Democrats move to censure Steve King after vote condemning white nationalism

FILE - Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, is under threat of censure after questioning why white supremacy and white nationalism are "offensive." (Photo: Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0 via MGN)

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a resolution condemning white nationalism in response to nine-term Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa's recent remarks questioning why white nationalism and white supremacy was "offensive."

The vote was put on record with 424 members in favor of the resolution, including Rep. King, and one against. Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois, a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) cast the sole dissenting vote. He reasoned the measure did not go far enough.

Rush is currently pursuing a motion to formally censure the Iowa congressman for his repeated "despicable conduct." In a statement, Rush insisted that "anything short of censure would be shallow."

The almost unanimous resolution of disapproval was introduced by House Majority Whip and senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, James Clyburn, D-S.C. It stated unequivocally that the House of Representatives "rejects White nationalism and White supremacy as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States."

The vote was prompted by an interview King gave to The New York Times last week, where he commented, "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?"

King later attempted to correct the record from the House floor. "It's 13 words, ironically, that's caused this firestorm," he said before casting his vote in favor of the resolution denouncing white nationalism.

In an earlier statement, King attempted to explain the context of his remarks to The Times. "We discussed the changing use of language in political discourse," King said. "We discussed the worn out label 'racist' and my observation that other slanderous labels have been increasingly assigned to Conservatives by the Left, who injected into our current political dialog [sic] such terms as Nazi, Fascist, ‘White Nationalist, White Supremacist,— Western Civilization, how did THAT language become offensive?'"

Rep. Rush is not alone in calling for further action against King. Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio also drafted a censure resolution and stated on the floor of the House that Congress "should go on step further" and censure King.

The resolution will come up as "privileged," which means it must come to the floor for consideration unless the House leadership tables it. Under House rules, there is a 48-hour window that must be observed before the resolutions can be considered.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., did not indicate that the Democratic leadership would interfere in Rush or Ryan's efforts. "I personally have no problem with voting for the censure and we're going to be talking about it," Hoyer told reporters at a Tuesday morning briefing.

Initially there appeared to be resistance from Democrats to the idea of a formal censure that could interfere with Rep. Clyburn's resolution.

According to Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., during a Tuesday morning Democratic Conference meeting, Clyburn "didn't discourage" Rush or Ryan from filing for censure.

Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., insisted that Republicans should be the ones to censure King. "They should do it. They should be the ones to say we can't tolerate this within our party, that this will eat at us like a cancer," he said. Meeks added, "The Clyburn resolution is the beginning."

In addition to the strong rebuke, the Republican Steering Committee acted Monday to strip King of his committee assignments. King previously served on the Agriculture, Small Business and Judiciary Committees and was the chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice in the last Congress.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., explained the significance of Republicans banning King from serving on a committee. "That means, 'We don't want you in our caucus,'" he said. "That's pretty tough stuff. Most people would have decided to pack and leave."

King has not indicated he will vacate his seat. He also hasn't filed to run again in 2020. If King decides to seek re-election, the Republican Party leadership will have to consider whether to back a primary opponent to King, who has become a liability.

House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming, concurred with Leader McConnell's statements and suggested King should resign. She further acknowledged "this wasn't the first time" King made offensive statements.

Over the years, King has peddled theories of cultural purity as it relates to a white, European civilization. He has been an outspoken critic of both legal and illegal immigration. He promoted the conspiracy that President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. and he has allied himself with prominent rightwing nationalists and Nazi sympathizers in Europe.

For example, in 2016, King tweeted a picture of himself with far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders stating, "Cultural suicide by demographic transformation must end."

King also tweeted, "Diversity is not our strength," and stated his agreement with Prime Minister Viktor Orban that, "Mixing cultures will not lead to a higher quality of life but a lower one."

Asked why he the GOP leadership was taking action now after King had made so many other offensive statements, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., explained, "I'm a brand new leader." He added, "We don't take this lightly."

Some lawmakers believed the strong Republican reaction to King was born out of a growing concern that the party is seen as one that gives license to racist, xenophobic or hateful expressions more generally.

"I think they're very concerned about their party being perceived as a Steve King party, frankly," Hoyer said. He continued that President Donald Trump "has given some succor to" those elements in society, recalling the president's remarks about good people "on both sides" of the white nationalist, neo-Nazi march on Charlottesville in 2017.

Rep. Ryan, referring to the president, argued that "leaders at the highest level down the street from here condone and continue to perpetuate race-baiting, white supremacist language that is not good for this country."

Meeks warned that the Iowa congressman's comments are "part of the whole culture that is being put forward not only by King but the President of the United States." He argued the Congress must firmly condemn and formally censure King as a way to "get rid of that climate."

According to the latest Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics, hate crimes have been on the rise in the United States since 2015. In 2017, the number of reported hate crime incidents motivated by race or ethnicity rose by18 percent. African-Americans were targeted in nearly half of those cases. Antisemitism was the most common factor in religiously motivated hate crimes.

Trump has not yet commented on Rep. King, who was an early supporter of his presidency. On Monday, Trump told reporters he "hasn't been following" the situation.

In an uncomfortable moment, Republican Leader McCarthy was asked whether the president shares his condemnation of King's remarks and white nationalism. McCarthy purposely dodged the question, saying he and the president share similar views on border security.

The last member of Congress to be censured was Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel of New York over ethics violations. Hoyer emphasized that King's conduct "far exceeds" Rangel's transgressions and represents "a more dangerous phenomenon."

In July 2018, Republicans introduced a failed resolution to censure Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California over her calls to publicly harass members of the Trump administration.

The Constitution gives each House of Congress the authority to "punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour," which can include criminal misconduct or other actions that threaten the institutional integrity of the Congress.

Historically, the Congress has punished its members with censure, reprimand and in rare cases expulsion. Only five members of Congress have been expelled. Those threatened with expulsion typically resign.

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