject matter.”

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Republicans understandably want to move past the Todd Akin debacle as quickly as possible, but it’s not going to be easy. The Obama campaign is going to try to keep this issue alive as long as possible, if only to avoid a substantive debate on the economy and the deficit, and many in the media seem happy to help.

That means that any comment from social conservatives that relates to abortion is going to be scrutinized under a magnifying glass. Mike Huckabee, Tony Perkins, Kirk Cameron and Rep. Steve King from Iowa have all unfortunately added fuel to the controversy:

Rep. Steve King, one of the most staunchly conservative members of the House, was one of the few Republicans who did not strongly condemn Rep. Todd Akin Monday for his remarks regarding pregnancy and rape. King also signaled why — he might agree with parts of Akin’s assertion.

King told an Iowa reporter he’s never heard of a child getting pregnant from statutory rape or incest.

“Well I just haven’t heard of that being a circumstance that’s been brought to me in any personal way,” King told KMEG-TV Monday, “and I’d be open to discussion about that subject matter.”

King’s comments probably wouldn’t have received much attention under normal circumstances, but we’re still in the midst of the Akin media circus. So unless Republicans want to spend weeks debating the intricacies of rape exceptions for abortion instead of talking about the economy, social conservative leaders might want to be more careful about how they phrase their arguments in the media.

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