"A stark, raving racist": Democrats turn up the heat on Republicans who refuse to condemn Rep. Steve King's white nationalism

House Speaker Paul Ryan would only say he "disagrees" with King's recent comments about "somebody else's babies"

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published March 13, 2017 8:56PM (EDT)

                              (Reuters/Larry Downing)
(Reuters/Larry Downing)

One of the most controversial elected Republicans in the U.S. has ramped up his white nationalist rhetoric and instead of scrambling to distance themselves from his apparent belief that national identity is linked to the white race and its superiority to other races, many prominent Republican officials have remained mum on the matter -- leaving Democrats an opening to pummel the GOP as the party of white nationalists.

Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King published a tweet on Sunday praising anti-Muslim Dutch politician Geert Wilders for understanding "that culture and demographics are our destiny." King praised the far-right politician, who has called Moroccan immigrants “scum,” wants to end all Muslim immigration and ban the Quran, for understanding that "we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

Wilders, who has been referred to as the “Dutch Donald Trump” is polling in second place ahead of the national elections.

King met with Wilders late last year. (King also met with the leader of Austria's Freedom Party, founded by former Nazis, two days before President Donald Trump's inauguration.)

“Well, of course I meant exactly what I said,” King told CNN’s “New Day" on Monday.

"I'd like to see an America that's just so homogenous that we look a lot the same," he said, arguing that U.S. “need[s] to get our birth rates up” to avoid being “entirely transformed.”

King told host Chris Cuomo, "I’m a champion for Western civilization and, yes, our English language is a big part of it. It’s a carrier of freedom.”

The outspoken GOP congressman noted that he made a similar argument during the Republican National Convention in July.

“I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you are talking about,” he asked during an interview on MSNBC at the time. “Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”

Democrats now complain that King's comments have crossed the line from dog-whistle politics to open advocacy of white supremacy.

“Western civilization did not create itself. It was founded on traditions that emerged from Africa, Iran, China, Green and Rome and other nations," Georgia Democratic Congressman and Civil Rights icon John Lewis said in a statement on Monday, according to NBC News.

Lewis said King’s “bigoted and racist” rhetoric “ignores the truth about the history of this nation.”

With the exception of Native Americans, we all came to this land from some other place in the world community, and this country is a melting pot of cultures, traditions, appearances, and languages. In order to live together as one people we must come to respect the dignity and the worth of every human being. It is that understanding that will make us one nation, not a homogenous appearance

"These ideas have given rise to some of the worst atrocities in human history, and they must be condemned," Lewis said, turning up the pressure on GOP leadership in Congress.

"If he wants to join another civilization of singular, monolithic background, this is not the place to be and I don't think Europe is the place to be," Democratic Rep. Shelia Jackson-Lee said of King on Monday, calling his statement "a racist, unbelievable statement that should not come out of the mouth of a member of the United States Congress."

California Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu, a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, called King "a stark, raving racist" on Twitter Monday.


House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said that King’s “vile racism has no place in decent society, much less in the U.S. Congress” and called on Speaker Ryan, R-Wisconsin, to rebuke him.

“Once again, disgusting hatred has been met with deafening silence from Speaker Ryan,” Pelosi said through a spokesperson in a statement. “It’s no accident that communities across America have been threatened by emboldened racists. The GOP Leadership must stop accommodating this garbage, and condemn Congressman Steve King’s statements in the strongest and most unequivocal terms. Speaker Ryan and the House Republican Leadership must decide whether white supremacy is welcome in the GOP ranks.”

Yet David Duke, not Paul Ryan, was one of the first prominent right-wing figures to remark on King's comment over the weekend. The former KKK head, who briefly had his Twitter account suspended last week, praised King's tweet:

The controversy surrounding Duke's praise eventually caused the chairman of the Iowa GOP to release a statement. "I do not agree with Congressman King's statement," Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said, the Washington Post reported.

Iowa's Republican Governor Terry Branstad offered a more charitable view of the controversial conservative. "Y'know, Steve King is Steve King. So, we all know that," he reportedly told Iowa Public Radio on Monday.

King's fellow Republican Iowa congressman, Rep. Dave Young, couldn't even specifically tag King in his tweeted criticism of King's comments:

Congressional Republicans of color were noticeably the only elected members of their party to express a strong condemnation of King's offensive language:

After much delay, a spokesperson for Paul Ryan finally released a brief statement Monday afternoon.

"The Speaker clearly disagrees and believes America's long history of inclusiveness is one of its great strengths," spokesperson AshLee Strong said.

But even Ryan's predecessor John Boehner managed to make a more meaningful statement after King infamously conflated young undocumented immigrants with drug mules, pointing to their “calves the size of cantaloupes” as evidence.

“There can be honest disagreements about policy without using hateful language,” Boehner said in 2013, calling King's comments "wrong." Boehner also reportedly called King an "asshole."

But when asked about King's comment during the daily press briefing on Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that President Donald Trump had no comment.

In 2014, Trump called King "a special guy, a smart person with, really, the right views on almost everything."

Trump himself has echoed similar rhetoric while on the campaign trail, repeatedly referencing his superior "genes" and claiming that he was "born brilliant."

"Let’s stop pretending that what we have is a more conservative version of what previous Presidents have done and said on immigration," Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund Frank Sharry said in a statement Monday. "Steve King represents his President and his party. The Trump Administration, through the Steve Bannon/Jeff Sessions/Steven Miller trio, are explicit in their goal of trying to Make America White Again. They aim to change the racial and ethnic composition of America by reversing immigration policies instituted in 1965 to reverse decades of racialist exclusions."

King has made several widely criticized remarks during his years in office, so his Republican colleagues' slow and lacking response to his seemingly amped up rhetoric now appears particularly distrubing. The Iowa Republican still keeps a confederate flag on his office desk and he fought to prevent Harriet Tubman from being recognized on the $20 bill, telling Politico that replacing former President Andrew Jackson would be both “racist” and “sexist.”

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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