Banned from committees for white supremacist comments, King faces censure, condemnation

The House is expected to vote Tuesday afternoon on Rep. Jim Clyburn’s bid to have colleagues formally condemn Rep. Steve King’s sympathetic statements about white supremacists.

Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat and highest-ranking black member of Congress, offered his proposal Monday night, his most public act since becoming the House’s third most powerful lawmaker in early January.

The vote would be the latest in a series of reactions to King’s comments. House Republican leaders Monday night took the extraordinary step of barring King from serving on any committees. Fellow House Democrats were pushing censure resolutions, the most serious form of reprimand short of expulsion.

Clyburn told reporters Monday evening he would not push for censure because he felt that punishment should be reserved specifically for alarming statements made on the House floor.

As a member of leadership, Clyburn’s resolution may be the one that gets most traction. The measure would express the House’s disapproval of the Iowa Republican’s comments. It would also serve as a “condemnation of white nationalism and white supremacy in all forms,” Clyburn said.

In an interview with the New York Times last week, King questioned why “white supremacist” had become a derogatory label.

“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” King asked.

King later clarified he was defending “western civilization’s values,” not advocating for “white nationalism and white supremacy.”

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California made it clear Monday night GOP colleagues wouldn’t tolerate King’s comments.

“Steve’s remarks are beneath the dignity of the party of Lincoln and the United States of America,” McCarthy said. “His comments call into question whether he will treat all Americans equally, without regard for race and ethnicity. House Republicans are clear:”

Clyburn, speaking to House colleagues on the eve of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, had similar thoughts.

“Today I denounce the words of Representative Steve King, and I do so invoking the words of another King, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who, if he had been allowed to live, would be celebrating his 90th birthday on tomorrow,” Clyburn said.

He quoted Martin Luther King, who counseled, “We are going to be made to repent, not just for the hateful words and deeds of bad people, but for the appalling silence of good people.”

Clyburn serves as House majority whip, responsible for making sure fellow House Democrats stand together to pass legislation and advance the party’s policy priorities. It was not clear when the House could vote on his proposal.

His actions condemning Steve King follow that of fellow South Carolinian Tim Scott, the state’s junior Republican senator who is also African American.

On Friday, Scott published a strongly-worded op-ed in the Washington Post accusing King of hurting the Republican brand and criticizing the GOP for not standing up when its members make remarks that would appear to close the party off to minorities.

The op-ed was titled, “Why are Republicans accused of racism? Because we’re silent on things like this.”

King’s Republican colleagues have long said that in similar previous statements he does not speak for the larger GOP, but they did not take serious steps to hold him accountable for his actions. These recent remarks represent a turning point in his party’s tolerance for his history of incendiary statements about race, especially about immigrants.

In 2013, King said that for every young undocumented immigrant “who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds — and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

In 2017, King tweeted that he agreed with far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

“We need to get our birth rates up or Europe will be entirely transformed within a half a century or a little more,” King explained later.

Late last year, King spoke to the writers of a website affiliated with Nazi sympathizers.

“What does this diversity bring that we don’t already have?” King said. “Mexican food, Chinese food, those things — well, that’s fine. But what does it bring that we don’t have that is worth the price? We have a lot of diversity within the U.S. already.”

Reps. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, Bobby Rush, D-Ill., and Dave Joyce, R-Ohio, all support censure, and could force the House to take such a vote later this week using procedural maneuvers.

“We should be embracing diversity, not disparaging it. Rep. Steve King’s repugnant comments perpetuate division in this country that we need to condemn, especially from a sitting U.S. Congressman. This bipartisan-supported censure shows there is no room in Congress for support of the toxic ideology of white supremacy,” Ryan said in a statement.

Emma Dumain covers Congress and congressional leadership for McClatchy DC and the company’s newspapers around the country. She previously covered South Carolina politics out of McClatchy’s Washington bureau. From 2008-2015, Dumain was a congressional reporter for CQ Roll Call.