Rep. Steve King, the newly reelected Iowa Republican with a history of incendiary comments about race and immigration, dared a conservative magazine to show evidence that he had called immigrants “dirt.”
The Weekly Standard released the recording — a two-minute audio in which King can be heard bantering with a handful of supporters at the back of an Iowa restaurant during a campaign stop on Nov. 5, the magazine reported. He talked about pheasant hunting and his “patented pheasant noodle soup” sprinkled with whole jalapeño peppers he had grown himself. Around the 1:20 mark, King joked that he’d have to get some “dirt from Mexico” to grow his next batch of peppers because they didn’t have enough bite.
“Trust me, it’s already on its way,” a woman quipped, appearing to refer to the caravan of Central American migrants traveling from Mexico to the U.S. border.
King engaged, saying: “Well, yeah, there’s plenty of dirt. It’s coming from the West Coast, too. And a lot of other places, besides. This is the most dirt we’ve ever seen.”
The following day, on Election Day, Weekly Standard assistant opinion editor Adam Rubenstein, who was covering the campaign event and has been critical of King, published an article about the conversation. It included a transcript but not the audio.
In a statement to The Washington Post on Monday evening, Sarah Stevens, King’s chief of staff, accused the Weekly Standard of misrepresenting the congressman’s comments and conjuring a false story. Stevens said the congressman believed the supporter was referring to dirt coming from the “leftist media,” not immigrants. In response to the supporter, King repeated similar comments he had been making during the campaign — that the “leftist media” and liberal multibillionaires from coastal states were trying to smear him, Stevens said.
The magazine stood by its story, saying it quoted King at length to provide readers with context. Claiming King was referring to the media is “absurd” given the context of the conversation, during which the media was never mentioned, according to an editor’s note at the end of Rubenstein’s story.
Days after Rubenstein’s story was published, King and the Weekly Standard engaged in a public Twitter fight over what he actually meant.
The Weekly Standard has joined the HuffPost “at the bottom of the lying journalistic gutter,” the congressman tweeted in the wee morning hours Friday.
To which Stephen Hayes, the magazine’s editor in chief, replied: “The Weekly Standard remains, proudly, a reporting-driven conservative journal of opinion. … There are no lies, willful or otherwise. … Our reporter wouldn’t focus on your bigotry if you weren’t a bigot.”
King replied later by castigating Hayes for defending his reporter. He suggested that the magazine refused to publish the audio because it doesn’t exist.
Hours later, on Saturday, the Weekly Standard did release it, along with a column from Hayes.
“So, King claimed our reporter lied. He didn’t. He claimed we didn’t have a recording. We did. He insisted we refused to release the audio. Untrue,” Hayes wrote.
The congressman, who shares President Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, has a long history of inflammatory rhetoric against immigrants, minorities and the media and has peddled conspiratorial views about “white genocide.”
He has compared immigrants to dogs. He said immigrants have “calves the size of cantaloupes” because they haul drugs across the desert. He tweeted a cartoon depicting President Barack Obama wearing a turban. He retweeted a self-described Nazi sympathizer. He endorsed a white nationalist mayoral candidate who questioned whether immigration is causing “white genocide.” He said he hoped Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor “will elope to Cuba.” He reportedly attacked the National Republican Congressional Committee for backing a gay candidate.
He met with members of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party, which has historical Nazi ties, during a trip financed by a Holocaust memorial group. In the aftermath of the mass shooting inside a synagogue in Pittsburgh, King defended associating with the Austrian party and said: “If they were in America pushing the platform that they push, they would be Republicans.”
On election night, King barred the Des Moines Register, Iowa’s largest newspaper, from covering his event, calling the paper a “leftist propaganda media outlet.”
King has been in Congress since 2003, representing Iowa’s northwest quadrant. Once on the fringe, King has moved further into the mainstream after Trump’s election.
Republicans on Capitol Hill have largely stayed silent about King. But in late October, Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), the National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, criticized King for espousing extreme views online.
“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,” Stivers tweeted.
Felicia Sonmez, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Julie Zauzmer contributed to this report.