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Boehner clashes with fellow GOP Rep. King over controversial immigration remarks

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FILE: July 19, 2013: House Speaker John Boehner walks to the chamber floor on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C.AP

House Speaker Boehner clashed with his fellow Republican Rep. Steve King on Thursday over controversial comments King made about illegal immigration, calling them "deeply offensive and wrong."

King has been under fire after suggesting to a conservative news website last week that many illegal immigrants in the U.S. are drug runners

"For every one 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. 

Boehner issued a written statement criticizing King earlier in the week, but took it a step further Thursday by publicly calling King out by name at his weekly press conference. 

"I want to be clear. There's no place in this debate for hateful or ignorant comments from elected officials," Boehner said.

"What he said does not reflect the values of the American people or the Republican Party," the speaker said, "and we all need to do our work in a constructive, open and respectful way."

Boehner also said that King's comments made grappling with immigration legislation more difficult, "but I'm going to continue to work with members who want to get to a solution, as opposed to those who want to do nothing."

King's comments began to circulate widely on Tuesday, drawing condemnation from Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., other Republicans and numerous Democrats including White House press secretary Jay Carney. 

They've also already become fodder for at least one pro-Democratic political fundraising group, the House Majority PAC, which highlighted them in an email to supporters Thursday.

The group United We Dream, which represents undocumented youths, organized its leaders to deliver cantaloupes to King's office Thursday afternoon while clad in caps and gowns.

Several hours after Boehner spoke, King took to the House floor to defend his remarks and expand on them, though he did not directly mention Boehner's criticism.

"There are many, many young people coming across the border unlawfully who are smuggling drugs into the United States," King said, adding that "no nation like the United States of America can continue to grow and be a strong nation if we are going to judge people because they disagree with our agenda rather than the content of their statement."

"We should understand facts from emotion," King said. "We must not sacrifice the rule of law on the altar of political expediency."

Despite his criticism, Boehner did not suggest he had any plans to take action against King such as removing him from the House Judiciary Committee. "I think I've made myself very clear when it comes to Mr. King," Boehner said when asked about such disciplinary steps.

Immigration legislation is in limbo in the House as Boehner and other GOP leaders debate how to move forward after the Senate last month passed a comprehensive bill with border security, visa reform and a path to citizenship for 11 million people here illegally. House Republicans have rejected the Senate approach and Boehner has said they plan to move forward in a piecemeal fashion with narrowly focused bills, starting with border security.

Boehner and Cantor also have embraced legislation to offer citizenship to some immigrants brought here illegally as kids -- the subject of a hearing Tuesday where King's comments first came under attack.

The Associated Press contributed to this report