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Republicans remove Rep. Steve King from committee assignments for defending white nationalism

This comes days after the Iowa Congress member told the New York Times: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) speaks during a hearing with Google CEO Sundar Pichai on December 11, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Members of the Republican Steering Committee voted unanimously to strip Rep. Steve King (R-IA) of all of his House committee assignments Monday night. The move comes just four days after King’s racist comments to the New York Times — where he said, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” — led many Republicans to distance themselves from the controversial eight-term Congress member.

The news followed House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announcing on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday that “action will be taken” against King and that there would be a “serious conversation” between McCarthy and King about King’s future in Congress.

King had been a member of a number of House committees, including the House Agriculture Committee and the House Judiciary Committee, where he served as the chair of the Subcommittee on the Constitution & Civil Justice, one of the Judiciary Committee’s five subcommittees. Stripping him of his assignments leaves him with little power in Congress, meaning his place there has little value to his constituents — a fact his primary challenger, Randy Feenstra, pointed out on Twitter.

To those familiar with King, who has been in Congress since 2003, it may seem odd that he’s suddenly been ostracized by his Republican peers. After all, he has compiled a lengthy history of racist comments, from comparing the existence of the Congressional Black Caucus to the decision to terminate a pregnancy in 2016 (“They chose to have a Congressional Black Caucus. They chose to have an abortion”) to retweeting white nationalists and keeping a Confederate flag on his desk (Iowa was notably a Union state during the Civil War) to publicly endorsing a white supremacist candidate running for mayor in Canada.

As I wrote in the summer of 2018:

In 2008 King said that if Barack Hussein Obama won the presidency, “The radical Islamists, the al Qaeda ... would be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on Sept. 11 because they would declare victory in this war on terror.” He later explained that they would supposedly do so because of Obama’s middle name.

In 2016 King filed an amendment to block efforts to place the image of abolitionist luminary Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill: He criticized “liberal activism on the part of the president that’s trying to identify people by categories, and he’s divided us on the lines of groups.” And in a 2017 interview, speaking about upcoming demographic changes whereby nonwhite Americans would surpass white Americans in population, he said, “I will predict that Hispanics and the blacks will be fighting each other before that happens.” (During that same interview, he recommended right-wight strategist Steve Bannon’s favorite and extremely racist book, The Camp of the Saints.)

And back in 2013 King came under fire for racist remarks about Latino immigrants, saying for every immigrant “who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

But the inflection point here seems to be King’s comments to the New York Times that earned condemnation from conservatives, both in media and in Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement Monday affirming the previous statements of Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley, Joni Ernst (both from Iowa), and Sen. Tim Scott (SC), adding “If he doesn’t understand why ‘white supremacy’ is offensive, he should find another line of work.” First-term Sen. Mitt Romney agreed, saying that King should “resign and move on.”

King’s office released a statement arguing that he had been misunderstood and that the decision to remove him from House committees “ignores the truth.”

King is now one of three GOP House members with no committee assignments. The other two — Rep. Chris Collins (NY) and Rep. Duncan Hunter (CA) — are both under indictment, Collins for insider trading and Hunter for misusing campaign funds.