WASHINGTON — The House voted almost unanimously on a resolution to reprimand Rep. Steve King for his most recent racist comments, with only one member dissenting — but it wasn’t King.
The resolution, a formal rebuke of the Iowa lawmaker, mentions King only once and focuses instead on renouncing white supremacy and white nationalism. King himself said before the vote that he’d enthusiastically support it.
The only member to oppose the bill was Rep. Bobby Rush, an Illinois Democrat, who says his party’s resolution didn’t go far enough. Scott sponsored legislation to censure King, a more serious rebuke, which he plans to continue pursuing. Rush said that King’s own vote for the resolution “tells you that this resolution is not worth the paper it’s written on.”
“Anything short of censure is shallow,” Rush said in a statement announcing his decision to vote against it on Tuesday morning. “Steve King has made a career of making racist statements. That is the only thing he is known for and this pattern of rabid racism must be confronted head-on by the House of Representatives. This resolution just restates the obvious. It does not address Steve King’s violent, vitriolic, and rabid racism.”
The resolution that passed 424–1 Tuesday was sponsored by Rep. Jim Clyburn, the number three Democrat in the House leadership, unanimously decided to strip King of his committee assignments, arguably a more serious response than the one Democrats pursued.
“The House of Representatives once again rejects White nationalism and White supremacy as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States,” states the resolution.
Clyburn suggested he would vote to censure King himself, should a vote happen, but he said that Democratic leadership favored the more toned-down reprimand because he thought it could get more support in the House. “I decided upon a resolution of disapproval as being an appropriate thing that will allow all of our members, Democrats and Republicans, people in safe districts and people in swing districts, to all express themselves in a positive way, and that’s why we did it,” Clyburn told reporters after the vote.
“I try, when I can, not to make people uncomfortable. When I can, I try to accommodate people’s feelings and positions, and we have a few people who were uncomfortable with censure, but very comfortable with disapproval, and so I went with that.”
On Monday, Clyburn also used the fact that King’s comments didn’t occur on the House floor as a reason for pause on choosing to censure. King, who has a long history of racist remarks, is facing criticism over a New York Times interview from last week, in which he wondered: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”
Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana said it was “worth legitimate consideration” that Democrats not censure a Republican lawmaker in a partisan fashion.
“I’m content that the people of Iowa know exactly who he is, and they know now that they own him. And if that’s the message they want to portray to the country and to the world, then that’s their decision,” Richmond said, noting that the press was talking about the difference between a censure and resolution of disapproval “far more” than lawmakers, who are currently preoccupied with an ongoing government shutdown.
Other Democrats said that while they were comfortable with the resolution on Tuesday, they could also be in support of censure. Rush and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan introduced resolutions to censure him on Monday night. Ryan supported Clyburn’s resolution but stood by his calls to censure King.
Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a cochair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said she fully supported Tuesday’s resolution and also had previously called for King to be censured.
“I can’t imagine Steve King is going to stop making these kinds of comments. It’s just in his DNA. I’m willing to do this today as long as the next time, we move to a censure,” Jayapal told BuzzFeed News.
Joaquin Castro, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus chair, also called for censure in a statement on Monday night. “Steve King should be censured, and I am glad to see that he will not be assigned to any committees. There must be a price for shameless bigotry.”
California Rep. Karen Bass put the onus on Republicans to deal with their own member.
“I think this resolution was fine, but I think that the Republican caucus needs to go one step further, and that is [to] expel him from the Republican caucus,” Bass told reporters. “Why put it on the Democratic House? Let them take care of their own member. Now if he continues his outrageous behavior, then maybe we should look at censure. But right now I think that this is a Republican problem that the Republicans need to resolve.”
Ahead of the vote, King sat by himself in the House chamber and listened on as Democrats and Republicans alike condemned white nationalism and white supremacy. King then made the sign of the cross on himself and walked up to the front of the chamber to take the floor, where he maintained that his comments had been taken out of context but announced he would vote in favor of the resolution.
“I'm putting up a yes on the board here because what you say here is right and is true and is just, and so is what I have stated here on the floor of the House,” King said.
His comments have led to a growing number of Republican lawmakers suggesting he should not even be in Congress. On Tuesday, the number three House Republican, Rep. Liz Cheney, said she agreed “with Leader McConnell, actually. I think he should find another line of work.”
“I think we’ve been very clear,” Cheney said. “I think it was a very significant and serious step to remove him from committees, and I think you’ve seen now repeated— this wasn’t the first time, but his language questioning whether or not the notion of white supremacy is offensive is absolutely abhorrent. It’s racist. We do not support it or agree with it.”
McConnell on Monday said in a statement that King’s comments are “unwelcome and unworthy” of an elected official. “If he doesn’t understand why ‘white supremacy’ is offensive, he should find another line of work,” McConnell said. And Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a former Republican presidential candidate, also reportedly said King “ought to step aside.”
On Tuesday, Iowa’s largest newspaper, the Des Moines Register, called on King to resign as well, arguing that he “has lost even the potential to effectively represent his Iowa constituents.” King serves in a safely conservative district but is already facing a Republican challenger for 2020.
Asked if the National Republican Congressional Committee would support King in 2020, Bob Salera, a spokesperson for the committee, said in a statement to BuzzFeed News, “Chairman [Tom] Emmer vehemently disagrees with Rep. King’s comments as they have been characterized and does not find them to be helpful. The NRCC does not get involved in primaries and isn’t going to comment on a hypothetical general election two years away."