Iowa Rep. Steve King's many outrageous comments may finally catch up with him

Dareh Gregorian and Maura Barrett and Ben Kamisar

Rep. Steve King is facing the fight of his political life — against his fellow Republicans and thanks to the consequences of his own words.

The Iowa congressman with a long history of racist and outrageous remarks isfacing a serious challenge from state Sen. Randy Feenstra, one of four GOP candidates that King is facing off against in the GOP primary on Tuesday.

King is being massively outspent: Feenstra has poured over $230,000 into TV ads, and outside groups have run up hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads on his behalf. Feenstra's campaign reported having over $120,000 in cash on hand in the latest reporting period, while King had $32,000.

King's opponents haven't focused on his past rhetoric as much as they have on what's happened because of it: his loss of power.

The longtime congressman, who's been in office since 2003, was stripped of his assignments on the Agriculture, Judiciary and Small Business committees last year and essentially ostracized from the Republican Party after The New York Times published his comments about white nationalism. "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?" he asked a reporter then.

President Donald Trump, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst and Gov. Kim Reynolds haven't made any endorsements in the race, and outside Republican groups have lined up against him for fear of losing the seat to the Democrats in November.

The Republican Main Street Partnership, which supports moderate Republicans, is backing Feenstra — the first time the organization has opposed a GOP incumbent.

"We don't like to do this," Sarah Chamberlain, president and CEO of the partnership, told NBC News. But King "doesn't sit on any committees and he can't do anything for the people of Iowa."

King, 71, maintains that his "white nationalist" comments were taken out of context, although he'd reportedly made similar comments months earlier. But his divisive comments on nationalism, immigration and more have long been a headache for the GOP — and he's kept making them even since his rebuke.

An outspoken opponent of illegal immigration, King was an early proponent of a wall along the southern border. A version he designed and displayed on the House floor in 2006 included barbed wire on the top "to provide a disincentive for people to climb over the top or put a ladder there."

"We could also electrify this wire with the kind of current that wouldn't kill somebody but it would be discouragement for them to fool around with it. We do that with livestock all the time,” King said then.

In the years since, he's compared undocumented immigrants to "dirt" and "bird dogs."

King's also mocked so-called Dreamers, people who were brought to the country illegally as children and are seeking a path to American citizenship. He told Newsmax in a 2013 interview that for every valedictorian Dreamer who has been brought to the United States by their family, "there's another 100 out there who, they weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

King, who used to keep a Confederate flag on his office desk, has repeatedly lamented the declining white birth rate. "Diversity is not our strength," he tweeted in 2017, before quoting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who said, “Mixing cultures will not lead to a higher quality of life but a lower one.”

He expressed a similar sentiment in an interview with CNN.

"You cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else's babies. You've got to keep your birth rate up, and that you need to teach your children your values. And in doing so, you can grow your population, you can strengthen your culture and you can strengthen your way of life," King said.

He's also made bizarre claims about his own heritage, tweeting in 2015 that he's "as Hispanic and Latino" as Julián Castro, the Mexican American former secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

In 2018, King's campaign Facebook page mocked Emma Gonzalez — a Parkland, Florida, high school shooting survivor — after she gave a speech at a "March for Our Lives" rally in Washington. Commenting next to a photo of the teenager, who wore a Cuban flag patch, the posting said, "This is how you look when you claim Cuban heritage yet don't speak Spanish and ignore the fact that your ancestors fled the island when the dictatorship turned Cuba into a prison camp, after removing all weapons from its citizens; hence their right to self defense."

He's also ridiculed Somali Muslims, saying he did not want them working in meatpacking plants in his Iowa district. "I don't want people doing my pork that won't eat it, let alone hope I go to hell for eating pork chops," he told Breitbart News in 2018.

After he was booted off of his committee assignments for the "white nationalist" comments in 2019, King compared his suffering to Jesus during a town hall in Cherokee. "And when I had to step down the floor of the House of Representatives and look up at those 400-and-some accusers, you know, we've just passed through Easter and Christ's Passion, and I have a better insight into what he went through for us," King said.

After Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York said immigrants were complaining that they were being forced to drink from toilets at detention centers, King said at an another town hall that he'd visited the center and sampled the hybrid toilet/water fountain. "I took a drink out of there," King said, and that it was "pretty good."

That same year he also drew fire — including a call to resign from Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming — after he said rape and incest have been essential to the survival of humanity.

"What if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled those people out that were products of rape and incest? Would there be any population of the world left if we did that?" King said while arguing in favor of abortion bans that do not make exceptions for cases of rape and incest, according to video posted online by The Des Moines Register.

The comments fueled concern among Republicans that his conservative northwest district could turn blue in 2020. Democrat J.D. Scholten is running unopposed in the Democratic primary. King defeated the well-funded Scholten by just 3 percentage points in the last election, and that was before he lost his positions of power in the House.

"I'm hoping the people of Iowa understand that," Chamberlain said. If King wins the primary, "this could become a Democratic seat."

King's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

CORRECTION (May 31, 2020, 3:15 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated the date of two comments by King. His tweet about diversity was in 2017, not 2016, and his remarks about Emma Gonzalez were in 2018, not 2016. The article also misspelled the first name of the Hungarian prime minister. It is Viktor Orban, not Victor.