Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) faced new fallout Tuesday after questioning whether the term “white nationalist” should be offensive as more Republicans called for his resignation, the House voted overwhelmingly to disavow his words, and harsher sanctions loomed.
Together with the GOP’s decision Monday to strip him of committee assignments, it marks a stunning castigation for a onetime conservative kingmaker who helped steer his party to hard-line positions on immigration, abortion and other issues.
Before the House voted 424 to 1 Tuesday to condemn the substance of King’s recent remarks, a chastened but unapologetic King went to the House floor to say that he would support the resolution while continuing to say that he had been misquoted when he asked a New York Times reporter, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”
“There is no tape for this interview that I did. . . . There is no way to go back and listen,” said the congressman, who conceded that he might have said the quoted words but challenged how they have been interpreted. “But I can tell you this: That ideology never shows up in my head. I don’t know how it could possibly come out of my mouth.”
But that explanation came too late for his own Republican colleagues, not to mention scores of Democrats who are ready to pursue more serious actions against King, including censure — the most serious House sanction short of expulsion.
Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the third-ranking House Republican, called Tuesday for King to “find another line of work,” a day after King earned a similar rebuke from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The Des Moines Register, in an editorial Tuesday, said King should resign “for the good of Iowa.”
King remained defiant later Tuesday in an interview with conservative radio host Ed Martin.
“What are they going to do next?” he said. “After they get done telling me to resign, they’ll realize that’s not going to happen.”
King also took aim at Cheney, saying “you can’t ever put her in the category of being a conservative again.”
“She’s called for my resignation! She’s been here two years! What would give her the moral authority or the intellectual judgment to do something like that?” King said.
The resolution passed Tuesday was introduced by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) and mentions King’s remarks in its preamble but does not directly rebuke the Iowa congressman himself. The only member opposed was Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), who is pushing for stronger action.
Clyburn, the highest-ranking African American congressional leader, called white nationalism and white supremacy “clear and present dangers to our great Republic,” in remarks Tuesday.
“When elected representatives give cover and comfort to those who spread racial divisiveness, we embolden those on the fringes on our society, and we have seen some of the results,” he said — citing the hate-motivated murders of black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., and synagogue members in Pittsburgh.
King sat apart from his colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle as Clyburn spoke. Moments later, King rose, made the sign of the cross and descended into the well of the House to give his remarks.
King — who had, for a time, kept a Confederate flag on his desk — noted he came from a family of abolitionists, before calling on his colleagues to support Clyburn’s measure.
“All men and all women are created equal,” he said. “It is in my heart, it is in my soul, and it is in my works.”
Two censure resolutions — one introduced by Rush, another by Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) — are set to come up for floor consideration on Wednesday, and Democratic leaders made cursory comments about potentially derailing that effort.
Rush told reporters Tuesday that King’s vote to support Clyburn’s measure “tells you this resolution is not worth the paper it’s written on.” He vowed to press forward with censure.
Ryan said he, too, was undeterred. “Steve’s saying all the right things,” he said. “But there’s a long history there.”
King’s comments to the Times followed a string of remarks over the years that disparaged immigrants and minorities, as well as a seeming embrace of far-right foreign politicians and parties that have been openly hostile to those groups.
Asked why the GOP conference had not taken action against King before, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said that he is “a brand new leader” and that he had recently researched King’s past comments.
“There is no room for white supremacy,” McCarthy said. “We don’t take this lightly.”
McCarthy condemned King’s comments but stopped short of calling for his resignation: “I think that’s up to Steve King.”
Shortly before the November election, for instance, King lashed out at the media after The Washington Post reported that 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.
Through the campaign and King’s election to a ninth term, House Republican leaders remained silent about King’s views. But in recent weeks, Republicans have seen a potential alternative to King after Iowa state Sen. Randy Feenstra announced that he will challenge the congressman in the 2020 Republican primary.
King served on the House Judiciary, Agriculture and Small Business committees in the last Congress.
Inside the Democratic caucus, some members on Tuesday expressed wariness about moving too rashly to censure King, while others said they saw censure as an absolute minimum response. The internal politics are tied up in a long history of disciplinary action against members of both parties, as well as a fear of setting a new precedent for punishing lawmakers for their comments outside of the Capitol.
Clyburn said he opted for a narrower resolution to build broad support among both Democrats and Republicans. But he said he would support censure if a measure is presented: “Just because I want to keep my members comfortable doesn’t mean I’m uncomfortable” with censure, he said.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) also suggested he might vote for a censure resolution and said King’s conduct “far exceeds” that of the last House member to be censured, Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.).
Hoyer served as majority leader during Rangel’s 2010 ethics proceedings, which included charges that he improperly used his office to solicit funds and failed to pay taxes on a vacation home. At the time, he pushed to reprimand Rangel, a lesser punishment than censure.
“What King is doing and what others have done is to encourage the undermining of the basic principles of our country,” he said. “In my opinion, that is a more dangerous phenomenon than anything Charles B. Rangel did.”
Other Democrats pushed for censure as well. Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-N.Y.) said the Clyburn resolution “is just the beginning.”
“I don’t think there is any place for him or those comments in the United States Congress. . . . We’ve got to get rid of the climate and to show all the citizens of the United States that that’s not who we are as a country.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said lawmakers should consider referring King to the House Ethics Committee for potential expulsion.
“I think censure is a minimum of what we should be doing, and we should at the very least be in agreement with both caucuses on that,” she said. “Folks in my district don’t think that any sitting member of Congress should be embracing white supremacy.”
David Weigel contributed to this report.