Rep. Steve King would like America to know that he’s not racist, he is “simply an American nationalist.”
King, an Iowa Republican, made that proclamation Friday in a combative statement delivered on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, in which he tried to explain comments he made during an interview with the New York Times that was published a day earlier.
King read into the record the quote from the Times story that he said was “the substance of this heartburn that seems to be churning across the media and America today.”
“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?” King told the Times.
King did not dispute the quote, although he said it was taken out of context. His mistake, he explained, was in talking to the Times in the first place.
“I made a freshman mistake when I took a call from a reporter from the New York Times,” he said. “One phrase in that long article has created an unnecessary controversy.”
The context of the comment, King said, was obscured in the article. He was not complaining that those terms were no longer admissible in polite society; instead, he was asking how “that offensive language get injected into our political dialogue?”
Words and phrases such as “racist,” “fascist,” “Nazi,” and “white supremacist” have been “used almost always unjustly labeling otherwise innocent people.”
“Today the New York Times is suggesting that I am an advocate for white nationalism and white supremacy,” King went on. “I want to make one thing abundantly clear: I reject those labels and the evil ideology that they define. Further, I condemn anyone who supports this evil and bigoted ideology which saw in its ultimate expression the systematic murder of 6 million innocent Jewish lives.”
Rep. Steve King: “I regret the heartburn that has poured forth upon this Congress and this country and especially in my state and in my congressional district.” pic.twitter.com/vkFgVYD9Z4
— CSPAN (@cspan) January 11, 2019
In October, King was criticized for meeting with a far-right group in Austria at the conclusion of a five-day trip funded by a group that tries to educate lawmakers about the Holocaust. During his meeting with the website Unzensuriert and members of the anti-immigrant Freedom Party, King held another interview in which he decried that “Western civilization is on the decline.” The Anti-Defamation League admonished King for the meeting.
The quotes from King in the Times article, under the headline “Before Trump, Steve King Set the Agenda for the Wall and Anti-Immigrant Politics,” drew swift rebukes from politicians on both sides of the aisle, perhaps none as forceful or eloquent as those delivered by Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who blasted King in a Friday op-ed in the Washington Post.
“When people with opinions similar to King’s open their mouths, they damage not only the Republican Party and the conservative brand but also our nation as a whole. They want to be treated with fairness for some perceived slights but refuse to return the favor to those on the other side,” Scott wrote.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy criticized King on Thursday, saying his “language is reckless, wrong and has no place in our society.”
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., also scolded King.
These comments are abhorrent and racist and should have no place in our national discourse. Steve King asks how terms ‘white nationalist’ and ‘white supremacist’ became offensive | TheHill https://t.co/yL23avpNFB
— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) January 10, 2019
Rep. Paul Cook, R-Calif., questioned Friday whether King “has the moral authority to continue serving in Congress.”
Whether deriding racial minorities at home or cavorting with Nazis and white supremacists abroad, Rep. Steve King brings dishonor to himself, the party of Abraham Lincoln, and his nation. We must reconsider whether Mr. King has the moral authority to continue serving in Congress. pic.twitter.com/pUNn6XOpbE
— Rep. Paul Cook (@RepPaulCook) January 11, 2019
King also claimed Friday that the headline on the Times article was “a bit pejorative.” The congressman, who in 2017 famously tweeted that “we can’t restore our civilization with someone else’s babies,” insisted he had never been “anti-immigrant,” but “anti-illegal immigrant.”
“Under any fair political definition, I am simply an American nationalist,” King said Friday.
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