When an Iowa Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives made his latest incendiary remark on Twitter on Sunday, the GOP ranks in Congress remained notably silent — until a Miami lawmaker hit “reply.”
Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo was the first sitting Republican congressman to denounce Iowa Rep. Steve King, who shared a story about Geert Wilders, a far-right Dutch politician known for his anti-Islam views, and embraced white nationalism.
King’s remark was praised by David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard.
Curbelo, the son of Cuban immigrants, responded.
Twitter took notice. Curbelo’s post was retweeted and favorited thousands of times, included by actress Alyssa Milano.
By Monday morning, however, no other GOP lawmakers had joined Curbelo. King went on CNN’s “New Day” and offered no apology.
“Well, of course I meant exactly what I said,” he said. “We need to get our birth rates up or Europe will be entirely transformed within a half century or a little more.”
He also decried immigrants “living in enclaves, refusing to assimilate into the American culture and civilization.”
“I’d like to see an America that’s just so homogeneous that we look a lot the same,” he said.
That’s when Curbelo’s fellow Miamian, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, took to Twitter herself.
By the end of the day, only a couple more House Republicans had criticized King. A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan said Ryan “clearly disagrees and believes America’s long history of inclusiveness is one of its great strengths.” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer declined to weigh in, saying he’d have to ask Trump for a reaction.
For Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo, the incident marked the latest example of two of Miami’s three Cuban-American representatives banding together to chide their own party. Both represent Democratic-leaning districts that voted heavily for Hillary Clinton for president. (Curbelo says he voted for a third-party candidate, and Ros-Lehtinen says she wrote in Jeb Bush.)
Last week, Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen both chastised Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, for questioning whether carbon dioxide leads to global warming, a foregone scientific conclusion.
“That is a scientific fact and the reality facing communities like my district,” Curbelo said in a statement Thursday, the same day Pruitt made his comments to CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “The EPA is tasked with the very responsibility of helping to lower the impact of carbon emissions, and for Mr. Pruitt to assert otherwise without scientific evidence is reckless and unacceptable.”
A month earlier, the two legislators appeared together at an event highlighting immigrants’ contributions to the Miami tech scene — on the same day that President Donald Trump signed an executive order expanding the categories of unauthorized immigrants to be prioritized for deportation.
“You’re going to catch some criminals — but you’re going to catch a lot of good people who don’t have papers but they have not committed violent crimes,” Ros-Lehtinen.
Miami has long sent three Cuban-American Republicans to Congress who have worked closely in Washington. The trio was first comprised of Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart. After Lincoln Diaz-Balart retired, the other two were joined by David Rivera. Democrat Joe Garcia briefly broke up the GOP hegemony from 2012-14 before being replaced by Curbelo.
The Republicans’ signature joint issue has been maintaining a hard line in U.S.-Cuba policy. In the early weeks of the Trump administration, however, Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo — perhaps fearing future political challengers, though Democrats lack obvious contenders to take them on — have been tag-teaming as moderate voices within an increasingly conservative GOP.
They have friends in Congress who think alike — even if they don’t speak up as publicly as the Miamians do. Curbelo told the Miami Herald some colleagues texted and emailed him in support after his tweet.
“Cong. King’s remarks are totally baseless and demeaning to all of us,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement to the Herald. “It isn't the first time that Steve has made such insulting statements. And I doubt that he will stop. They have no place in civil society where the aim is to have a thoughtful discussion without resorting to such name calling. I suspect that he enjoys the attention. Shameless. And wrong. I plan to speak to him about this new low this week in Washington.”
McClatchy White House correspondent Anita Kumar contributed to this report.