It’s been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad fall and winter for Congressman Steve King. After having to break a sweat only once in his previous eight bids in Iowa’s 4th District, King found himself in the fight of his life for a ninth term in 2018–and only had himself to blame.
King has been more content to peddle white nationalist memes and cultivating ties to the European far right than tend to the needs of his mostly rural, 39-county northwest Iowa district. For instance, since 2016 he has been caught on the record essentially chanting “You will not replace us!” not once, not twice, but three times–at least. It almost caught up with him in November, when he wound up in the fight of his political life against Democratic challenger J. D. Scholten.
Ultimately, King narrowly avoided being capsized, surviving by just over three points. Did it humble him? Apparently not, because he managed to open his mouth and jam his foot in deep once again. In an interview with The New York Times, King openly wondered why being branded a white nationalist had suddenly become a bad thing.
The condemnation was swift and, for once, bipartisan. King’s fellow Republicans voted to deny him seats on any committees during this Congress–a massive blow, considering that he would have likely been a ranking member on a Judiciary or Agriculture subcommittee.
Later, the House passed a resolution formally condemning white supremacy–a move clearly aimed at King. Watch here.
The vote was almost unanimous; the one nay came from Congressman Bobby Rush of Illinois, who believed that King’s comments merited a harsher response–a formal censure. Ultimately, Rush’s censure motion was referred to the House Ethics Committee. King is also facing calls to resign–including from the third-ranking Republican in the House, Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney. Watch here.
This isn’t just coming from Washington. For instance, The (Fort Dodge) Messenger, one of the largest newspapers whose service area is mostly within King’s district, publicly apologized for overlooking King’s race-baiting over the years and called for him to resign so he can be replaced with “someone who will not be an embarrassment to our state.” The largest paper entirely within his district, the Sioux City Journal–which loudly endorsed Scholten in 2018–also thinks it’s time for King to go for his “repugnant” comments.
But believe it or not, there are people who think everyone’s picking on King. And a good number of them are members of the religious right.
Soon after word got out about King’s blackballing from committee assignments, religious right activist Janet Porter drafted an open letter to Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy demanding that King be reinstated to his committee seats. Porter contends that King was the victim of a hatchet job by the Old Grey Lady–“a liberal news organization famous for its bias.”
Porter’s letter argues that the punishment trampled on the principle of “innocent until proven guilty,” and claims that McCarthy and the rest of the House Republican leadership are bowing to a “media-manufactured assault” against “an outstanding member of Congress.” It demands that McCarthy not only give King back his committee seats, but issue “a public apology.”
The signatories are a virtual who’s who of religious right luminaries. James Dobson, founder and former president of Focus on the Family, was an early signer. Others who signed include Lance Wallnau, Steve Strang, Gordon Klingenschmitt, Sandy Rios, and Matt Barber.
The most benign explanation for this letter is that Porter and friends have been blind–perhaps willfully–to King’s sordid history. This is a man who has essentially chanted “You will not replace us!” at least three times. This is a man who has called Mexican immigrants “dirt.” If this is Porter’s idea of an “outstanding member of Congress,” something is very wrong.
Ironically, Porter claims that stripping King of his committee seats would have been “warranted” if he really held such repugnant beliefs. Well, Janet, the anecdotal evidence suggests that he does.
It’s easy to think that it’s no surprise that the religious right appears to be circling the wagons for King. After all, they still seem to be all-in for Donald Trump, and are still pushing the false narrative that he is a man of God–even though a cursory look at his Twitter feed would show that at bottom, he is still the same man who was caught on tape bragging that he can “grab ’em by the p***y” just because he’s a celebrity.
But while it’s no secret Trump engages in racial tropes, at least he limits himself to dog whistles. All too often, King hasn’t just blown dog whistles, but freight train whistles. Are the nation’s so-called moral guardians willing to overlook this just because he supposedly has “conservative values”? In light of this letter, it’s a more than fair question.
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