King’s naked stereotyping is exactly the kind of kerfuffle the GOP has managed to avoid throughout the contentious immigration debate this year. As that debate has proven, Republican lawmakers remain divided over the merits of rewriting U.S. law to provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants estimated to be living here. But they have taken as gospel the need to change their tone toward the nation’s fastest-growing demographic group. “If Hispanic Americans hear that the GOP doesn’t want them in the United States, they won’t pay attention to our next sentence,” wrote the authors of an RNC-commissioned report released this spring. Even ardent opponents of comprehensive immigration reform have been careful to couch that opposition in respectful terms.
King’s remarks detonated those efforts, reaffirming the perception that Republicans are hostile to Latinos. Undocumented immigrants showed up at his office clutching cantaloupes. Irritated Republicans blamed the media for harping on a solitary member who has long roamed the fringes of the party. It’s true that King is not exactly a mainstream Republican. Among his crusades, he has opposed anti-dogfighting laws, likened House janitors swapping out incandescent light bulbs to Stasi troops, and suggested Barack Obama’s birth announcement in Hawaiian newspapers could have been placed by telegram from Kenya.
But if the measure is votes and not words, King is more representative of the House Republican immigration position than the party would like to admit. Just last month, 97% of Republicans backed a King amendment that prohibits funding from an Obama administration directive to stop deporting so-called DREAMers.