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On MSNBC earlier today, I joined’s Benjy Sarlin and Amanda Terkel for a panel discussion on whether Rep. Steve “Immigrant Children Are Drug Mules” King is dictating immigration policy for the GOP.

Sarlin made the case on-air and in his column that King is not a GOP outlier, noting that: “Just one month ago, King introduced an amendment to halt a decision by President Obama to defer deportations for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children. Immigrant advocacy groups universally condemned the proposal. But far from dismissing King as an irrelevant gadfly on the issue, the House GOP lined up behind him. All but six Republicans voted for the amendment…”

I’ve been articulating a more optimistic view, that House Republicans are likely setting the stage for an eventual deal, provided constructive pressure is applied to compel action, and I expect it will.

More evidence of that comes from the House GOP leadership reaction to King: disgust. Even the House Judiciary Chair, who is the main reason the House won’t take up the Senate bill directly, was compelled to go on Telemundo and rebuke King. The Republicans know they can’t snub Latino voters.

But Sarlin is correct, at the end of the day, what counts is the votes.

Republicans may be putting rhetorical distance between themselves and King, but if they keep voting with King, the rhetoric won’t matter.

Hopefully, King’s determination to be the face of anti-immigrant bigotry will give the Republican leadership added incentive and political cover to do the right thing: explaining to wavering members that King made it an imperative to cut a final deal and avoid a permanent breach with the Latino community.

But those Republican leaders have to be told, that is the only avenue to marginalizing King’s comments and saving their party. Mere rhetoric isn’t enough. Let’s see the votes.

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