WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Steve King was in the middle of a floor speech about immigration when he was asked to break off for a brief unrelated announcement.
“I had to pause for a minute there,” the western Iowa Republican said when he resumed speaking. “I was concerned that might be the Amnesty Act coming over from the United States Senate, but I'm relieved to know that it might be a few more days.”
While considering a statewide campaign for U.S. Senate, King is sticking to his long-held hard-line views on immigration policy. He says giving those in the country illegally a pathway to citizenship represents “amnesty” and that Republicans embrace such a path at their peril.
But a bipartisan group of senators is set to unveil a new immigration proposal as early as Tuesday that would include that path, and members of both parties see new hope that action can be taken on the divisive issue.
The legislation would reportedly require all employers to verify workers' legal status, improve border security and provide a path to citizenship for about 11 million immigrants living here illegally.
Proponents say such a package would be in the country's national security and economic interests. Plus, they said, it's the right thing to do — allowing millions of people now living in society's shadows to emerge and be treated with fairness and equality.
The desire for an immigration deal has been growing among Republicans, who are feeling pressure to make progress on the issue given how poorly their party fared with Latino voters in November's election.
But King isn't buying it.
He has been mulling a Senate bid ever since Sen. Tom Harkin announced earlier this year he would not seek re-election.
And he has recently been telling people he's leaning toward making a run, although he said he still has lots of numbers to crunch before he makes a decision. He said other potential Republican candidates in Iowa are giving him plenty of room and time to make his decision.
But those potential Senate ambitions don't seem to be prompting any change for King on the immigration front.
During his floor speech Thursday, King suggested his fellow Republicans would be making a mistake in agreeing to a bipartisan immigration deal.
“I understand the political motivation of the people on the other side of the aisle: expand the dependency class, expand those who can vote for those who want to expand the dependency class. I understand those motives. They are not good motives. They undermine American exceptionalism, but I understand them,” he said.
“On our side of the aisle, I don't understand — and I think it's because of our own people don't have this figured out.”
In an interview with The World-Herald, King suggested many of his colleagues don't remember the lessons of the 1986 immigration law, which he said was one of the few times then-President Ronald Reagan let him down.
He said about half of the GOP conference has been on Capitol Hill for 28 months or less. He suggested they will rethink their stance once they feel the inevitable heat from many of their constituents.
“I'm troubled for the destiny of our country and I'm troubled by the level of apparent acceptance that seems to have emerged among my Republican colleagues'' for amnesty, King said.
King could be seen conversing at length Thursday on the House floor and balcony with Rep. Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota Republican. King said the two were talking over ways to move the House Republican conference in their direction.
They will be fighting some powerful forces.
President Barack Obama, a Democrat, has made an overhaul of immigration policy a signature cause of his second term. And top GOP leaders are eager to put the issue behind them.
But King clearly is not going to back down without a fight.
“I'm not going to lose, either,” King said.
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