January 29, 2014



"We have met the enemy and he is us," the cartoon character Pogo said famously.

Rep. Steve King of Iowa's 4th District might be saying the same thing if he joins his House Republican colleagues at their annual policy retreat this week on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Just this month King voted against the bipartisan bill to fund the government that was endorsed by his own congressional leadership and written in part by fellow Iowa Republican Rep. Tom Latham.

Now House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is unveiling immigration reform principles that King believes will lead inevitably to "amnesty" for 11 million or so undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States.

Immigration reform, according to King, is a White House-backed distraction from the main political issue of the day: blocking the implementation of Obamacare.

"Don't be duped," King tweeted in early January, charging that President Obama was trying to change the subject from the troubled launch of his signature health-care program. "#Obamacare is the topic for 2014."

It's not that the House Republican leadership disagrees entirely: The House voted on Obamacare-related bills in each of its first two weeks in session. And the House this week moved an antiabortion bill that King strongly supported.

It's just that GOP leaders have other priorities as well, one of which is getting a handle on an immigration debate that influential Republicans believe is a growing liability for the party, particularly in many statewide races and at the presidential level.

To that end, Boehner and his team have crafted their principles for reform, including legal status, accompanied by fines and requirements such as learning English, but no citizenship.

King adamantly disagrees with the analysis that brought his leaders to this point, and to the assertion that legalization is anything less than amnesty.

Adjusting the status of people who are in the country without the proper documentation amounts to rewarding lawbreakers, King believes.

And doing so while Barack Obama is president amounts to writing a blank check to an untrustworthy president, according to King, who simply refuses to believe Obama would be restrained by anything Republicans can get into a new immigration law.

The enemy within?

King's view of the president is well-known.

In one breath he says Obama is a good family man and generally decent fellow, just a lousy president. In the next he says he wants to haul the president's "drunken Uncle Omar" before the Judiciary Committee to see if he's getting preferential treatment under the existing immigration laws.

However, King's disagreement with fellow Republicans is his real problem right now.

The dispute has gotten personal.

After it was reported that Boehner used a foul expression to describe King, the Kiron lawmaker tweeted: "#Amnesty agenda threatened. Speaker lacks verbal discipline."

Boehner isn't looking to convert King on this issue, quite clearly. The Hill newspaper reported that GOP leaders are trying to sway a bloc of tea party-aligned members to support their principles, but King isn't one of them.

The Republican leadership believes only 20-30 of these members are beyond persuasion on the immigration issue, leaving plenty of members to work with as leaders try to garner the support of a majority of the 233-member House Republican Conference.

King has targeted the same members.

King told Potomac Watch this month that early on he began trying to educate members of the huge Republican freshman class of 2010 about the supposed perils of immigration reform. The issue lured both George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan into the trap of amnesty, King asserted.

House Republican leaders see the issue quite differently and will gauge the reaction to their immigration principles at this week's retreat. The likely outcome is they will find enough support to begin moving pieces of legislation that address border security as well as the controversial status question, without offering full citizenship.

Such bills will move through the House Judiciary Committee where King serves.

That will give King plenty of opportunities to poke at, lambaste and ridicule the proposals, and to exercise his most potent influence on the process: inspiring conservative activists to take aim at King's Republican colleagues.

This week's trip to the Maryland shore could end up being less than a day at the beach for the House Republicans.