House Republican leaders' reactions to the recent anti-immigrant comments by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, underscore that hard-liners are not representative of the House GOP conference and that such crackpottery should be ignored as the leaders craft their version of immigration reform.
On Tuesday, it came to light that King had recently said of potential beneficiaries of Dream Act legislation: "Some of them are valedictorians, and their parents brought them in. It wasn't their fault. . . . (But) they weren't all brought in by their parents. For everyone who's 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."
House Speaker John Boehner, Ohio, said that King's remarks were "wrong" and that "there can be honest disagreements about policy without using hateful language." Politico reported that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Va., called the remarks "inexcusable."
If the leaders disregard hard-liners' sentiments, immigration reform may be easier, just as it was in the Senate once dealmakers gave up on grandstanders such as Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul, R-Ky. Then House leaders can focus on those members who have an interest in solving the problem.
In that regard, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., is talking like a man who wants to accomplish something. "At a hearing of the House Judiciary immigration subcommittee Tuesday on how to deal with immigrants brought here illegally as children," the Associated Press reported, Goodlatte said that " 'we as a nation should allow this group of young people to stay in the U.S. legally.' " The AP noted that "House Republican leaders have embraced offering citizenship to such immigrants" and that Goodlatte is working on a bill with Cantor toward that end. "It is something of a turnaround for Republicans, many of whom in the past have opposed legalizing immigrants brought here as kids," the AP reported.
Ultimately, there may be much more flexibility than anti-immigrant voices say. The House is entertaining a version of border security akin to the original "Gang of Eight" plan. And whether it is from farm interests in rural states that need low-skilled labor or high-tech companies that want H-1B visas, considerable pressure will be applied to House Republicans to pass a bill.
The risk of Republicans being targeted in primary elections over immigration reform is tiny; the smarter play is to pass a House version of reform.