WASHINGTON – Rep. Steve King of Iowa said on the House floor he intended to vote for a resolution that condemned him for questioning why phrases like “white supremacist” are offensive, and urged all of his colleagues to do the same.
King, a Republican, said he agreed with Rep. James Clyburn’s resolution, entitled “Rejecting White nationalism and White supremacy.” The resolution invoked King’s comments and condemned such words as “hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States.”
“I regret that we are in this place,” King said, adding that he rejects such ideologies. “I agree with every word that you have put in this. It’s an honest and a direct resolution put together to address a subject that has been too long before the public dialogue in this country.”
“I want to ask my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, let’s vote for this resolution. I’m putting up a yes on the board here,” King said.
He said that his previous comments had not come across as he had intended them to.
King sat alone on the GOP side of the chamber as Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, urged his colleagues to support the resolution. A handful of Republicans sat nearby. Many stood up to condemn racism.
On the other side of the aisle, about two dozen Democrats sat in rapt silence as Clyburn, a civil rights veteran, invoked the work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday would have been Tuesday.
“Now is the time to do right,’’ he said. “This body must speak out against this evil.”
In a rare move, House Democratic leaders coalesced behind a vote of disapproval put forth by Clyburn, an African-American, a senior Democratic aide said Monday.
A handful of prominent Republicans said King should leave Congress, and top House Republicans voted Monday not to assign King any committees in the new Congress. King was previously on the Judiciary, Agriculture and Small Business committees. He had been the chairman of the immigration and border security subcommittee on the Judiciary Committee when Republicans controlled the House.
“The House Republicans denounce his language. We do not believe in his language and we’ve decided that he will not serve on any” committees, GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters Tuesday. He said it was up to King whether he should resign.
But Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the No. 3 House Republican, went further, echoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, “I think that he should find another line of work,” she said. GOP Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, has also called on King to resign.
“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization – how did that language become offensive?” King said in an interview with The New York Times last week. “Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”
On Monday, King was defiant, accusing the GOP’s McCarthy of making an “unprecedented assault” on his right to free speech. He also suggested his comments had been misinterpreted.
“Rep. King’s statements are unwelcome and unworthy of his elected position. If he doesn’t understand why ‘white supremacy’ is offensive, he should find another line of work,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., the only black Republican in the Senate, wrote a Washington Post op-ed titled: “Why are Republicans accused of racism? Because we’re silent on things like this.”
Democrats won control of the House of Representatives, 235-199, with the help of a coalition of women, African-Americans and Hispanics. They ushered in the most diverse class yet, breaking records for the number of women and minorities. At the same time, the House GOP became less diverse, seeing a decline in the number of women and the loss of the sole African-American Republican woman in the House, Mia Love of Utah.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer applauded Republican leaders for their “strong” actions against King Tuesday. “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.”
There were some disagreements among Democrats over how far to go in taking action over King’s comments.
Earlier, Hoyer said he would vote for Clyburn’s resolution, but the party was still discussing measures that would censure King, acknowledging that it could open a Pandora’s box. “It is a big deal to be censured,” he said.
Two Democratic lawmakers introduced resolutions that would censure King Monday, a more formal practice that requires him to come to the well of the House to hear his the statements of disapproval. It is not clear if those will also be voted on, however, one resolution introduced by Rep. Bobby Rush, an African-American, is considered “privileged” so it is set to come up this week and Democratic leadership will be forced to decide to let it go through or table it. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio has also offered a more narrow censure resolution.
Rush said Tuesday he was “disappointed that the Republican’s response to King is much stronger than the Democratic response to King.”
He said he can’t vote for Clyburn’s resolution because it’s not strong enough. Minimally, King should be censured, and if he continues, he should be expelled from the Congress, he said.
“Steve King has made a career out of being a racist and he needs to be called out as such,” he said.
Rep. Dave Joyce, R-Ohio, the first Republican to join Rep. Tim Ryan’s censure resolution and a member of the steering committee that stripped King of his committees, told USA TODAY he tried to have a “man-to-man” conversation with King when he “made stupid comments” about immigrants in 2013.
“My point was that when you say stupid things, it splashes on all of us,” Joyce said. “He said, well, he gets good publicity out of it. I said, ‘Well you need to think about other people here because it’s not right. I can’t believe you say these things, but it’s not right and you shouldn’t say those things.’”
Contributing: Nicole Gaudiano, Deborah Berry
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