Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa is all smiles before a television interview on Tuesday at the Santa Maria Winery in Carroll, Iowa./Des Moines Register
by Jason Noble, The Des Moines Register
DES MOINES, Iowa -- Condemnation from across the political spectrum was directed at Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa on Wednesday for his comments labeling many undocumented immigrants as drug traffickers.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called King's comments "wrong" and described his language as "hateful" on Tuesday evening. He was followed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who called the remarks "inexcusable."
The ruckus stems from an interview King recorded last week with the conservative publication Newsmax.
In a discussion about immigration reform legislation now being considered by Congress, King said supporters of a pathway to citizenship like to portray all the undocumented as successful young people who weren't brought to the United States by choice.
"They aren't all valedictorians, they weren't all brought in by their parents," King said, in comments that were recorded and available on YouTube. "For every one who's a valedictorian, there's another hundred 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."
On Wednesday, the American Action Network, a conservative group supportive of immigration reform, released a poll showing that voters in King's own northwest Iowa district don't share the Republican's fierce opposition to the notion of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
The survey, conducted last month, found 68% of 4th District voters support an "earned pathway to legal status," and that 65% backed an "earned pathway to citizenship." Those results were initially reported in Politico and flagged by Democrats as evidence that King's hard-line position was out of step with his constituents.
The results suggest higher support among Iowans for what some conservatives refer to as amnesty, but are in line with The Des Moines Register's June Iowa Poll.
At that time, 54% of Iowans statewide called a pathway to citizenship a "worthy goal, including 55% of respondents in King's district.
King's Newsmax quote gained traction in the broader political media on Tuesday with stories published by NBCLatino, the Wall Street Journal, Politico and others.
Democrats followed with a cascade of criticism Wednesday.
Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, and a candidate in next year's U.S. Senate race in the state, emphasized the bipartisan nature of the criticism before adding his own.
"I agree that these (comments) are offensive and damaging to Iowa's reputation as a welcoming, inclusive land of opportunity where the American Dream is still alive," he said. "Sadly, Steve got exactly what he wanted, and that is attention."
Obama administration spokesman Jay Carney fielded a question on the comment during a media briefing, calling it "offensive" and noting it wouldn't help Republicans' image with Latinos.
Also adding her voice to the controversy was Anesa Kajtazovic, a state representative from Waterloo and 2014 candidate for Iowa's 1st Congressional District.
Kajtazovic, a Democrat, immigrated to Iowa as a child after living in a refugee camp in Bosnia. Coming to America gave her family "a second shot at life," she wrote in a Facebook message on Wednesday morning.
"As an immigrant myself I find Rep. King's comments offensive and ignorant, and as a proud Iowan I find them nothing short of shameful," she wrote. "He's a prime example of what's wrong with Washington."
King declined to be interviewed by The Des Moines Register on Wednesday, but he did appear earlier in the day on WHO-Radio show.
Asked if he was having second thoughts about anything he said, King answered, "Not at all."
"What I said was descriptive, it was honest and it was accurate," he said.
Those who have criticized the remarks haven't disputed the facts behind it, he said, and only disagree with him on the policy.
"There are professional hyperventilators out there who are always on the lookout for something they can try to turn into a big story," he said.