Steve King: It was a compliment to say immigrants are like dogs

The Iowa congressman doubles down

Published September 7, 2012 6:50PM (EDT)

 Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa           (Facebook/SteveKingIA)
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa (Facebook/SteveKingIA)

People just can't take a compliment these days. That's what Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said last night in defense of his May comment that Americans should be sure to "get the pick of the litter" when selecting which immigrants should become citizens.

"This American vigor that we have that comes from legal immigrants who came to this country with a dream — we get the cream of the crop of every donor civilization on the planet — and people that can take a compliment and turn it into an insult are not going to be constructive working across the aisle. But that’s what that was, was a compliment," King said in a radio debate with his campaign challenger Christie Vilsack. "And everyone who was there that heard that knows that."

Vilsack, a Democrat, had decried King as a "bully" and an "embarrassment" in that same debate, for his remarks comparing selecting immigrants to selecting bird dogs. King shortly after said that he was taken aback by how aggressive Vilsack was during the exchange: “I’m a little surprised here the way things have gone; I’m a little caught off balance."

The comments Vilsack was referring to took place at an event with constituents back in May: "You want a good bird dog? You want one that’s going to be aggressive? Pick the one that’s the friskiest … not the one that’s over there sleeping in the corner," King said. He added: “You get the pick of the litter and you got yourself a pretty good bird dog. Well, we’ve got the pick of every donor civilization on the planet. We’ve got the vigor from the planet to come to America.”

It doesn't stop with pets, though. King has previously touted an electric fence at the border “with the kind of current that would not kill somebody," since “we do this with livestock all the time.”

By Jillian Rayfield

Jillian Rayfield is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on politics. Follow her on Twitter at @jillrayfield or email her at

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2012 Elections Immigration Immigration Reform Iowa Steve King