As Republican leadership begins grappling with how to reform the country's immigration system and win back Latino voters, the party's top players are sending a strong message to their rank-and-file members, ordering them to watch what they say.
The directive comes as a handful of members in the caucus are giving the wider party a bad name, including Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who recently commented on DREAMers, children who entered the country illegally.
"For everyone who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert," King said in an interview with Newsmax.
The comment, made last week, began circulating widely Tuesday. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., acted quickly to pacify the guilt-by-association narrative that is causing problems for the party's public perception on immigration reform.
"There can be honest disagreements about policy without using hateful language. Everyone needs to remember that," Boehner said in a released statement.
Cantor, who is working on the Kids Act, a bill that would give DREAMers a path to citizenship, called the comments "inexcusable."
Republicans are no doubt in trouble with Latino voters. More than 70 percent supported President Barack Obama in the last election, giving him an advantage in swing states like Florida and Colorado.
A Latino Decisions poll released last week indicated that if immigration reform fails, nearly 70 percent of Latino voters will blame House Republicans for its derailment. The poll also showed 66 percent believe that the hateful rhetoric they hear from a few members is representative of the perception Republicans have of Latinos overall.
While the Republican-controlled House has vowed it won't take up the comprehensive, bipartisan immigration overhaul the Senate passed in June, they are using a step-by-step approach and have signaled they are willing to explore some kind of legal status for the 11 million immigrants who entered the country illegally.
While a few vocal opponents are hurting the GOP's efforts, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of a House subcommittee on border security, said Tuesday that their numbers won't be enough to derail the broader efforts of the party.
In order to keep the pressure on House Republicans, Senate Democrats have worked with religious and business leaders to wage an August recess campaign in 121 GOP districts to convince lawmakers to support comprehensive reform.