WASHINGTON -- Iowa GOP Rep. Steve King continued to draw sharp condemnation Wednesday for stating that the majority of young, undocumented immigrants are essentially drug mules, as members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus took to the House floor to denounce King and call on Republicans to do the same.
"My parents brought me to this country at a young age, and they never told me to strap marijuana to my thighs so we could sell it," said Rep. Albio Sires (D-N.J.), adding that King's comments were "not only ignorant ... but quite frankly stupid."
King's remarks are "a disgrace to this institution ... unacceptable and just plain wrong on so many levels," said Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.).
"I don't know what's more disappointing," said Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Hispanic caucus, which comprises 27 Democrats. "That the most extreme voices in the House Republican conference continue to make appalling comments about the Hispanic community, or that the rest of their Republican colleagues are silent."
Although it was interspersed with unrelated floor speeches from other members on jobs and Obamacare, the outcry from the Hispanic caucus nonetheless served as a reflection of a line crossed -- even from King, a noted immigration hardliner who once likened immigrants to dogs.
King's initial comments about Dreamers were made during an interview with Newsmax last week, which was widely picked up and circulated on Tuesday.
"For everyone who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert," he said. "Those people would be legalized with the same act."
Not all Republicans remained silent in the wake of the remarks, Luján's suggestion notwithstanding. House GOP leaders were quick to express their disapproval, calling King's comments "wrong."
"There can be honest disagreements about policy without using hateful language," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement. "Everyone needs to remember that."
"I strongly disagree with his characterization of the children of immigrants and find the comments inexcusable," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said in a statement of his own.
Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) chimed in at a "Conversations With Conservatives" event Wednesday, saying that King's statement shouldn't reflect on the Republican conference as a whole. Most of them, he argued, would support legalizing Dreamers if other conditions, such as enhanced border security, were met.
"I think his comments were irresponsible and reprehensible," Labrador said of King. "I think what he said was out of touch with the conference. There's nobody in the conference who would say such a thing, and I would hope that if he thought about it, he wouldn't say such a thing either."
A similar controversy erupted earlier this year when Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) used the racial slur "wetbacks" to describe Latinos, prompting a rebuke from a number of Republicans and ultimately leading Young to apologize.
In King's case, the backlash has done little to deter him. He defended himself in an interview with Radio Iowa on Tuesday and reiterated his assertion, insisting it was not something he was "making up."
"This is real," King said. "We have people that are mules, that are drug mules, that are hauling drugs across the border and you can tell by their physical characteristics what they’ve been doing for months, going through the desert with 75 pounds of drugs on their back. And if those who advocate for the Dream Act, if they choose to characterize this about valedictorians, I gave them a different image that we need to be thinking about, because we just simply can't be passing legislation looking only at one component of what would be millions of people."
For the GOP, which has sought to make inroads with Hispanic voters following the 2012 election, King's refusal to back down couldn't come at a worse time. House Republicans face mounting pressure to act on comprehensive immigration reform, which passed the Senate last month. Part of the GOP's effort involves distancing the party from controversial voices like King, and yet in June House Republicans passed an amendment, offered by King, that would deport more Dreamers.
Elise Foley contributed reporting.