The week before Election Day 2018, some Republican leaders were prepared to effectively cut Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) loose. National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) publicly denounced the Iowan's "racist" antics, adding, "We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms, and I strongly condemn this behavior."
King won re-election anyway -- though J.D. Scholten (D) did keep it close -- which affords him the opportunity to make comments like these to the New York Times.
Mr. King, in the interview, said he was not a racist. He pointed to his Twitter timeline showing him greeting Iowans of all races and religions in his Washington office. (The same office once displayed a Confederate flag on his desk.)At the same time, he said, he supports immigrants who enter the country legally and fully assimilate because what matters more than race is "the culture of America" based on values brought to the United States by whites from Europe."White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization -- how did that language become offensive?" Mr. King said. "Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?"
This afternoon, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the House Republican Conference chair, wrote on Twitter, in reference to her colleague's quotes, "These comments are abhorrent and racist and should have no place in our national discourse."
Of course, the question isn't just about the national discourse; it's also about whether King's perspective has a place among congressional Republicans.
It was, after all, the most recent Congress in which House GOP leaders made Steve King the chair of a House Judiciary Committee panel on "the Constitution and Civil Justice." Republican leaders could've stripped the Iowan of his gavel in response to any number of controversies, but they chose not to.
In a chamber led by a House Democratic majority, King obviously won't be chairing any committees or subcommittees, so his party won't be in a position to take any gavels. But if Republicans are genuinely disgusted by -- to use Cheney's language -- the congressman's "abhorrent and racist" comments, Republicans have some options.
GOP leaders could, for example, vote to kick him out of their conference and/or deny him committee assignments. They could also, at least in theory, try to expel him from the chamber.
I don't really expect Republicans to explore any of those options, but every time Steve King sparks another national outrage -- a common occurrence, I'm afraid -- it's worth remembering that his party has a choice about its tolerance for hm.
For the congressman's part, the Iowan issued a follow-up statement this afternoon about the New York Times' article, and among other things, King condemned white supremacy as an "evil ideology."