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Steve King’s Comments Entrench GOP Anti-Latino Brand, But Party’s Immigration Problems Run Deeper

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Boehner’s Apologies Not Enough; Only Swift and Bold Action will Stop the Slide

Polling of Latino voters in 24 Republican-held battleground districts released by Latino Decisions and America’s Voice yesterday demonstrates the damage that Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and his allies are inflicting on the Republican Party’s competitiveness among Latino voters.  Additionally, polling in Rep. King’s own congressional district finds that even Republicans in his own backyard support comprehensive immigration reform.

Rep. Steve King has long history of hateful rhetoric about immigrants, but he’s also being enabled by House Republican colleagues who have allowed him and his allies to drive the Party’s immigration direction for years.  As MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin noted yesterday, “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.” For example, just weeks ago, House Republicans passed a King-authored amendment to de-fund the DREAMer deferred action program – and subject DREAMers to deportation.

Boehner and other House Members have denounced King’s remarks, but they’re also trying to quash the controversy. Again today, Boehner claimed there is nothing else he can do. A new Roll Call piece today asks, “How do you solve a problem like Steve King?”  Rep. Gowdy replies: “You can’t, you don’t,” but Greg Sargent of the Washington Post notes that they certainly can: “Hmmm. How about passing comprehensive immigration reform? Wouldn’t that do it?”

You bet.  House Republicans need a game-changer when it comes to immigration reform and Latinos, but it’s well within their grasp.  Here’s how their own “path to citizenship” (and path to silencing Steve King) works:

  • Letting Steve King is Drive the GOP Strategy and Approach to Latinos Has Hurt the Party.  While the Latino voter polling was fielded before the latest ugly comments from King (saying that DREAMers are more likely to be drug smugglers than valedictorians), a full 78% of Latino respondents in the poll said the following recent Steve King statement made them less likely to support the Republican Party: “Congress does not have an obligation to resolve the issue of the 11 million people who are here illegally.  They came here on their own.  They came here to live in the shadows.  There’s no moral calling for us to solve the problem they created for themselves.  They can easily solve it by just returning to the country where they came from.”  Irresponsible and inflammatory statements, combined with inaction on proactive policy solutions, adds up to a 70% disapproval rating on GOP handling of immigration among Latino midterm voters, according to Latino Decisions.
  • Latino Voters Want Reform with Path to Citizenship – Half Measures like KIDS Act Only Entrench Existing Problems: The poll found that 77% of Latino voters support an immigration plan that combines border security, verification of workers’ status by employers, and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants – in other words, a comprehensive approach similar to the bill that already passed the Senate.  On the question of a path to citizenship vs. provisions that would provide legalization but not citizenship, 79% of likely Latino 2014 voters supported a full pathway to citizenship over a mere 12% who preferred legal status only.  In addition, proposed half-measures like the KIDS Act simply won’t move the needle enough for the GOP: two-thirds of poll respondents (67%) said that pushing a bill like the KIDS Act, without addressing the status of other undocumented immigrants, would make them less likely to support Republicans. 
  • Many Latino Voters Are Willing to Give Republicans a Second Chance – IF they reject the King Approach and Schedule a Vote on Immigration Reform with a Path to Citizenship.  Among midterm Latino voters in the 24 districts polled, 62% have voted Republican at some point in their lives; 50% would be more likely to support a GOP House candidate in their district if they take a leadership role in passing immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship, even if they disagree on other issues; and 62% would feel more favorable towards Republicans in Congress if Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) allowed a bipartisan vote immigration reform.
  • Even Non-Latino Voters in Steve King’s Own District Disagree With Him.  The American Action Network released polling in Steve King’s home yesterday, the 4th congressional district in Iowa.  As POLITICO noted of the results, “68 percent of voters in Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District supports an ‘earned pathway to legal status,’ while 65 percent support an ‘earned pathway to citizenship.’ Of the Republican voters in King’s district, 70 percent back a path to legal status, while 51 percent back a pathway to citizenship.”