The Republican takeover of the House of Representatives put Iowa's Steve King in line to chair the immigration subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee. Immigration is one of King's primary concerns, and he was raring to get to work on the issue. His top priority was ending "birthright citizenship" guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Yesterday (the first day the 112th Congress was in session), King and several colleagues introduced a bill to that effect.
But King won't be able to push that agenda as a subcommittee chair, because House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith selected Representative Elton Gallegly of California to chair the immigration subcommittee instead.
King, who served as the ranking Republican on the Immigration subcommittee since 2007, was selected as vice chairman of the panel.
A few thoughts on today's news are after the jump.
After the election, the Hispanic Republican group Somos Republicans called on GOP leaders not to appoint Smith or King to influential Judiciary Committee positions.
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.
Perhaps Smith got some pressure from the leadership to back off on his immigration agenda, or perhaps he's part of the ever-growing group of people embarrassed by King. Whatever the reason, Smith sounded far less committed to ending birthright citizenship when he spoke to Politico in December.
Smith's first two hearings will focus on expanding E-Verify, a voluntary electronic system for checking the immigration status of workers that President Barack Obama supports and scrutinizing the administration's record on worksite enforcement.
"They are what I call 70 percent issues - 70 percent or more of the American people support those efforts," Smith said. "I think they are popular across the board, and I think they will be appreciated by all American workers regardless of their ethnicity or background or anything else."
At the same time, he downplayed the key planks in the conservative immigration agenda.
He won't say when his committee plans to tackle birthright citizenship, the policy of granting citizenship to every child born in the country. He doesn't want to talk about whether he will pursue reducing the level of legal immigration, family migration or work visas - all at the top of the wish list for anti-illegal-immigration advocates.
"That is later on in this Congress; that is not our initial focus," Smith said. "We don't have any specific plans now in the early months to move on these issues. The focus is on creating jobs and protecting jobs."
If it's any consolation to King, the House is poised to pass his stand-alone bill repealing last year's health insurance reform law. Although that bill will die in the Senate, House passage will be a victory for King, one of the most vocal advocates for repealing "Obamacare."
Still, there's no escaping the fact that King's big mouth finally cost him something important. Tea party activists who view King as a courageous truth-teller will be livid. First Representative Michelle Bachmann's bid to become GOP Conference Chair died quickly, now this. Gallegly's voting record on immigration closely resembles King's, but that won't erase the slight.
King's getting passed over will bother self-styled "constitutionalists" a lot more than two House Republicans casting votes yesterday without having been sworn in.
Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.
UPDATE: King told the Des Moines Register's Thomas Beaumont that House Speaker John Boehner may have influenced Smith's decision. King also put a positive spin on his demotion:
"I'm going to drive an immigration agenda, and it's going to be with probably more vigor than I would have otherwise, with no reservations about pushing hard for it," King said. "It isn't about selling people in Congress. It's about winning the debate with the American people. If the American people take a position, they will adjust the positions of the members in Congress."
"I would suggest that I'm a member with fewer limitations than I might have had otherwise," he added.
LATE UPDATE: Some relevant comments from Republicans trying to make the party more welcoming to Latinos:
Columnist Ruben Navarrette, who is also speaking at the conference in Miami, says there is a new conversation going on beneath the surface in the GOP - particularly when it comes to the push by some Republicans to repeal the 14th Amendment in order to deny birthright citizenship to children born to undocumented parents.
"They're not fools - they realize that there are those places where they can overplay their hand, and I think the 14th Amendment change is a perfect example of a bridge too far," Navarrette says. "It's poison. You play with that, and I am never, ever going be able to go before a group of Hispanic women ... and convince them that the Republican Party isn't anything but a bunch of ogres."
A small but encouraging sign to [Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles executive director Alfonso] Aguilar is the decision to deny Iowa Rep. Steve King the chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee's immigration subcommittee. King is one of the party's most strident voices on the issue.
"To me, the message is, 'Steve King, you're too loud and you're saying things that are very offensive. We don't want to see that.' That's a very good first step: Reject the ugly rhetoric," Aguilar says. "The question now is can we propose, can Republicans practically propose immigration solutions that go beyond enforcement only? And if we do, Hispanics will respond very favorably."