In politics, knowing when to run away from a fight is just as important as knowing when to start one. In the case of Sen. Rand Paul (R- Ky.), the sense of when it’s a good idea to get the hell of out Dodge apparently also extends to having polite conversations with people your party has spent decades demonizing.
A video posted to YouTube earlier this week shows Paul at a fundraiser in Okoboji, Iowa, for firebrand GOP Rep. Steve King (R - Iowa). In the approximately 7-minute clip, Paul and King are approached by Erika Andiola and Cesar Vargas, a pair of undocumented immigrant activists who have come to confront King for his vocal opposition to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA is an initiative by the Obama Administration to allow young people living in the United States illegally to gain temporary legal residency under certain conditions like not having been convicted of a felony and having graduated from high school.
‟I have a quick question,” Andiola said to King. ‟I’m actually a DREAMer myself. [The DREAM Act was eventually renamed DACA]. I’m originally from Mexico, but I was raised here. I graduated from Arizona State University.”
All of this was just the preamble to Andiola’s question, but she wasn’t even able to get it all out before Paul decided to immediately get up from the table where he was chowing down on a burger and beat a hasty retreat. Paul wanted to get out of there so fast, it looks like he runs away mid-chew.
In Paul’s defense, there’s virtually no way that a direct face-to-face conversation between King and an intelligent, informed, passionate undocumented immigrant activist could end in a way that didn’t end up portraying the controversial Iowa representative as condescending and maybe at least a little bit racist.
And it was.
Let’s go to the tape:
King isn’t the only only Republican to come out against DACA, but his criticisms of the program drew national attention after he said in an interview with Newsmax that only a small fraction of the people who could take advantage of the program aren’t drug smugglers.
"Some of them are valedictorians—and their parents brought them in. It wasn't their fault. It's true in some cases, but they aren't all valedictorians. They weren't all brought in by their parents,” King said during the interview, which took place last year.
"For everyone 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 ...Those people would be legalized with the same act."
When Andiola mentions the comment to King, things start to get really awkward.
King then grabs her hand, orders her to stop talking. "You're very good at English, so you know what I’m saying,” he said. ‟You can understand the English. You're saying something that's not true.”
‟I was talking about drug smugglers,” he added. ‟You don't look like you're one of them, are you?"
She laughs awkwardly, as one does when a member of Congress asks if you’re a drug smuggler, but he then instructs her to actually answer seriously, which she does. He goes on to blame the entire ‟calves the size of cantaloupes” fracas on the liberal media.
The whole thing continues to be painful and King comes off as incredibly condescending, especially when Vargas, a law school graduate, says that he attempted to join the military after 9/11, but was rebuffed for lacking a green card.
Judging from a conversation happening just offscreen, even King’s staffers know the conversation is going poorly, and they attempt to stop the person holding the camera from continuing to tape the interaction.
It’s easy to guess why Paul, who is well aware of King’s proclivity for saying things that could be easily interpreted as insensitive to immigrants, might have wanted to avoid the situation entirely. Or, as Salon’s Joan Walsh points out, he might have just wanted to avoid some sticky questions about how he voted against a bipartisan immigration reform bill last year, yet continues to talk up the urgent need for immigration reform.
Whatever was going through Paul’s head at the time he decided he’d rather be anywhere else on the planet than standing next to a pair of undocumented immigrants with questions, the look on his face reads only one thing: