The Civil War may be over, but its most famous banner still flies in Rep. Steve King’s office.
The Republican congressman from Iowa invited criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike this week, when a local television station’s report last Thursday showed several miniature flags on the congressman’s desk, including the Confederate Navy Jack, the American flag and the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag.
The Confederate flag has become a controversial symbol in the public debate over race relations, especially in the wake of two shootings last week in which two black men were killed by police. A day later, at a protest in Dallas responding to the shootings, five police officers were killed by a black gunman who said he was targeting white officers.
King’s Democratic opponent for his congressional seat, Kim Weaver, said King should remove the flag from his desk.
“I’m disgusted by his gross insensitivity to the millions of Americans for whom that flag is a symbol of racism and division,” Weaver said, according to the Omaha World-Herald.
Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa, a fellow Republican, also expressed reservations about King’s display of the flag.
“I don’t agree with that. I guess that’s his decision,” Branstad said Monday, according to the Sioux City Journal. “People have a right to display whatever they want to, but I’m proud to say that [Iowa was] on the side of the Union and we won the war.”
King’s office did not comment on the display, though the congressman has defended the Southern flag in the past. After a mass shooting in Charleston, S.C., that claimed nine lives at an African-American church last year, King spoke out against taking down the Confederate flag.
“The Confederate flag was a symbol of pride of the South,” King said, noting he had grown up “in the North.” “I regret deeply that we are watching this country be divided again over a symbol.”
After the shooting, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley ordered the flag be taken down from over the state capitol grounds, after the state’s legislature approved the flag’s removal.
“It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state,” Haley said.