Politics & Policy

Steve King Defends Cruz in Immigration Dust Up

Representative Steve King (R., Iowa) (Scott Olson/Getty)

Iowa representative Steve King, one of the loudest opponents of comprehensive immigration reform in Congress, says he is not troubled by an amendment Ted Cruz proposed during the 2013 debate over the Gang of Eight reform bill, which has been used this week by Cruz’s opponents to portray him as soft on the issue.

Cruz, who has long painted himself as the ideological purist in the race, found himself in an odd position this week: under fire from Marco Rubio, a co-sponsor of the failed Gang of Eight bill, for being in favor of expanded immigration. The attack stems from comments Cruz made during the 2013 immigration debate supporting an increase in the number of legal immigrants granted entry to the U.S., and an amendment he proposed that would have allowed people in the country illegally to stay without granting them legal status. Rubio, this week, pointed to Cruz’s remarks and amendment as evidence that the two rivals shared more in common on immigration than the Texas senator claims.

But King, one of the most vocal opponents of the Gang of Eight bill and an influential Republican in Iowa, the state that will hold the first Republican nominating contest on February 1, tells National Review he does not find Cruz’s past remarks troubling.

“I’m zero troubled by the language in the amendment,” he says in a phone call. “But I am troubled by the attacks that have come because they seem to be designed to equate Ted Cruz’s immigration position with that of Marco Rubio — and I don’t see how a serious person can say that.”

King, who followed the Gang of Eight bill closely, and at times drew fire for the language he used to express his opposition to it, says he was aware of Cruz’s amendments from the moment they were offered, and says he and Cruz talked specifically about them when Cruz attended the Iowa State Fair this summer. King says he believes the Cruz campaign’s explanation for that amendment: that it was meant to be a poison pill that would scuttle the bill all together.

“If you watch the positions that Cruz has taken and everything along the way and you understand the legislative process, then you have to look at those amendments as strategically calculated,” King says.

#share#King, a prominent social-conservative voice with significant influence in his Western Iowa district, could be a crucial endorsement this cycle. And many believe he is inclined toward Cruz, who has been actively courting him for years and with whom he maintains a close friendship. Some prominent members of King’s political circle, including his son, are backing Cruz. King says he has “not reached a conviction at this point” on backing a single candidate.

There has been speculation that this attack could prove problematic for Cruz, especially if a candidate like Donald Trump, who has a very loud megaphone on the subject of immigration, were to seize on it and attack him from the right. But King’s support could insulate Cruz from some of that fire, especially in Iowa.

— Alexis Levinson is the senior political reporter for National Review.

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