The Senate’s leading anti-immigrant voice, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), predicted to the New York Times in June, “The longer it lays in the sun, the more it smells, as they say about the mackerel.” Sessions’ pungent quote was in reference to the immigration legislation which at that point was pending in the Senate, prior to its overwhelming bi-partisan passage by the full Senate. Little did Senator Sessions know that his mackerel metaphor would more accurately describe the political predicament facing his Republican Party: the longer Rep. Steve King (R-IA) remains the Party’s face in the harsh sunlight of public exposure, the stronger the odor emanating from the GOP brand.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
The longer the Steve King wing of the GOP stands as the public face of the Republican Party on immigration, the more it stinks up the Party’s re-branding prospects. Each prominent appearance and outlandish comment by King and his anti-immigrant cohort ramps up the threat to Republican competitiveness with the ‘coalition of the ascendent’ and increases the pressure on House Republican leadership to pass immigration reform.
The latest controversy involving Steve King is another significant problem for Republicans. Yesterday, NBC’s “Meet the Press”witnessed an epic back-and-forth between pro-reform Republican strategist Ana Navarro, who immigrated from Nicaragua, and the anti-immigrant extremist Rep. King. Navarro captured what’s at stake for the GOP in the immigration debate, stating, “we’re not going to stand anymore for the Republican Party being defined by somebody like Steve King.” Yet while the entire segment is must-see, we were particularly struck by King’s response to Navarro: “First of all, I spoke only of drug smugglers and if Ana understands the language, she should know that…”
This was the second time in recent weeks that Rep. King insulted a prominent Latino immigration critic of his by referencing their capacity to understand English. Earlier this summer, when confronted by influential Univision anchor Jorge Ramos about his comments comparing immigrants to dogs, King said in response to Ramos’s criticism, “anyone that understands the language and the culture knows that if they saw the video.”
Unfortunately for the Republican Party, not only do Latino superstars such as Jorge Ramos and Ana Navarro understand the language, they know that it is Steve King who continues to define the Party on immigration and its views of Latinos. A related problem is that King has, for too long, defined the House Republican approach to immigration policy. In June, House Republicans nearly unanimously supported King’s amendment to de-fund the DREAMer deferred action program, a vote that would subject DREAMers to deportation.
King is not the only Republican making waves with controversial remarks. Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX) infamously added “terror babies” to our political dialogue. He recently raised the specter of terrorism as a reason for his opposition to immigration reform, stating that “Al Qaeda has camps on the Mexican border.” In a subsequent Latino Decisions poll, conducted in July, this statement made Latino voters in two dozen House Republican battleground districts 70% less favorable to the Republican Party. Meanwhile, Jason Richwine, the disgraced co-author of the discredited Heritage Foundation immigration study, has re-emerged after months of silence by penning a POLITICO op-ed that doubles down on his pseudo-scienctific argument that Hispanics have innately lower IQs. Even some nominal Republican supporters of immigration reform are making GOP re-branding efforts difficult by echoing their extremist colleagues. As Buzzfeed captured, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) said at a town hall meeting recently, “There are people that can’t tell the difference between a Hispanic person and an Arab person…And if you get an Arab that’s training, that’s coming into this country to be a terrorist, they can mingle in, and they can get in here, and then they can do damage
To get right with the America of today, Republicans need to pass immigration reform. To put it bluntly, they need to bury the mackerel – and soon.