Just hours after Republican leadership announced that Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa wouldn’t be seated on any committees this Congress because of recent racist comments he made, there is growing pressure for the congressman to resign — though Republicans are still far from being united around that idea.
The House, by a vote of 424 to 1, approved Tuesday afternoon a resolution rejecting white supremacy and white nationalism after King made racist comments in The New York Times in a story published last week. Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois voted against the resolution because he said it does not go far enough. Rush has introduced his own censure resolution, which represents a stronger rebuke specifically focused on King.
King was among those who voted for the resolution which was inspired by his comments, saying on the House floor he agrees “with the language in it,” referring to the part condemning white supremacy and white nationalism.
“I can tell you this: That ideology never shows up in my head, I don’t know how it could possibly come out of my mouth,” King said.
During a GOP leadership news conference, House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming said she agreed with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that King’s comments had no place in the GOP and that he should find a different line of work.
Rush specifically commented Cheney’s comments, saying her comments were harsher on King than the Democrats’ actions.
“Republicans took a more of a strong stance than the Democrats in the face of this overt racism … the Republicans took more of a definitive action than the Democrats and it really makes me wonder, what’s going on here?” Rush asked.
Cheney and McConnell were not the only Republicans who criticized King. Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah said on CNN Monday night that King should resign and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney also said it may be time for King to step aside.
However, King tweeted Monday night that he believes the decision to remove him from committees was a political one. King refused to answer questions from reporters Tuesday morning about whether he’d consider resigning. King on Friday said he regretted the “heartburn” his comments had caused his district, but he has not apologized and said his comments published last week by The New York Times have been “mischaracterized,” comments he repeated Tuesday.
There’s no overestimating how significant it is to pull a member from committees, especially King who was the highest-ranking Republican member on the Judiciary subcommittee that handles constitutional matters.
But King has found few friends or backers at this point. Aside from Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican known for his own controversial comments, members are not racing to King’s defense. Gohmert was the only member to speak out in opposition to McCarthy’s decision at Tuesday’s GOP conference meeting, according to one source in the room.
Otherwise, Republicans have largely been backing McCarthy on the decision, including members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus to which King belongs.
“For Republicans all across the country, not just here in the House, I think it’s important to reinforce the message in every way possible that our party does not support racism. It’s always been wrong,” House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Warren Davidson of Ohio told CNN.
Besides the vote of disapproval, two Democrats, including Rush, have introduced two separate resolutions to censure King. In the history of the Congress, only 23 members have been censured. The last one censured was Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel, who was censured for ethics violations including misusing official government letterhead for fundraising, impermissible use of a rent-controlled facility for campaigning and filing inaccurate financial disclosures.
Some Republican members emerged from the meeting this morning saying they think there will be support among Republicans for censure and one Republican is teaming up with Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio to sponsor King’s censure.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was noncommittal Tuesday morning in a meeting with reporters on whether Democratic leadership would support a censure effort. Hoyer was asked if he thinks a censure resolution could open up a Pandora’s Box where members on both sides of the aisle would be calling for censures over offensive speech.
“The answer is yes,” he said, declining to expand on the thought.
Hoyer applauded McCarthy and Republican leadership for blocking King from committee assignments.
“Republicans have taken very strong action, which I applaud them for and I think they did the right thing,” he said. “I think they’re very concerned about their party being perceived as a Steve King party, frankly.”
By Lauren Fox, Ashley Killough and Elizabeth Landers, CNN