Staff Columnist

Horrific campaign rhetoric brought horrific policy. Surprise, Iowa GOP

People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S. June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People participate in a protest against recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, in front of a Homeland Security facility in Elizabeth, NJ, U.S. June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

I must say I agree with Bob Vander Plaats. Yes, these are unusual times.

“This is a collective gut check for America,” Vander Plaats, an Iowa conservative activist and head of the Family Leader, wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed this week. He’s talking about the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, forcing the separation of parents and children caught crossing the U.S. border.

It has spawned appalling images of young children warehoused in large shelters, huddling under tin-foil-looking blankets behind chain link fencing. Audio released by ProPublica of children crying out desperately for their parents is the soundtrack of our inhumanity.

Checking in with top Iowa Republicans who toiled mightily to get this president elected, it seems guts are in short supply.

While Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain dubbed family separation “an affront to the decency of the American People,” our senior GOP U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley tweeted and retreated to the safety of the legislative weeds. He talked of the need for Congress to repeal the 1997 Flores decree, a court order limiting how long authorities can detain children.

Under the decree, if authorities want to keep families together, it would have to release them from custody pending further proceedings. Grassley and others dubbed that option “catch and release.” Meanwhile, the president warned immigrants will “infest” the country.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst called for treating children with “compassion and utmost care,” and signed on to a bill sponsored by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that would allow families to be detained together while expediting asylum claims.

Gov. Kim Reynolds rightly dubbed the administration’s separation policy as “horrific,” but was reluctant to criticize the Trump administration. “This isn’t a partisan issue. We need everybody working on this,” Reynolds said, instead blaming Congress.

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I’m glad they want to stop separating children from parents. But why not direct their protests and demands at the president? And their calls for compassion and congressional action ring awfully hollow.

They all strongly backed candidate Donald Trump as he vilified undocumented immigrants at rally after rally in Iowa. Are they really surprised Trump’s horrific rhetoric led to horrific policies?

And can you really demand a congressional solution while locking arms with U.S. Rep. Steve King? The western Iowa Republican has devoted his career to sabotaging and demonizing reasonable attempts to enact reforms. He shouts “Amnesty!” at any proposal that won’t round up and deport millions of people.

King recently retweeted the anti-immigrant sentiments of a Nazi sympathizer. Remember the good old days when playing footsie with goose-steppers had political consequences? He called those horrific children’s shelters a “playground.”

He is among Reynolds’ campaign co-chairs. He’s swapped endorsements with Grassley and Ernst. He was cheered heartily at last weekend’s GOP state convention.

Zealots like King dragged us to this shameful moment. Our “reasonable” GOP leaders could denounce and marginalize him. But that would take guts.

l Comments” (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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