July 24, 2013 -- Rep. Steve King's (R-Iowa) inflammatory comments about young undocumented immigrants may have gotten him in the news, but they could also diminish his influence in the immigration debate.
In an interview last week, King said that for every DREAMer who is a valedictorian, "there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."
Aside from being misleading and offensive, King's remarks threaten the GOP's so-called "re-branding" effort designed to make the party more friendly to Latino voters. The comments began to circulate widely on Tuesday on the internet and TV and have generated backlash from Republicans and Democrats alike.
Democrats are arguing this is evidence that the Republican Party hasn't truly changed its ways.
"I think a number of people have pointed out that they were offensive," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One. "They certainly don't help any efforts by Republicans to improve their standing among Hispanic Americans, I would assume."
Cognizant that King's efforts could be used to hold Republicans guilty by association, party leaders like House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) quickly distanced themselves from the Iowa congressman's statement. Leaders warned members not to use derogatory language while debating immigration reform.
"What he said is wrong," Boehner said in a statement Tuesday. "There can be honest disagreements about policy without using hateful language. Everyone needs to remember that."
Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), an influential member on immigration, called King's statement "reprehensible." But he also argued that they don't speak for House Republicans.
"I think what he said was out of touch with the conference," Labrador said Wednesday. "There's nobody in the conference who would say such a thing and I hope that he, if he thought about it, he wouldn't say such a thing again."
"Shame on the media for only concentrating on that aspect of it," Labrador continued. "I get tired of journalism where all you try to tell us is what one person does or says."
But like it or not, the Republican brand is in the toilet among Latino voters. The party can ill afford to have a members like King gain influence, make even more inflammatory comments, and further damage the party's standing with Latinos.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday showed that almost half of Latino adults would blame the GOP if immigration does not pass by the end of this Congress' term, compared to just six percent who would blame Democrats. On top of that, 44 percent of all adults say they would blame Republicans, while 21 percent would blame President Obama and 14 percent would blame congressional Democrats.
A small, but vocal, faction of Republicans including King wants to doing nothing at all on immigration. They fear that any bill that's passed could be twisted into "amnesty" when combined with the immigration reform bill in the Senate.
The do-nothing approach certainly won't help the perception of the GOP on immigration. So as Republicans consider how to tackle immigration reform, they'll want to keep fringe actors like King in check.