Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa was removed from his position on the Judiciary and Agriculture Committees Monday night following racist remarks made to The New York Times questioning why white supremacy is considered offensive.
“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive?” King asks in his interview with the NYT. “We will not tolerate this in the Republican Party,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters following a meeting in which House Republicans voted to dismiss King of his assignments. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell advised King to find “another line of work.” Senator Mitt Romney called his comments “reprehensible” and suggested he resign.
King released a statement via Twitter the same evening regarding the decision, calling it an “unprecedented assault”on [his] “freedom of speech.” In the statement, he claims that the NYT mischaracterized his quote on white supremacy and declares that he will continue to fight in defense of free speech and “the truth.”
Despite condemnation from Republican leaders following the controversy, here’s the truth that King and much of the GOP may be less eager to fight for: King’s racism was not born upon the publication of the NYT’s interview. King’s racism in both rhetoric and legislation is tradition, and it’s a tradition that’s well-documented.
It’s no question that immigration is a cornerstone (if not the cornerstone) of President Trump’s platform. But before there was Trump and his telltale border wall, there was King. King has generalized about DREAMers as “drug mules,” likened immigrants to livestock, dirt and hunting dogs, and has questioned if immigration has lent any real contribution to civilization. He also introduced the prospect of a border wall a decade prior to Trump’s bid for office, and has been vocal in backing the proposal since.
In 2015, King argued on talk radio that America has “nothing to apologize for” in regards to slavery and in 2016, he came under scrutiny for displaying a Confederate flag on his desk—an interesting decor choice for a number of reasons, including the fact that Iowa, the state which King represents, was part of the Union.
King is also not unknown for aligning himself with those on the far-right. He made national headlines when he endorsed a Toronto mayoral candidate with neo-Nazi ties and again when he met with a member of an Austrian far-right political party accused of trivializing the Holocaust. These associations seep over onto Twitter, where King has retweeted a known British neo-Nazi and follows an anti-Semitic activist who has suggested hanging a portrait of Hitler “in every classroom.”
In addition to King’s tradition of racism, the GOP has a tradition of remaining silent with regard to his racism.
“Some in our party wonder why Republicans are constantly accused of racism,” wrote the Senate’s singular black Republican, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, in a Washington Post opinion column. “It is because of our silence when things like this are said.”
The GOP’s newfound vocal disapproval of King thus begs the question: Why now? In the grand scheme of things, King ultimately ranks low in terms of his political power. It’s not at all out of the question to wager that this denouncement is largely cosmetic and performative in nature. As a new campaign season looms ahead, Republicans must find a way to reclaim the votes they lost in the midterms. Part of that regimen will be tidying the aftermath of a President who claimed “blame on both sides” when describing conflict between white supremacists and anti-racism protesters.