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‘I have nothing to apologize for’: Steve King blames ‘dishonest’ media for his troubles, seeks reelection in 2020

From seeking reelection in 2020 to his past controversial remarks, Rep. Steve King’s (R-Iowa) interview with the “Iowa Press” touched on a wide range of topics. (Video: Drea Cornejo/The Washington Post)

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said Thursday that he plans to run for reelection in 2020 and remained unapologetic for repeatedly making offensive remarks, some of which have been widely rebuked as racist and recently led to him being stripped of his congressional committee assignments.

The nine-term congressman has long weathered criticism for his inflammatory comments about race and immigration, but he appeared to take things a step too far in a Jan. 10 interview with the New York Times in which he was quoted questioning how terms such as “white nationalism” and “white supremacy” had become offensive. The 29-word quote sparked fierce public backlash as King was condemned by members of his own party — including fellow Iowa Republicans Sens. Charles E. Grassley and Joni Ernst — and faced numerous calls for his resignation. Then, just days after the interview published, Republican leaders voted unanimously to remove King from his posts on the House Judiciary, Agriculture and Small Business committees.

Racist comments cost Steve King his House committee roles. He hopes prayer brings them back.

But when asked during an interview released Thursday by Iowa Public Television if he was “sorry for anything” he has said, a defiant King defended himself, blaming the “dishonest” media for his problems.

“I have nothing to apologize for,” King said on the “Iowa Press” show. “Each thing starts out with some formerly credible organization that launches this and then we have this phenomenon that America is not ready for, and that’s this cyber bullying that unleashes . . . creating a firestorm.”

He continued: “If you just hold these publications to what is true, there is no story whatsoever.”

In the days before the midterm elections, King came under fire for a variety of issues, ranging from reportedly meeting with members of a far-right Austrian party with historical Nazi ties to supporting a Toronto mayoral candidate considered to be a white nationalist.

Aside from having his actions rebuked by high-ranking Republicans, King lost support from major companies such as Land O’Lakes and Intel. A week before the midterms, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report changed its rating for King’s district from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.” He went on to barely keep his seat against political newcomer J.D. Scholten, dropping from an 18-point lead to eking out a victory with just over three percentage points.

Then in January, the Times published its interview with King, who reportedly made the following comment after insisting he wasn’t a racist: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” King said. “Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”

After the interview came out, King issued a statement on Twitter refuting the suggestions that he was “a white nationalist or a white supremacist.” In the statement, which did not dispute the reporting in the article, he described himself as “simply a Nationalist.”

On Thursday, however, King argued that he was misquoted by Times reporter Trip Gabriel, explaining that he had been talking about Western civilization and not white supremacy. He has made similar comments as recently as last week at a town hall in Iowa, the Sioux City Journal reported.

To prove his point, King turned to LexisNexis, a research database with access to archived news reports and public records. After three weeks of research, King said “in all of history” LexisNexis showed he had never used “either one of those terms that identified as the odious ideologies.” But he noted that he has said “Western civilization” 276 times.

“If you want to score it on a matter of logic, it’s Steve King: 276,” he said. “New York Times: 0 and 0.”

In an emailed statement to The Washington Post on Friday, the Times’s politics editor Patrick Healy said King was not misquoted nor were his comments taken out of context.

“Trip Gabriel typed detailed notes during the interview and we are absolutely confident that we quoted Mr. King accurately, fairly and in the proper context," Healy said. “I’d point out that for more than 24 hours after the article was published, Mr. King did not dispute he had made the comment.”

It’s not the first time King has claimed he was misquoted after landing in hot water. Last year, he pushed back against a report from the Weekly Standard, which reported that he had referred to immigrants as “dirt.” King demanded that the conservative magazine share the full audio of his remarks — and they did, releasing a two-minute clip in which he could be heard making what appeared to be an incendiary joke. After the recording was made public, Sarah Stevens, King’s chief of staff, continued to insist that the magazine had misrepresented the congressman’s comments, The Post’s Kristine Phillips reported.

The quote in the Times was also not the first time a caustic statement has gotten King in trouble, as The Post’s Cleve R. Wootson Jr. reported last month.

At a 2016 congressional hearing, he said black people could afford abortions if they stopped buying iPhones, Rewire.News reported. A year later, he claimed “our civilization” can’t be restored with “somebody else’s babies.” He once even displayed a small Confederate flag on his desk in his Washington office, which he said Thursday was “a symbol of freedom of speech” that was there “for a few weeks to make a point.”

“I am descended from abolitionists,” King said. “My great, great grandfather, five times great, gave his life to put an end to slavery.”

Despite the controversies, King appeared optimistic as he discussed his plans for the upcoming year, which include working to get back his committee assignments, and his reelection bid. He already faces three primary challengers, one of whom is a sitting Iowa state senator, the Des Moines Register reported. During Thursday’s interview, King had a strong message for his constituents.

“Don’t let the elitists in this country, the power brokers in this country, tell you who’s going to represent you in the United States Congress,” he said.