Embattled Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King went to the House floor Friday in an attempt to limit the fallout from his latest controversial comments in support of one of his favorite political themes, what he labels “Western civilization.”
Mr. King’s quotes in a New York Times article about his longtime opposition to illegal immigration included the phrase “white nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”
“One phrase in that long article has created an unnecessary controversy,” Mr. King said on the floor. “That was my mistake, Mr. Speaker. And so I want to start this out with some context of that discussion. And that is this: If you can control the language, you can control the policy. Labels have been hurled in this country at people like we have never seen in this history of America.”
Mr. King, 69, received some support Friday from Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, who defended his friend in the House.
“I’ve never seen anything that indicated anything but condemnation for white supremacists,” Mr. Gohmert said, speaking of his myriad conversations and travels with Mr. King. “But he is a proud American. He’s an American and he’s very proud of it, and he is proud to carry the moniker of being an American in any situation, and I would contend that’s not a bad thing.”
The Republican Party of Iowa on Friday condemned racist sentiments but did not mention Mr. King by name.
“I strongly condemn white supremacists, any association with their ideology and the use of the word,” party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement. “They have no place in any political party, especially the party of Lincoln.”
Other GOP officials were unwilling to accept Mr. King’s characterization of himself as a victim in a left-wing attack on broader policy stances.
For example, South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post in which he said it defies belief that Mr. King could consider “white supremacist” an innocuous label and that his repeated skating over thin racial ice needs to be denounced.
“I will admit I am unsure who is offended by the term ‘Western civilization’ on its own, but anyone who needs ‘white nationalist’ or ‘white supremacist’ defined, described and defended does lack some pretty common knowledge,” Mr. Scott wrote.
Whether Mr. King’s comments were rooted in ignorance of rotten ideology is irrelevant, Mr. Scott said, given the nation’s history of racist violence and the long-term damage Mr. King’s words do to conservatives looking to advance a color-blind society.
“When people with opinions similar to King’s open their mouths, they damage not only the Republican Party and the conservative brand but also our nation as a whole,” Mr. Scott wrote. “That is why silence is no longer acceptable.”
Mr. King, a nine-term lawmaker, has often found himself embroiled in controversy for his awkward and sometimes racially insensitive rhetoric, and he has seen other Republicans distance themselves from his positions. Last week, a Republican challenger announced he will seek to unseat Mr. King in next year’s primary election.
Other Republicans had distanced themselves from Mr. King before The New York Times article.
During a live television appearance in October, for instance, Mr. King voiced what sounded like a racial defense of white European heritage, comments he again insisted were meant only to describe “Western civilization.”
In the aftermath, Ohio Republican Rep. Steve Stivers, who was chairman of the House GOP campaign drive, denounced Mr. King on Twitter, tweeting that the Iowan’s “recent comments, actions and retweets are completely inappropriate. We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all its forms and strongly condemn this behavior.”
Among the dubious tweets was Mr. King’s endorsement of Faith Goldy, a right-wing candidate for mayor in Toronto who is often accused of having white nationalist positions.
Earlier in 2018, during a trip to Europe that included a visit to a Nazi concentration camp, Mr. King met with right-wing political figures in Austria.
Despite those ignoble moments in 2018, Mr. King managed to win re-election in his heavily Republican district.
His frequent bouts with controversy, however, have already attracted GOP opposition for 2020. Iowa Republican state Sen. Randy Feenstra, 49, cited “our current representative’s caustic nature” as a reason for his bid.