(CNN) – Mitt Romney criticized fellow Republican presidential front-runner Newt Gingrich Wednesday for supporting lighter restrictions against illegal immigrants who have lived in the country for years.
"People who come into this country illegally should not have a special break or special pathway to become permanent residents or citizens of this country," Romney said at a campaign stop in Des Moines.
Political Notebook: Wolf Blitzer joins Bob Costantini to go over the Tuesday night Republican candidates debate that Wolf moderated. And contributor John Avlon accuses the Super Committee of wasting an opportunity.
His comments came in response to Gingrich's knock against the GOP in CNN's Republican National Security Debate on Tuesday, where he referred to Republican immigration policies as inhumane.
Gingrich argued that the GOP, which bills itself as the "party of the family," needed to adopt policies that avoid breaking up families "who have been here a quarter century."
"I'm prepared to take the heat for saying, 'let's be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families,'" Gingrich said at the debate in Washington, D.C.
The former House Speaker, who has surged to the top of the GOP field in recent weeks, quickly faced pushback from some of his debate opponents over his comments. Both Romney and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann blasted his position as a form of "amnesty."
And in reaction on Wednesday, Iowa Rep. Steve King, a political heavyweight in the state with the nation's first presidential contest, cast Gingrich's position as too soft on illegal immigration.
"I think if Speaker Gingrich had that to do over again he might couch his language differently, at a minimum," King said in an interview set to air Friday on Iowa Public Television.
When asked, King, who holds a highly sought-after endorsement ahead of the Jan. 3 Iowa caucus, said the comments had distanced him "a little bit away" from Gingrich.