A panel of Republican leaders voted unanimously Monday to keep veteran Iowa lawmaker Steve King off House committees, a firm rebuke to an influential opponent of illegal immigration who sparked outrage last week after openly questioning whether the term “white supremacist” was offensive.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the decision by the Republican Steering Committee, which seats lawmakers on House committees, followed his own recommendation and was meant to send a message about the GOP at large.
“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.”
One is tempted to ask: Why only now? The decision was made after Democrats threatened to bring a motion of censure, and more egregiously, after years of King’s blatantly racist comments. This is a man who met with an Austrian far-right politician who had been active in neo-Nazi circles in his youth and declared that he’d be a Republican if he were an American.
Democrats still might press for further action against King. (“[House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi on Monday left open the possibility that there could be votes on multiple sanctions for King, ranging from disapproval to censure.”) Whether Democrats proceed or not, the party of Lincoln has an elephant-size problem that dwarfs King.
If King’s defense of “white nationalism” is not acceptable, why do Republicans tolerate and extol a president who declared there to be some “fine people” among neo-Nazis, called African and Caribbean nations “shithole countries,” equated Mexican immigrants with rapists, repeatedly questioned African American critics' IQ, asserted a federal court judge of Mexican descent to be unable to perform his job, created a conspiracy to delegitimize the first African American president, started a running battle with African American athletes who kneel to protest police brutality and fails to employ any high-level African American staffer? Why do they tolerate a president who recently declared, “If Elizabeth Warren, often referred to by me as Pocahontas, did this commercial from Bighorn or Wounded Knee instead of her kitchen, with her husband dressed in full Indian garb, it would have been a smash"?
Moreover, Republicans have spent three-plus years telling us that words don’t really matter, that tweets don’t matter. If we now agree that the words of an Iowa congressman matter a great deal, they’re going to have a hard time sticking to the view that the words of the president of the United States shouldn’t be held against him.
King is a minor-league racist, a buffoon; but President Trump leads their party. Ever since he made birtherism his signature issue and rode down the gold escalator to disparage Mexicans, Republicans have rationalized or ignored his blatant racism (and we haven’t even gotten to the nonstop misogyny).
When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says of King, “I have no tolerance for such positions, and those who espouse these views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms,” one has to ask why he tolerates Trump and undoubtedly will support his reelection. If Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) agrees that King should resign, surely he should say the same of Trump, whose words carry far more weight and who defines Romney’s party.
Republicans should have disowned Trump long ago. The good news: There is still time. No elected Republican should support Trump’s reelection for the very same reason that they belatedly took action against King. A major political party should not stand by racists.
Republicans have to decide once and for all whether they want to be the party of white grievance and racist dog-whistles and bullhorns. So long as they stand with Trump and accept the support of racists, they cannot seriously claim to be the party of Lincoln. And if it’s not the party of Lincoln, why exactly do we need a Republican Party?