A bevy of potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates will descend on Iowa Saturday to attend a summit hosted by Rep. Steve King, one of Congress' foremost immigration hawks. When they get there, they shouldn't expect a friendly reception from Latino activists.
Dozens of people are expected to show up at the Des Moines event and attempt to confront top Republicans over their stance on immigration, organizers said. It's the latest sign that associating with King could pose a problem for GOP presidential contenders.
“If the GOP wants to win in 2016, then they should make sure they stay as far away as possible from Steve King," Erika Andiola, a prominent undocumented activist who will be at the Iowa summit, told reporters Thursday.
Democrats and immigrant-rights groups have turned King into public enemy number one for his staunch opposition to programs that allow undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. and his coarse remarks about immigrants themselves.
Close to 10 Republicans who are considering a run for president are attending King's cattle call this weekend. Activists plan to press them on how they would address the 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and whether they would keep or end Obama's executive actions that allow millions of people without legal status to remain in the U.S.
Embracing hard-line policies on immigration, like Mitt Romney did during the 2012 GOP presidential primary, is a surefire way to lose Latino voters, activists said.
Andiola said she wants to "make sure those folks who are running for the presidency are held accountable for what they are saying to the community."
Just this week, King made another controversial remark that could cause problems for his Iowa guests. Before the State of the Union on Tuesday, King tweeted this about Ana Zamora, a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama who benefitted from President Obama's 2012 deportation relief program for young undocumented immigrants.
Democrats said that Republicans who attend King's event should face questions about his comments.
"These Romney-style 'self deport' type comments are what we’ve come to expect from Steve King but the important question is: do each and every potential 2016 GOP nominee who is attending his Freedom Summit this weekend in Iowa agree with King’s 'deportable' comment?" the Democratic National Committee said in an email to reporters this week.
King and Citizens United, a conservative group co-hosting the Iowa summit, did not respond to requests for comment.
DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and immigrant-rights groups will each hold press events in Iowa on Saturday. Ahead of the summit, several Iowa groups ran an ad in The Des Moines Register telling Republicans that Iowans "support immigration reform."
Republicans attendees include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, and retired neurosurgeon and writer Ben Carson.
Four other top GOP contenders will be staying away from the confab; Romney, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), and Sen. Rand Paul (Ky).
"Not going is the easy way out," said Matt Hildreth, an Iowa-based activist who works with the pro-reform group America's Voice. Hildreth said he would rather Republicans attend the summit and tout support for immigration reform.
King is no stranger to the type of confrontations activists have planned. Last summer, Andiola and a fellow advocate approached the congressman at a fundraiser over his efforts to end Obama's deportation relief program for youth, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Andiola offered King the chance to rip up her DACA card—challenging him to match his rhetoric to his actions—but King told Andiola "that's not what I do." Paul was also in attendance, but slipped away before the confrontation began.
Despite their stand-off with King, activists acknowledged they won't change his mind on the issue of immigration. What they hope to do is limit his clout within the GOP.
"We do think he has had a pretty big influence on how the GOP continues to talk about immigrants," Andiola said. While many Republicans back immigration reform, "they haven’t stood up yet against people like Steve King.”
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.