Watch CBSN Live

Amid minority outreach, GOP plagued by heated rhetoric

In the months following the 2012 election, the Republican Party took a hard look at its relationships with minority and women voters. The party drafted a comprehensive plan for building up those relationships, and it followed through: This year, the GOP has put worked on sincere immigration reform efforts like the KIDS Act and bills designed to help women like the Working Families Flexibility Act. The party has has adopted more respectful rhetoric, and it is putting in the legwork to establish real, on-the-ground connections with minority communities all across the country.

Then, every once in a while, someone like Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, barges into the conversation.


King this week angered Democrats and Republicans alike when, while trying to make the case against Congress' immigration reform efforts, he said that most illegal immigrant children are responsible for running drugs across the border.

"There's no place in this debate for hateful or ignorant comments from elected officials," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in response. "We can disagree without being disagreeable."

The white-hot rhetoric employed by King reinforces a narrative that the GOP is out of touch, tone deaf, or just doesn't care about certain constituencies.

"It's a falsehood on many levels, but it's difficult to disprove, especially when these remarks get so much attention, as they probably should," GOP-aligned political analyst Leslie Sanchez told "It cuts so deeply into our ability to move forward... It distorts the conversation, it takes all the oxygen out of the room and it frustrates serious members on both sides of the aisle who are trying to be sensitive to a rapidly changing demographic to this country."

There's no question that immigration reform is a politically thorny issue for Congress, and especially Republicans. All but six House Republicans last month voted for an amendment King put forward that would reverse the Obama administration's decision to stop deporting young undocumented immigrants.

But while the party stuck with King on that vote, it has otherwise taken a much more diplomatic approach to the issue. In fact, the GOP is now drafting its own version of the DREAM Act, a bill to create a pathway to legalization for undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children.

"It's an issue of decency," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said earlier this month. "Where else would these kids go?"

As Congress tackles immigration reform, party operatives are working behind the scenes to create long-term relationships with Latinos and other minority constituencies. The Republican National Committee is embarking on a plan to have a presence in all 50 states, with 123 people in the field already, according to RNC spokesman Sean Spicer.

Those staffers will collect key information on minority communities for Republican candidates. For instance, in Northern Virginia, where there is a large Korean community, staffers will be ready to help candidates connect with influential voices in the Korean community like church leaders or Korean media.

President Obama's campaign apparatus created strong connections in minority communities for Mr. Obama, Spicer said -- the RNC, by contrast, is attempting to create an infrastructure to benefit the whole party.

Just as the GOP grapples with its relationships with Latinos and other minority groups, it's working on building stronger ground with women. The track record is dicey there, too: The GOP-led House this year angered many women activists with a bill to outlaw abortion at 20 weeks, and the debate over that legislation led to controversial remarks over rape and pregnancy from Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz.

This summer, however, Democrats like San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and former Rep. Anthony Weiner, now running to be mayor of New York City, have outdone Republicans when it comes to offending women.

Republicans, meanwhile, are trying to prove their women's agenda involves more than just abortion bills. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., led the effort in the House to pass the Working Families Flexibility Act, which allows employers to offer hourly workers comp time when they exceed their 40 hour work week.

"As a mom that wants to be there for the PTA meeting or for the swim meet, to have that flexibility is huge," Roby said on "CBS This Morning" in May. "The great thing about this is that it's up to the employee to determine how to use it because it's your time. You get to decide how to use your time."

The House Republican campaign arm is complementing that effort with an initiative, called Project GROW to get more women Republicans elected. Other GOP entities like the RNC are also participating, holding training sessions with women interested in running for office and connecting them to other women with experience in politics who can offer guidance.

Sanchez said connecting women politicians with newcomers will be a critical recruiting tool. "Republican efforts to build coalitions that can empower candidates is a very strong step toward 2014," she said.

View CBS News In