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Progressives on Tuesday expressed relief that Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) was booted from his House committee assignments following his latest racist comments, but also noted that the GOP’s decision to penalize King is long overdue, following nearly two decades of openly bigoted remarks.
The move by Republicans—who have a long history of championing the racist and xenophobic policies King also supports—comes just days after a New York Times interview was published in which King asked why terms like “white supremacy” and “white nationalism” are considered offensive. As punishment, King will no longer be allowed to serve on the House Judiciary or Agriculture committees.
As Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) noted, “Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences.”
Like other progressives, the New York Democrat expressed approval of King’s punishment, writing on Twitter that his removal from the committees will have far-reaching consequences for his career in the current Congress, and that his constituents will likely take note.
“King’s district should start working to replace him in 2020,” suggested Ocasio-Cortez. “Regardless of party, it’s not good for a district if their representative has such reprehensible views that they aren’t allowed to touch legislation with a 10 foot pole.”
Republican leaders also spoke out against King, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) suggesting the congressman find “another line of work.” But with King’s long history of open racism, some critics questioned why the GOP chose the present moment to finally distance itself from him.
Just months ago, King expressed similar sentiments to the comments he made to the Times, saying on a local radio show that the term “white nationalist” is used “as a derogatory term and they imply you are a racist.” He also shared his concern over the white supremacist “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, suggesting migrants to Western Europe are plotting to make white people a minority.
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Earlier in his career on Capitol Hill, King first introduced a proposal to make English the official language of the U.S. with the English Language Unity Act and sued the Iowa Secretary of State for posting election information in other languages.
“King’s district should start working to replace him in 2020. Regardless of party, it’s not good for a district if their representative has such reprehensible views that they aren’t allowed to touch legislation with a 10 foot pole.” —Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)The party’s second-ranking House member, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), suggested he was unfamiliar with his longtime colleague’s public remarks, telling the Times, “This just popped up on Friday,” the day King’s recent comments were released. Scalise cosponsored King’s English Language Unity Act in 2017.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also feigned ignorance, telling the newspaper of King’s previous racist statements, “Maybe I did not see those, but I disagree with these.”
At the Washington Post, Eugene Robinson dismissed the GOP’s attempts to convince the public that its leaders are truly troubled by King’s conduct—considering that like the Iowa congressman, the party has publicly lined up behind President Donald Trump in its support for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, a proposal King made to his House colleagues years before Trump ran for office.
“Yeah, sure, whatever,” Robinson scoffed in response to the party’s claims of concern. “You don’t want to be called racists, Republicans? Then stop letting bigots such as King and Trump define the party’s policies. I’ll believe stirring GOP words about diversity when they are backed up by votes.”
Journalist Judd Legum suggested there’s no reason to credit the GOP for punishing King so long as they continue to pursue the racist and bigoted policies that remain foundational to the party.
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