House Republicans stripped Rep. Steve King of his committee assignments Monday, moving to punish the Iowa congressman for recent controversial comments he made about race and white nationalism.
The move came even as Democrats prepared for a more symbolic rebuke in the form of a censure or reprimand, with a vote on that latter option scheduled for Tuesday — which is also Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.
Mr. King denounced the moves against him, calling his GOP colleagues’ ouster a “political decision” and insisted he has denounced white supremacy.
But the momentum for action is likely too great to stop at this point.
“Steve’s remarks are beneath the dignity of the party of Lincoln and the United States of America,” said Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican. “His comments call into question whether he will treat all Americans equally, without regard for race and ethnicity.”
He told Mr. King of the decision in a meeting Monday afternoon, then asked the GOP Steering Committee, which doles out assignments, to ratify the move in its upcoming recommendations for committee posts in the new Congress.
Mr. King had been a member of the Judiciary, Small Business and Agriculture committees in the last Congress, including serving as chairman of Judiciary’s subcommittee on the Constitution.
During last year’s congressional campaign, he was accused of having racist beliefs and endorsing far-right politicians from other countries. He won a narrow victory but in defending himself last week, he gave an interview to The New York Times where he questioned what was wrong with white nationalism.
“White nationalist, white supremacist, western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” Mr. King told the newspaper. “Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”
Mr. King says that quote “has been completely mischaracterized,” saying he had been questioning why people associated western civilization — which he defends — with white supremacy and nationalism, which he said he condemns.
“Clearly, I was only referencing western civilization classes. No one ever sat in a class listening to the merits of white nationalism and white supremacy,” he said.
My Statement on Kevin McCarthy’s Unprecedented Assault on my Freedom of Speech. pic.twitter.com/0R0vP6MoWT
— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) January 15, 2019
Democrats have signaled the House will be called upon to take some formal vote against Mr. King.
Reps. Bobby L. Rush, Illinois Democrat, and Tim Ryan, Ohio Democrat, each wrote censure resolutions and called for floor action.
“As with any animal that is rabid, Steve King should be set aside and isolated,” Mr. Rush said. “His rabid racism continues to stain and embarrass this body and the years of deliberate silence from Republicans have only emboldened his ignorant and immoral behavior and empowered those who emulate him.”
House Majority Whip James Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, said he’s written a resolution of disapproval . Democratic leaders scheduled a vote on that resolution for Tuesday.
“I call on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join me in breaking the deafening silence and letting our resounding condemnation be heard,” Mr. Clyburn said.
Mr. Rush said he will still pursue his censure, saying he doesn’t believe a reprimand is sufficient.
Several high-ranking Republicans also chimed in with harsh criticism of Mr. King — including new Sen. Mitt Romney, who told Politico that the congressman should resign.
President Trump, though, said he hasn’t been following the matter and didn’t respond to a shouted question Monday about whether Mr. King should step down.
Mr. King has also already drawn a GOP primary challenger for 2020.
Censure is a reprimand in name, but does not specifically carry any penalty other than having to stand in the well of the House as the censure charges are read aloud.
The Rush and Ryan resolutions raise a question of privileges of the House, which means some floor action must take place within a few days.
A resolution of disapproval is considered to be a reprimand by the House, but is less severe than censure.
Such a reprimand was delivered in 2009 to Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican, after he shouted “You lie” at President Obama during a speech to a joint session of Congress.
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