IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.
Image: Kevin McCarthy
Kevin McCarthy speaks during a press conference on the steps of the Capitol, on Dec. 10, 2020.Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP via Getty Images file

GOP leaders could give extremist members the Steve King treatment

Exactly two years ago today, GOP leaders stripped Steve King of his committee assignments. There's no reason they couldn't take similar steps now.


I generally ignore press releases from various organizations, think tanks, and advocacy groups, but this one stood out for me this week.

Today, the Center for American Progress and more than 100 advocacy groups sent a letter to Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives to deny committee assignments to members who have openly promoted QAnon conspiracy theories and endorsed ideologies rooted in white supremacy. The letter comes after a mob containing many prominent white supremacists and QAnon supporters, incited by President Donald Trump, violently stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the results of a free and fair democratic election.

The letter read in part, "Promoting QAnon and white supremacist, anti-Muslim, and anti-Semitic ideas endangers the legitimacy of our government institutions and incites violence against vulnerable communities. We strongly urge you to demonstrate your disapproval of such ideologies and hold these Members accountable by denying them Committee assignments in the 117th Congress."

Congress has the authority under the Constitution to expel members, but it's awfully difficult: it requires a two-thirds majority. It's happened 20 times in U.S. history, though most of the instances related to members who backed the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Following last week's attack on the U.S. Capitol, some have raised the specter of expelling some of Congress' most right-wing members, though it remains difficult to imagine a sufficient number of House GOP members voting to remove one of their own. (That said, if evidence were to emerge of members assisting and/or coordinating with the insurrectionist mob, or if members faced prosecution for crimes related to the attack, the political calculus could change.)

But this need not be a binary choice between expulsion and indifference. The House Republican leadership could give its extremist members the Steve King treatment.

Exactly two years ago today, following a lengthy list of racist incidents, GOP leaders agreed to strip then-Rep. King of his committee assignments. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said his conference simply could not "tolerate" the Iowan's racism any longer.

In the two years that followed, King could vote on bills once they reached the House floor, but his presence on Capitol Hill was otherwise rendered meaningless. A year and a half later, his constituents brought King's toxic career to an end with a defeat in a Republican primary.

There is no reason McCarthy and other GOP leaders couldn't treat his conference's most extremist members the same way now. Expulsion, at least at this point, may not be realistic, but it's within House Republicans' power to deny right-wing radicals legislative power and influence -- just as they did two years ago at this time.

Indeed, by taking actions to sanction King in 2019, saying his extremism was simply intolerable to the GOP, Republican leaders, whether they intended to or not, set a standard. By treating the radicals in their conference as normal members in good standing, the party's congressional leadership is effectively extending its imprimatur to QAnon adherents and other extremists, making clear that King's racism may have been too much, but these radicals' dangerous conspiracy theories are perfectly tolerable and in line with the party's values.

If Kevin McCarthy and his leadership team are willing to prove otherwise, now is their chance.

* Update: Just yesterday, three election deniers in the Georgia state Senate were stripped of their chairmanships. If it can happen in Atlanta, it can happen in D.C.