It’s hard to find a better encapsulation of American politics in 2019 than a visit from Steve King — the Iowa congressman who, in January, questioned why white nationalism was offensive — to a migrant detention facility to dispel the idea that requiring detainees to drink from a combination toilet-water fountain is inhumane by drinking some of the toilet-fountain water himself. In July, following a visit to a detention center in which guards told women to “drink out of the toilet,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called the conditions a form of “psychological warfare.” King called his sip from the toilet “actually pretty good.”
On Wednesday, in front of a town-hall crowd of around 80 in Eagle Grove, Iowa, the embattled congressman said that he “actually went into that cell where it was reported that they were advised they had to drink out of the toilet.” The trip, and the anecdote, appeared to be designed to prove Ocasio-Cortez’s claims wrong. In front of his constituents — as he hemorrhages money for reelection — King explained the toilet-fountain and described his 2010 Vice pitch:
“In the back where the lid would be on our toilet, that’s also sealed. And there’s a water fountain there, you push the button, the water comes out and you take a drink, it’s how it is. It’s not drinking out of the toilet, it’s drinking out of the water fountain that’s integral with the back of the toilet.”
As NBC News notes, “Toilets that also serve as a water fountain have been used in Border Patrol facilities for years, as well as in jails around the U.S.” Though they had previously been used by single men crossing the border, in recent months families with children are now using the hybrid. Below is a video of the congressman drinking from the toilet’s upper deck:
It shouldn’t be surprising that King’s point is being argued in bad faith anyway. When Ocasio-Cortez described migrants being told to drink from the toilets, she claims that the sink portion of the devices “was not functioning … so the women were told they could drink out of the bowl.”
Meanwhile, as King attempts to pull attention away from his racist-rhetoric problem and his abandonment by former donors, migrant children are reportedly sleeping in cold cells and not being given adequate food. According to Representative Elijiah Cummings, one child was recently told by a guard to eat off the floor after spilling soup. Detained children separated from their parents are also feeling profound mental health effects: “You get a lot of ‘my chest hurts,’ even though everything is fine,” a clinician recently told government watchdog investigators.