On Monday evening, House Republican leaders cut Steve King from the Judiciary and Agriculture Committees, rebuking the Iowa representative for his comments in an interview with the New York Times last week. “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” King said.
The remark was offensive enough for Republicans in the House and Senate to reprimand King, or call for his resignation, despite weathering years of similar, slightly more subtle comments from the congressman. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell implored King to find “another line of work,” while Senator Mitt Romney said that King “ought to resign and move on.” “That is not the party of Lincoln, and it’s definitely not American,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, after stripping the seats from his colleague.
Republicans seemed eager to show that their reactionary immigration policies are entirely different from King’s songbook — though the left sees King’s defense of white supremacy as just a few octaves lower than the standard GOP dog whistle. In part, Republicans’ moves against King were an effort at self-censure, with Democrats preparing to hit him with the strength of their House majority. On Monday, two Democrats, Representatives Bobby Rush of Illinois and Tim Ryan of Ohio, each proposed censure resolutions, as Representative James Clyburn, the third-highest Democrat, led the charge for a vote of disapproval to take place on Tuesday. “Today I denounce the words of Representative Steve King and I do so invoking the words of another king, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who if would have been allowed to live, would be celebrating his 90th birthday tomorrow,” said Clyburn. “Dr. King counseled that we are going to be made to repent, not just with the hateful words and deeds of bad people but for the appalling silence of good people.”
The blowback to King has also been a long time coming. Excluding his past comments disparaging African-Americans, Latinos, Jews, and Muslims — his Wikipedia reads like an introduction to nativist paranoia — King has been sinking in popularity since 2014, when he was the odds-on favorite to win the Iowa Senate nomination before deciding to stay in the House. In 2018, King secured his seat with only 50.3 percent of the vote, compared to wins in the 60s in the last two elections. And earlier in January, the GOP campaign committee chair said it was unlikely that the NRCC would intervene in the 2020 primary between King and Iowa state senator Randy Feenstra. Iowa’s fourth district hasn’t had a Democratic representative since 1995, suggesting that the GOP’s overdue condemnation is partly to save face after King’s bomb of a comment to the paper of record, and partly because they don’t really need him.
Notably absent in the Monday exchange was the president of the United States, who was busy serving Wendy’s on silver platters to the national-champion Clemson football team. If the fallout grows, it will be difficult for the president not to comment; of course, that would set him up for an assault of hypocritical, pot-calling-the-kettle-extremely-racist critiques. But if the president cared about callouts of bigotry in the media, he may have switched up his messaging some 30 years ago.