(CNN) – Leaders in his party have been blinded to the consequences of immigration reform by the potential for gaining votes among Latinos, Rep. Steve King claimed in an interview Thursday.
Speaking to Kate Bolduan on CNN's "New Day," King said the push to overhaul the nation's immigration system was being adopted by Republicans, despite their opposition in the past to similar efforts.
"Last year, almost everybody at my conference would have agreed with me on this immigration issue," said King, an Iowa congressman. "This year it seems after the presidential election a spell has been cast over a good number of Republicans and they seem to think the presidential election was about immigration. I'd ask them: find me that debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama that addressed immigration. I don't remember it, I can't find it."
King has faced criticism from fellow Republicans for his stance on immigration, as well as for comments he made discussing children of immigrants who want to gain U.S. citizenship if they have graduated high school or served in the military – the so-called "DREAMers."
In that interview, with the conservative website Newsmax, he said: "For every one who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds, and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."
The remark drew quick and angry responses from Republican leaders like House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who called the remarks unhelpful in the ongoing debate over comprehensive immigration reform.
King, however, didn't back down, calling on critics to provide evidence that he was wrong – and continuing his staunch resistance to current legislative efforts that would provide a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
"No spell has been cast over me," he said Thursday. "It doesn't seem to be logical or rational to me that this is the right thing to do."
Republican lawmakers and pundits, he argued, "seem to do that calculation that we should sacrifice the rule of law by granting amnesty on the altar of what they believe is political expediency."
According to exit polls, only 27% of Latinos who voted in last year's presidential election chose Republican Mitt Romney – evidence, some in the GOP have argued, that their party needs to do a better job of reaching the growing demographic.