Last year, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) was comfortable equating immigrants with dogs. This week, King characterized most young, undocumented immigrants as "drug mules," then reiterated his support for the comments after they generated controversy, then on the House floor today, endorsed the remarks once more, as seen in the video above.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) isn't pleased.
"I want to be clear, there's no place in this debate for hateful or ignorant comments from elected officials," said Boehner, who first excoriated King's language in a statement Tuesday night. "Earlier this week Rep. Steve King made comments that I think are deeply offensive and wrong. What he said does not reflect the values of the American people or the Republican Party."
Boehner acknowledged that comments like King's complicate Republicans' efforts to pass legislation through the House to address the issue of illegal immigration. "It does make it more difficult but I'm going to continue to work with members who want to get to a solution as a opposed to doing nothing at all," he said.
Does Boehner deserve credit for distancing himself from King's bigotry? Certainly. But while I'm happy to credit the Speaker for doing the right thing by criticizing the right-wing Iowan, I hope we won't lose sight of the larger context.
When King pushed a measure to deport Dream Act kids in June, it was Boehner and the House Republican leadership that brought the measure to the floor, and it was the House Republican conference that actually passed it.
When King demanded the House GOP rejected the bipartisan Senate reform bill, it was Boehner and the House Republican leadership that declared the Senate version D.O.A.
In other words, I'm glad the Speaker of the House sees Steve King's bigotry as "hateful" and "ignorant," but I'd even more glad if the Speaker of the House weren't letting Steve King win the policy fight.
Roll Call had a report this morning that asked, "How do you solve a problem like Steve King?" It quoted Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) saying in response, "You can't."
But you can, actually. If John Boehner and the House Republican leadership ignored Steve King's demands and passed comprehensive immigration reform, the "problem" posed by the unhinged Iowan would, in fact, be solved.
The Speaker today said King makes immigration reform harder. That's backwards -- he should make reform easier, because to kill the legislation now would mean letting bigotry win.
What's more, the Speaker probably realizes this, but when he uses words like "hateful" and "ignorant" to describe King, Boehner makes it seem as if King were some fringe kook that the American mainstream shouldn't take seriously. Indeed, he was rather explicit on this point today, saying King's bigotry "does not reflect the values of ... the Republican Party."
But as Benjy Sarlin explained quite well, the problem with the argument is that it's wrong.
From their reaction (and King's long history of inflammatory comments), you might be tempted to think the Iowa Republican is a fringe voice in the House immigration debate with little influence on his party.
He isn't. In fact, when it comes to the undocumented youth, there's a decent argument that he's the de facto policy leader.
Let's put it this way: John Boehner can condemn Steve King or he can let Steve King win. Right now, the Speaker is trying to do both.