Commentary Magazine


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.

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 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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