By Erin Murphy, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau
DES MOINES — During an event Thursday in Des Moines, Steve King defended his record in Congress and his recent overseas visit with a group that included a member of a foreign party with Nazi roots.
He then had a questioner who compared him to the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter thrown out of the event.
It was a momentous 45 minutes for King, the embattled Republican congressman from northwestern Iowa. He was making his first public appearance — at a Greater Des Moines Partnership forum — since a national Republican official criticized him for recent comments on immigration.
King, who is seeking his ninth two-year term in Congress, opened by listing his accomplishments in the nation’s capital. His opponents often charge he has done little in Washington, despite being in the majority party for much of his time in the U.S. House.
During the question-and-answer period, King fielded the usual business-interest questions from the organization’s members before being he asked about some of his controversial statements.
King became upset when one questioner suggested King shares “ideology” with the man accused of shooting and killing 11 Jewish worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue last week. King interrupted, chastising the questioner.
“No, don’t you do that,” King responded. “Do not associate me with that shooter. ... There’s no basis for that, and you get no question and you get no answer. ... It’s not tolerable to accuse me to be associated with a guy that shot 11 people in Pittsburgh.”
King then asked security to remove the person.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
Citizens for Community Improvement, an advocacy group that protested outside the event, said afterward the questioner was Kaleb VanFossen, an Iowa State University student.
King was asked about the possibility of his shrinking influence in Congress, given his growing list of critics, which includes Rep. Steve Stivers, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Stivers on Tuesday tweeted, “Congressman Steve King’s recent comments, actions, and retweets are completely inappropriate. We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms, and I strongly condemn this behavior.”
King responded on Twitter by blaming “these attacks” on “nasty, desperate, and dishonest fake news.” On Thursday, he said he would have more to say about Stivers’ criticism after the election.
But King also, unprompted, offered a long defense of his recent trip to Austria to discuss American politics with Austrian business leaders. The group included a member of the Freedom Party, which was founded by a former Nazi officer, although King claimed the party over time has made every effort to sever its ties to the Nazis.
King said the latest round of criticism goes back to an Oct. 25 Washington Post article that details King’s trip to Poland to view Holocaust sites and then to Austria. The trip to Poland was funded by a nonprofit organization that educates lawmakers about the Holocaust; King said he paid for the side trip to Austria himself.
King said the tour of Holocaust sites, including the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, was attended by a Holocaust survivor.
“To walk through that place and hear from that man all of the things that he experienced and the stories that he knew, to see the grief on his face, to look at that vast expanse in Birkenau of the industrialized slaughter of a people that I do not understand why anyone would dislike any of them, is a stunning experience.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!
You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.
“You can read this in the books, you can read it in newspapers, you can watch the movies,” he continued. “But when you stand on that ground, and you walk up to the crematoriums, and you listen to that with (survivors and their families), you understand what really happened over there.”
As to the meeting in Austria, King said he was invited by an associate to talk with business leaders. One was a Freedom Party member.
“There was no meeting there with the people they allege have Nazi ties,” King said, claiming the Freedom Party has “lined themselves up to be against anti-Semites there. There’s no party that’s stronger pushing back against anti-Semites in Austria than the Freedom Party.”
King said under President Donald Trump, some of the policies he has been calling for in the last 16 years are on the precipice of being achieved. That includes the elimination of citizenship for babies born to immigrants who entered the country illegally, something Trump has said he will do through executive order or legislation.
“A lot of this legislation that I’ve laid down more than 10 years ago is now poised to move forward and become law because we’re out of that desert, as I would call it, and into this time of opportunity,” he said. “I’ve worked a lifetime to get into this position,” King said. “My relationships with the president are as good as they can possibly be. He listens to me, and I listen to him, and we work together.”
King’s opponent in Iowa’s 4th District is Democrat J.D. Scholten. Some polling has showed a race is closer than usual in the conservative western Iowa district. Libertarian Charles Aldrich also is on the 4th District ballot.
l Comments: (515) 422-9061; email@example.com