Representative Steve King's never had trouble calling attention to himself, even as a not very powerful member of the House minority. With Republicans in charge of the House beginning in January, King's national profile will rise further as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on immigration. One of his top priorities will be moving a bill to restrict birthright citizenship.
King discussed his planned bill on citizenship with Douglas Burns, who reported on the interview in the current Des Moines' Cityview weekly. King believes the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution should not be interpreted to confer citizenship on children born in this country to undocumented immigrants:
That amendment reads: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside."
King said framers considered exceptions, including certain Indian tribes and babies born to ambassadors or visitors - the reason, he said, for the language "subject to the jurisdiction thereof," the line King thinks opens the door to the change he seeks.
"For example if Alexis de Tocqueville had had a baby while he was here, I don't think they would have conferred automatic citizenship on that child," King said, referring to the French politician who famously wrote about America in the 1800s during extensive travels here.
I'm not an attorney, but it seems that foreign visitors are "subject to the jurisdiction" of the United States. Resident aliens pay all types of taxes, and even tourists must comply with American laws while visiting this country.
In any case, King told Burns he would push for a constitutional amendment to revise birthright citizenship if courts struck down his law. King made similar comments to CBS News this week, adding that he understands the obstacles facing his proposal:
If a law ending birthright citizenship passes the House, it would still need to get through the Democrat-led Senate and then be signed into law by President Obama to take effect - an unlikely proposition. King said he views his effort as just one step in a process, comparing his work on birthright citizenship to the six years he spent working to make English Iowa's official language, which took place in 2002.
"I have a perspective about the degree of difficulty, but I think you have to do the right thing," he said.
I expect King to have little trouble moving a bill to restrict citizenship out of the Judiciary Committee. I'm curious to see how many Republicans vote against it on the House floor--probably not enough to stop it from passing, since Republicans will hold at least 242 seats, with only 218 needed for a majority. A long list of House Republicans are on record supporting this proposal, but several Latino Republicans in Congress have opposed the idea. Newly-elected Senator Marco Rubio of Florida also opposes changing birthright citizenship.
Senator Chuck Grassley has said he is open to "legislation to clarify the 14th amendment." As ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee beginning in January, he won't be able to move that legislation, but he could if Republicans regain the Senate majority in 2012.
Some Republicans are concerned that advocating changes to birthright citizenship will hurt the GOP in in the next election, even if efforts to reinterpret the 14th Amendment never become law. Earlier this month, Somos Republicans, "the largest and fastest growing Hispanic Republican Organization in the Southwest," published an open letter to House GOP leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor regarding King and his colleague Lamar Smith:
We come to you asking for your reconsideration of the appointment of Congressman Steven King (Iowa) as the Chair of Subcommittee on Immigration, and that of Congressman Lamar Smith (Texas) as the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
As we are already looking toward the 2012 Presidential Elections, we respectfully ask you to take heed to our request out of concern for our nation. Congressmen Smith and King have repeatedly engaged in rhetoric that is aimed negatively toward Hispanics. Steve King has used defamatory language that is extremely offensive to Hispanics, which is found in numerous congressional records. We believe Steve King's behavior is not appropriate for a high-level elected Republican who might be in charge of a committee that handles immigration rules. Steve King and Lamar Smith have adopted extreme positions on birthright citizenship, and promise legislation that would undermine the 14th amendment of the constitution, which both swore an oath to uphold.
While it is indeed the duty of the Judiciary and Immigration committees to oversee and enforce existing immigration laws, Representatives Smith and King have engaged in an ill-advised platform and rhetoric that has been perceived as insensitive with their inflammatory "immigration statements," and this has caused an exodus of Hispanic voters to the Democratic party. We ask that you review Mr. King's and Mr. Smith's congressional statements desiring to "pass a bill out of the House to end the Constitution's birthright citizenship for U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants," or what Steve King has made reference to "anchor babies." We find both this rhetoric and this un-constitutional conduct reprehensible, insulting and a poor reflection upon Republicans because we don't want our Party to be viewed as the Party of changing the United States Constitution.
Though it is constitutionally impossible that a mere Congressional "statute" will decide who gets to be a citizen, we believe that this insensitive and constant assailment on our Hispanic Community may push Hispanics further into the Independent, Libertarian or Democrat Party. Moreover, Hispanic voters were crucial in electing seven new Republican Hispanics to Congress and two new Republican Hispanic governors. However, Hispanics also vehemently and strongly rejected those Republicans that utilized harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric and opted for a Democrat, as it occurred in the West Coast, Colorado and Nevada.
King doesn't mind being a lightning rod, and he is so popular with talk radio hosts and tea party types that House Republicans won't dare deprive him of a subcommittee chairmanship.
Speaking of King's polarizing remarks, he wasn't happy about a new settlement the Senate just approved related to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's longstanding discrimination against African-American farmers. In King's opinion, the settlement will send taxpayer money to a bunch of people who were never discriminated against:
The Obama administration is "focused on race," King said, and most lawmakers are hesitant to speak out on such a delicate matter. Essentially, the entire lawsuit was pitched to black farmers as their "40 acres and a mule," King said, referencing the Civil War era practice of providing land to former slaves who became free as Union armies occupied areas of the Confederacy.
"There's already been more than a billion dollars paid out, I believe many, in fact most of them that received it never farmed, never were discriminated against," King said. "They were ginned up and recruited to file these claims by a group of lawyers who jumped on this thing and drove it. No one wanted to say 'no' because the race issue was in the middle of it. So the taxpayers are taking the brunt of this."
King has previously described the Pigford case as a "fraud." On this issue, he is at odds with Grassley, who hailed the Pigford settlement in this November 19 statement:
Grassley has led the effort to ensure fair treatment for African American farmers who were denied the opportunity have their case heard for the Pigford v. Glickman settlement, which ended a discrimination lawsuit between African American farmers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Approximately 75,000 black farmers filed their claims of discrimination through the Pigford consent decree process past the deadline for their claims to be evaluated on the merits. As a result, thousands of victims of discrimination continue to be denied an opportunity even to have their claims heard.
Grassley worked to put in place a process where these African American farmers can have the opportunity to plead their case based on the merits. He introduced legislation in 2007 and pressed for it to be included in the 2008 farm bill.
The Pigford II settlement includes several substantial changes from Pigford I in order to better fight fraud. Changes have been made to the settlement agreement that will enhance the Department's ability to fight fraud including requiring adjudicators to be a truly neutral party; allowing that neutral adjudicator to ask the claimant for additional documentation if he or she suspects any fraud; requiring the claimants' attorneys to certify that there is evidentiary support for the claims; and requiring the Office of Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office to evaluate the Department's internal controls and audit the process in adjudicating the claims.
"The Department of Agriculture has admitted that discrimination occurred. We are obligated to do our best in getting those who deserve it, some relief. This is a chance for people who believe they were wronged to show their case before a neutral party and have it judged on the merits. It's time to give justice to these claimants who were previously left out, and move forward into a new era of civil rights at the Department of Agriculture."
King told WHO radio's Jan Mickelson that he would like to defund the Pigford settlement after Republicans take control of the House.
King has been a vocal advocate for repealing the health insurance reform bill, which should pass the House easily next year. He will also be a strong voice in favor of extending all the Bush tax cuts, which are set to expire at the end of this year if Congress does not act. In August, King alleged that some people would carry out physician-assisted suicides in December 2010 to spare their heirs the estate tax, which could go back into effect on January 1, 2011 for a tiny fraction of large estates.
While King is likely to have several legislative victories next year, he has already had one minor setback already since the November election. He endorsed fellow "10 worst members of Congress" honoree Michele Bachmann for House GOP Conference chair, but Bachmann dropped out of that race quickly after finding support from only a handful of her fellow Republicans.
Any comments about King or the Republican policy agenda are welcome in this thread. It's too bad that two Council Bluffs candidates split the vote in the 2002 Republican primary to represent Iowa's fifth Congressional district. The nomination was decided at a district convention, where King narrowly defeated the more mainstream Republican Brent Siegrist.