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Rep. Steve King’s base of support, including in his home state of Iowa, continues to erode after comments he made appearing to praise white supremacy were published in the New York Times.
The latest salvo came as the Sioux City Journal, a conservative newspaper in Iowa’s Fourth District that had previously endorsed the Republican congressman, called on him to resign. “It's hard for us to summon words that will properly convey how repugnant we view that remark,” said the paper in response to King asking, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” earlier this month.
“Constituents deserve better and more from the man or woman we send to represent us in Washington, D.C.,” wrote the Journal’s editorial board. “If he cares deeply about citizens of the 4th, and we believe he does, King should do what is in their best interests and step down from office.”
King defeated Democratic challenger J.D. Scholten by 3.7 percent in November’s race, surviving controversy over his endorsement of a declared white supremacist in Toronto’s mayoral race and a meeting with an Austrian group associated with neo-Nazism.
Joining the Journal in its call for a resignation was the Des Moines Register, which wrote that King “has lost even the potential to effectively represent his Iowa constituents because of his abhorrent comments about white nationalism and white supremacy.”
“King has often made Iowa a laughing stock on the national stage with his offensive and absurd remarks about undocumented immigrants, comparing them to dogs or disparaging them as drug mules with calves the size of cantaloupes,” wrote the Register’s editorial board. Des Moines is not located in King’s district.
“I think he should find another line of work,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House, on Tuesday. “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.”
King has been condemned or outright abandoned by a number of Republican allies who stood by him through his long history of racist rhetoric. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House, stripped King of his committee assignments. Sen. Chuck Grassley and Sen. Joni Ernst condemned King’s most recent comments after previously campaigning with him. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said she would stay out of the primary race for King’s seat after keeping the congressman on as a co-chair for her 2018 campaign. King also served as the national co-chair of Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign.
“Congressman Steve King’s recent comments, actions, and retweets are completely inappropriate,” wrote Steve Stivers, head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, who had criticized King even prior to the 2018 election. “We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms, and I strongly condemn this behavior.”
He was still endorsed by Grassley, who said “Iowa needs Steve King in Congress. I also need Steve King in Congress.”
King had attempted to defend his association with international far-right groups by saying, “If they were in America pushing the platform that they push, they would be Republicans.”
Despite his comments to the New York Times, King says has rejected being labeled a white nationalist and voted Tuesday on a House measure to condemn white supremacy. Some congressional Democrats are pushing for a formal censure of their colleague.
The turn on King by Republican colleagues and leadership who ignored years of his prior comments has caused confusion for both King and observers. (King kept a Confederate flag on his desk through 2016 even though Iowa was a Union state.)
Iowa Republicans have said that the narrow margin in his 2018 race — the tightest victory of his nine-term career in an extremely Republican district — have shown him to be too vulnerable to be worth defending, while his comments have become a distraction for Republicans nationwide. If King doesn’t heed the calls to resign, he is expected to face a number of challengers in next year’s Republican primary.