Steve King is at it again.
The Iowa Republican, who has repeatedly expressed xenophobic sentiment and cozied up to politicians affiliated with white nationalist sentiments and movements, offered this doozy of a quote in an interview with The New York Times earlier this week.
"White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?"
When did white supremacy, an "ideology" behind the centuries of hate, oppression and murder both here in the United States and abroad, become a bad word? Sort of always. (King later clarified that he is "simply a Nationalist." Uh, OK.)
That King even thought this -- much less decided to say it in an interview with The New York Times -- is both not at all surprising and deeply troubling.
Not surprising in that King has repeatedly dabbled -- and more -- in deeply anti-immigrant rhetoric and white nationalist rhetoric over the years. In just the last few years, King has:
- Endorsed a white nationalist candidate for Toronto mayor (he said he didn't know her views)
- Met with a far-right Austrian party and said, "What does this diversity bring that we don't already have?"
- Retweeted a British white supremacist and neo-Nazi sympathizer
- Tweeted: We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies"
You get the idea. (If you don't get the idea, you need to make sure you are still, you know, alive.)
In a statement on the House floor Friday, King said the Times article "has created unnecessary controversy."
He added, "There's nothing about my family or my history or my neighborhood that would suggest that these false allegations can be supported by any activity whatsoever. I reject that history. I reject that ideology. I defend American civilization which is an essential component of western civilization."
King has come under increased scrutiny -- and criticism -- in recent years. In 2018, National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Steve Stivers of Ohio condemned King for his comments and said he would no longer support the Iowa Republican.
Money poured into the campaign of Democrat J.D. Scholten despite the clear Republican lean of the western Iowa district King has held since 2002. In the end, King won -- albeit narrowly.
Which brings us to right now and the harsh reality facing Republicans: King isn't going anywhere until at least the end of 2020.
"I think that any claim of white supremacy is wrong and I detest it," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told CNN's Manu Raju on Friday. But Grassley added of King: "The people of Iowa elected him and so you know the people have made a choice, yeah."
And that is the rub. It's impossible to say, after the scrutiny King's comments drew in his 2018 race, that the people of his 4th District were entirely unaware of what they were voting for when they sent him back to Congress. For 50% of them, they either a) simply voted for King because he was a Republican b) looked past his comments while condemning them or c) were totally fine -- or even supportive -- of King's views on immigration and race.
Given that, it's hard to see two-thirds of the House backing an effort to expel King from the House. Only two members of Congress have been expelled in modern political history; James Traficant (D-Ohio) in 2002 and Michael Myers (D-Pennsylvania) in 1980. Both were removed after being convicted of federal crimes including bribery.
King has broken no such law. Holding abhorrent views isn't against the law. And, as Grassley rightly notes, it's difficult to argue that the people who sent King to Washington to represent them were unaware of at least some of his controversial views on immigration and race.
All of which means that Republicans will have to wait until at least next summer, when King is expected to face a serious primary challenge from state Sen. Randy Feenstra. "Today, Iowa's 4th District doesn't have a voice in Washington, because our current representative's caustic nature has left us without a seat at the table," Feenstra said in a statement announcing his candidacy this week.
It's no sure thing that Feenstra will be the only GOP candidate taking on King in a primary. Or that Feenstra or anyone else will beat King in a primary. (King remains quite popular among Trump conservatives.)
What is for sure -- or close to it -- is that Steve King will keep espousing noxious views between now and November 2020. And that Republicans will be able to do almost nothing about it.