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February 15, 2017

Congressmen King and Rohrabacher Meet with Marine Le Pen, France's Far-Right Leader

By Dora Illei

As the French presidential elections approach and the race tightens, Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front party seems to have found allies within the U.S. government: Iowa Congressman Steve King and California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. The two paid a visit to Le Pen this week to discuss "liberty and shared values."

The increasing friendliness between the French far-right politician and American officials hints at an alternative transatlantic alliance, one built on hatred. King has also expressed open support for other far-right leaders in Europe, such as Frauke Petry of the Alternative for Germany, Geert Wilders of the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, and Norbert Hofer of the Austrian Freedom Party. King even invited Austrian Freedom Party president Heinz-Christian Strache to President Trump's inauguration.

It’s no mystery why King likes these racist, xenophobic leaders. King once argued—and later defended—the view that for every high-achieving undocumented immigrant, "there's another 100 out there...hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert." Additionally, King has stated that Muslims from the Middle East cannot assimilate into American culture, because "they bring with them Sharia law.” Once during a panel discussion, King asked, "Where did any other subgroup of people [other than white people in the West] contribute more to civilization?"

Dana Rohrabacher has also attracted attention recently, but for slightly different reasons. The Congressman, a former speechwriter in the Reagan administration, now holds particularly warm attitudes towards Russia, and is a fierce advocate of Russian interests. He has argued that Congress should try to work with the Russian government, a viewpoint not shared by many of his colleagues, including fellow Republicans. In an op-ed late last year, Rohrabacher explained that just as "Russians, FDR, Churchill and Truman cooperated with Stalin to defeat Hitler," today the U.S. needs "that same sort of cooperation with Putin to eradicate the Islamic State."

Marine Le Pen holds similar views. She has spoken against the Western approach to Russia, including the use of sanctions. And since banking institutions in France have refused to loan money to the National Front due to its antisemitic history, the party has turned to Russian banks for funding. She is running on a platform of strict immigration reform, including massive decreases in legal immigration, and says there is a strong connection between immigration and militant Islamism. Her proposed policy changes include "stripping dual-nationality Muslims with extremist views of their French citizenship" and ending free education for children whose parents are undocumented immigrants. She has stated that Muslims "are looking to impose on [France] gender discrimination in public places, full body veils...or the submission of women." Many of her political positions as well as her rhetoric rely on nativist ideas and anti-establishment anger. She too has strong ties to right-wing parties across Europe, such as the Alternative for Germany, Austria's Freedom Party and the Dutch Freedom Party.

Though King and Rohrabacher are only two of the 535 members in Congress, their open support of Marine Le Pen, as well as their assertion that her party and the U.S. government hold “shared values,” is a concerning step in the wrong direction. Far-right parties in Europe already view President Trump’s election as promising, and Le Pen has said that “Trump has made possible what was presented as completely impossible.”

Given that the White House's response to the rise of the far right has ranged from ambivalence to tacit support, the onus for protecting tolerance, strengthening democratic institutions, and preventing the spread of hatred and prejudice has fallen upon Congress. A broad bipartisan majority should come together and make clear that King and Rohrabacher are a distinct minority.