Government

GOP makes moves against Iowa U.S. Rep. Steve King

Panel strips him of duties after latest racial remarks

Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King speaks May 3, 2017, during a reception by the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King speaks May 3, 2017, during a reception by the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Gazette staff and wires

WASHINGTON — Less than two weeks after U.S. Rep. Steve King was sworn into a new term in Congress, a panel of Republican leaders voted unanimously Monday to keep him off House committees, a rebuke to an Iowa politician long known for his racially inflammatory remarks, most recently questioning if the term “white supremacist” was actually offensive.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the decision by the Republican Steering Committee followed his recommendation and was meant to send a message about the GOP.

“That is not the party of Lincoln,” he said of King’s comments. “It is definitely not American. All people are created equal in America, and we want to take a very strong stance about that.”

Republican King, who was elected to a ninth term representing Northwest Iowa by only a 3 point margin in November, served on the House Judiciary, Agriculture and Small Business committees in the last Congress.

The decision to effectively strip him of those posts came as House Democrats pondered other rebukes and as leading Republicans increasingly spoke out.

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said there is “no place in the Republican Party, the Congress or the country for an ideology of racial supremacy of any kind,” while Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, called on King to resign.

As in the past, King was unrepentant. On Twitter, he called out McCarthy’s “unprecedented assault on my freedom of speech” while simultaneously asserting he had been taken out of context by a reporter.

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The recent controversy began when King asked in a New York Times interview published last week: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”

It followed a long string of remarks dating back years disparaging immigrants and minorities, as well as a seeming embrace of far-right foreign politicians and parties that have been openly hostile to those same groups.

“Leader McCarthy’s decision to remove me from committees is a political decision that ignores the truth,” King said in a statement. “ ... Ultimately, I told him, ‘You have to do what you have to do, and I will do what I have to do.’”

House Democrats could bring up a measure condemning King as soon as today.

Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., said he would introduce a resolution expressing “disapproval of Mr. King’s comments and condemnation of white nationalism and white supremacy in all forms.”

But for some Democrats, Clyburn’s reproach of King — which would be similar to the action taken against Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., after he shouted “you lie” at President Barack Obama during a September 2009 speech on health care — does not go far enough.

Assistant House Speaker Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., called King’s comments “blatantly racist” and said “every action we should take should be taken” and expressed support for a reprimand or censure.

Two Democrats — Reps. Bobby Rush of Illinois and Tim Ryan of Ohio — separately filed resolutions to censure King and indicated that they would force a vote on them this week. Censure is a rarely invoked punishment for conduct bringing dishonor on the House, the most serious punishment that can be levied on one of its members short of expulsion.

King’s words and actions have been a frequent subject of controversy, but never before have they prompted any concrete sanctions.

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King has been a fixture in Iowa politics for years, serving as one of the co-chairs of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ campaign and appearing with her in the closing days of the 2018 elections.

Both he and Reynolds won election by about the same margin, but two other Iowa Republican representatives also up for election — David Young and Rod Blum — were defeated by Democrats as the party gained control of the chamber.

Shortly before the Nov. 6 election, King lashed out at the media after the Washington Post reported he had met with members of a far-right Austrian party with historical Nazi ties after flying to Europe for a trip financed by a Holocaust memorial group.

Last week, Iowa state Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, announced he would seek to unseat King in the 2020 Republican primary.

“Sadly,” Feenstra said in a statement Monday, “the voters and conservative values of our district have lost their seat at the table because of Congressman King’s caustic behavior.”

The Washington Post and Roll Call contributed to this report.

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