WASHINGTON — House Republican leadership will remove Iowa Rep. Steve King from his committee assignments, including the powerful House Judiciary Committee, following his latest racist remarks.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters Monday evening, after huddling with his leadership, that King would not sit on any committees this Congress because of his comments. Leadership told reporters after the meeting that the decision was unanimous.
McCarthy wouldn’t go so far as to call for King’s resignation, however. Asked if he believed that King should resign from Congress, McCarthy told reporters, “the voters of his district make those decisions.”
For years, King has regularly punctured the news cycle with racist remarks — remarks that have become what the representative is best known for. The latest in his long-running series came in a New York Times interview last week, in which King asked, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”
In response to the comments, McCarthy met with King earlier Monday. McCarthy had billed the meeting as a “serious conversation” about King’s “future and role” in the Republican Party in a Sunday interview on Face the Nation. McCarthy promised “action will be taken” against the representative. King did not answer questions from reporters on his way out of the meeting.
Asked why Republicans were choosing now to respond to King, given his long history of racist comments, McCarthy said, “I’ve just now become the leader of the Republican Party [in the House]. Maybe I had not seen those, but I heard these. I disagree with these. These are reckless, these are wrong, these are nothing associated with America. And that’s why I’m taking the action.”
King responded to the most recent controversy on the House floor Friday, blaming the Times. “I made a freshman mistake … when I took a call from a reporter from the New York Times,” King, who has been in Congress since 2003, said. King called the situation an “unnecessary controversy” and “heartburn.”
“I reject those labels and the evil ideology they define,” King said in a statement.
King called McCarthy’s announcement Monday night “a political decision that ignores the truth,” in a statement. “Ultimately, I told him ‘You have to do what you have to do and I will do what I have to do,’” King said of his discussion with McCarthy earlier Monday.
But the backlash spread quicker than he could contain it, particularly in a now–Democrat-controlled House of Representatives. Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan and Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush introduced resolutions to formally censure King for his remarks. House Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn also said he would also introduce legislation to “express my disapproval,” but he added he wouldn’t go as “far” as to censure King.
Democratic leadership decided to move forward with Clyburn’s proposal, a formal reprimand, which is less serious than a censure. Under that plan, the House would formally disapprove of King’s comments in a vote expected Tuesday, a leadership aide told BuzzFeed News. The disapproval resolution is similar to one the House passed in 2009 in response to South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson shouting “You lie!” at then-president Barack Obama during an address to Congress.
When asked why he wouldn’t go as far as to call for censure, Clyburn said he didn’t “think we in the House should be censuring somebody for something said to a reporter. I just don’t think we should. If it were for something similar on the House floor, yeah, maybe. But not something said to a news [reporter].”
Both Ryan and Rush plan to stick by their calls for censuring King, a more severe and rare vote by the House to formally disapprove of a member’s actions.
“The severity of Steve King’s serial racism has risen to the point where he needs to be [responded to] with severity. It has risen up to a point where I can no longer sit idly by and allow this man to say anything to demean me, my constituents, my family, all that I have lived and fought for,” Rush said, adding that King “needs a severe House spanking.”
Asked about Clyburn’s resolution, Rush said: “That’s his voice. That’s not my voice. That’s his voice.”
McCarthy told reporters Monday evening he would support a resolution saying he did not agree with King’s remarks, but wouldn’t commit to specific legislation, saying he had not seen the resolutions of censure or disapproval.
The New York Times article was published a day after a GOP Iowa state senator, Randy Feenstra, announced he would challenge King for the 2020 Republican nomination.
The sequence of events led to Republicans distancing themselves from King. Among them are King’s Iowa colleagues, Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst. Ernst is up for her first reelection in 2020. Neither she nor Grassley condemned any of King’s comments ahead of the 2018 elections, and Grassley went as far as to endorse King in a video that King later tweeted.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also put out a statement, saying, “there is no place in the Republican Party, the Congress or the country for an ideology of racial supremacy of any kind.”
“I have no tolerance for such positions and those who espouse these views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms. Rep. King’s statements are unwelcome and unworthy of his elected position. If he doesn’t understand why ‘white supremacy’ is offensive, he should find another line of work,” McConnell said.
Leadership’s actions come after years of Republicans looking the other way from King’s comments, including a 2013 remark about immigrants legally in the United States because of the DREAM Act, of whom he said, “For every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
King represents a safely conservative district, but presidential politics have placed him in the orbit of Republican candidates for years.
Jeb Bush, a former Republican presidential candidate, was also among those to criticize King. “It’s not enough to condemn @SteveKingIA’s unconscionable, racist remarks. Republican leaders must actively support a worthy primary opponent to defeat King, because he won’t have the decency to resign,” Bush tweeted.
Asked about King’s comments on his way out of the White House on Monday, President Donald Trump asked, “who?” (King and Trump have met before). Asked again, Trump said he was unfamiliar with the remarks and said, “I haven’t been following.”
McCarthy told reporters he hadn’t discussed King’s remarks with Trump before making the decision to strip him of his committee assignments.
King eked out an unexpectedly close win in November against Democrat J.D. Scholten, a former minor league baseball player challenging the lawmaker. His win came in the midst of controversy over another round of racist and anti-Semitic remarks, which at that time cost King the support of major donors ahead of the election and distance from the then-chair of the House Republican campaign arm.