The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump-era Republicans unleash string of inflammatory comments

Representative Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, drew national attention when he tweeted Sunday that “somebody else’s babies” can’t save Western civilization, which many interpreted as an endorsement of white nationalism. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

It’s not just Rep. Steve King. The Donald Trump effect — free-wheeling, inflammatory and at times fact-free — has been unleashed across Capitol Hill.

A series of Republican lawmakers have let loose a string of controversial statements since Trump was inaugurated on Jan. 20, sometimes via the president's favorite medium — Twitter. King is a case in point: He drew national attention when he tweeted Sunday that "somebody else's babies" can't save Western civilization, which many interpreted as an endorsement of white nationalism.

The firebrand Iowa congressman regularly goes further in his commentary on race than virtually any other member of his party. But King is hardly the only GOP lawmaker to raise eyebrows recently on subjects including President Obama and the so-called “deep state,” and who should get health-care coverage.

Since Trump’s election, Republican lawmakers appear to be crossing a new line: making comments that are racially insensitive, trafficking in conspiracy theories and airing politically incorrect views that provoke mild criticism but not always wholesale rejection from members of their own party.

It's not only Republicans. Congressional Black Caucus Chair Cedric Richmond (D-La.) was widely criticized after he made a suggestive comment while referring to a photo of Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway kneeling on a sofa in the Oval Office. Richmond later apologized to Conway for the remarks, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) brushed them off.

King's comment drew negative reactions from several Republicans. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said he doesn't think the Iowan's statement "reflects what is special about this country" and that he hopes King "misspoke."

King's tweet came as the Iowan praised Geert Wilders, the far-right Dutch politician who has called for mosques to be closed and the Koran banned from the Netherlands. "Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny," King wrote on Twitter this weekend. "We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies."

"I meant exactly what I said," King later told CNN. "If you go down the road a few generations, or maybe centuries, with the intermarriage, I'd like to see an America that is just so homogenous that we look a lot the same."

On the same day, King told an Iowa radio program that "Hispanics and the blacks will be fighting each other" before whites become a minority in the United States.

He also urged listeners to read "The Camp of the Saints," a French novel that the Southern Poverty Law Center has described as a "racist fantasy about an invasion of France and the white Western world by a fleet of starving, dark-skinned refugees."

White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon is another fan of the book. The radio interview was first reported by CNN.

The Iowa Republican isn't the only one raising eyebrows on race. Earlier this month, Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.) compared raucous town-hall events to "the cleansing" that "the Orientals used to do" during China's Cultural Revolution when individuals were publicly humiliated and verbally abused by a crowd. He later said he used a "poor choice of words."

“This is a problem that the GOP has had for years. It’s not just one comment here or there. It’s an accumulation of things,” said Doug Heye, a former top aide to ex-House majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), referring to racially tone-deaf language.

“During the Obama presidency, Republicans couldn’t go six weeks without some state party treasurer or county chair or whatever tweeting out or emailing offensive comments or jokes about Barack and Michelle Obama,” he added.

But criticizing Obama has not disappeared in the Trump era. Indeed, Trump sparked a firestorm of controversy when he alleged recently — without any proof — that Obama had wiretapped his offices at Trump Tower during the presidential campaign. Now, Congress is investigating.

At a recent local GOP dinner, Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) accused Obama of deciding to live in the District after his presidency to "run a shadow government that is going to totally upset the new agenda." The Obamas have said they are living in Washington until their younger daughter, Sasha, graduates from high school.

Kelly was referring to the idea that a network of subversive Obama allies inside the government is attempting to take down the Trump presidency through a damaging onslaught of leaks to the media.

“Rep. Kelly does not believe that President Obama is personally operating a shadow government,” said Kelly spokesman Thomas Qualtere, walking back the lawmaker’s remarks. “He does believe it would be helpful to the new administration if the former president would personally call for an end to all leaks and obstruction by personnel from his administration who currently serve in the executive branch under President Trump.”

Trump and GOP see a deep state foe: Barack Obama

Health care for women and the poor has also been a frequent target of Republican lawmakers in the Trump era.

Last week, during a marathon hearing on the Republican health-care plan, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) questioned why men should have to pay for prenatal coverage as part of their health insurance policies.

“Is that not correct? Should they?” he asked a Democratic colleague.

“There’s nothing controversial about empowering patients to choose a health-insurance plan that fits their unique, personal needs,” Shimkus spokeswoman Jordan Haverly wrote in an email.

Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) faced criticism two weeks ago after he said the poor "just don't want health care and aren't going to take care of themselves."

He later said in a statement he regretted “trying to address several issues with a singular response; I was explaining that we cannot build a national health care policy around any one segment of the population.”

Besides King, several recent comments from Republicans have touched on issues of race.

In January, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said a "war on whites" was responsible for criticism of then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) ahead of his confirmation vote for attorney general.

When asked to explain, Brooks said, “We should not be dividing anybody based on national heritage or race.”

“A person’s skin pigmentation is something acquired at birth that has absolutely nothing to do with the merits of the person of how one should vote,” he said in a statement.

In early February, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) called Democrats the "party of the Ku Klux Klan" while defending a rebuke of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for criticizing Sessions.

Around that time, former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum accused Obama of not commenting on "black-on-white" crime while he was president.

Requests for comment from Cruz and Santorum were not returned.

Ed O’Keefe contributed.