This Korean American Republican is trying to educate her party — in the U.S. and abroad

It remains to be seen how comfortable the House GOP can be as a home for Steel and Kim, emigres from South Korea whose friendship long predates their service in Congress. These days, both represent districts that Democrats have targeted in recent campaigns.

Steel acknowledged that the women’s entry into the congressional Republican ranks hasn’t always been smooth.

“A lot of people, the first year, they couldn’t recognize the differences between Kim and me,” she recalled. “I had to mention that I’m taller than her, I have longer hair than her.”

Despite exit polls showing the Asian American electorate generally tilting leftward, Kim’s anti-communist rhetoric has helped her connect with conservative Asian American voters in her Orange County-area district — particularly Vietnamese Americans, who tend to lean more to the right. House Republican leaders, eager to diversify the party’s ranks, have pointed to Kim and Steel as valuable messengers and potential models.

What has worked for Kim in her district hasn’t quite translated into national success for the GOP, though.

Republicans still haven’t been able to break through among Asian American voters in other key races, with the fast-growing voting bloc still swinging decisively towards Democrats during the last election in swing states from Georgia to Nevada.

And Kim is plainly still finding her own way in Washington, too, even as Speaker Kevin McCarthy predicts she could rise to become a committee chair or senator.

In an interview, Chu, the chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said Kim had initially expressed some interest in joining the all-Democratic group. Membership in CAPAC might have functioned as a useful platform for a junior lawmaker with hopes of closing the gap between the Republican Party and Asian Americans — and between the U.S. and East Asia.

But Kim ultimately opted against joining, Chu said, after realizing she would have been outvoted by the group’s executive board on any major decision.

Wu reported from Washington.