Steve King's comments about Mexican 'dirt' spark new controversy

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, speaks with reporters as he leaves the House Republican Conference meeting in the basement of the Capitol on Oct. 4, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, speaks with reporters as he leaves the House Republican Conference meeting in the basement of the Capitol on Oct. 4, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

With time running out ahead of the toughest race of his career, Republican Rep. Steve King hit the campaign trail in his Iowa district, hoping to salvage his career. A reporter from The Weekly Standard was on hand in Webster City, Iowa, on Nov. 5, when the right-wing congressman spoke with a group of supporters in the back of a restaurant.

A constituent asked about King's latest pheasant hunting, and he offered a detailed answer about his "patented pheasant noodle soup," which led the GOP lawmaker to reflect on ingredients from local soil.

KING: I raised a bunch this year, and they don't have enough bite. I guess I'm going to have to go and get some dirt from Mexico to grow the next batch. [Laughs]AUDIENCE MEMBER: Trust me, it's already on its way.KING: Well, yeah, there's plenty of dirt, it's coming from the West Coast, too. And a lot of other places, besides. This is the most dirt we've ever seen.

Not surprisingly, many read the comments and picked up on what seemed like a not-so-subtle immigration subtext.

I'd assumed King would push back by insisting he was referring to literal dirt, but in a bit of a surprise, King accused  The Weekly Standard -- a prominent conservative magazine -- of misquoting him.

Over the weekend, The Weekly Standard's Stephen F. Hayes posted an audio clip of the exchange, which, as expected, proved that King was quoted accurately.

Hayes' piece summarized the story nicely: "So, King claimed our reporter lied. He didn't. He claimed we didn't have a recording. We do. He insisted we refused to release the audio. Untrue. It's worth remembering these things as you evaluate the credibility of the claim from King -- a man with a history of bigoted comments and a recent obsession with the 'caravan' of immigrants traveling through Mexico to the United States -- that he wasn't talking about immigrants when he joked about 'dirt' on its way to the U.S. from Mexico."

For those who missed the election results, King ended up winning another term, defeating J.D. Scholten (D) by just a few points. At least in theory, that leaves House Republicans with a decision to make.

Remember, the week before Election Day, some GOP leaders were prepared to effectively cut King 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 anyway -- with a partisan voter index rating of R+11, his district is easily the least competitive in Iowa -- but House Republicans are not without 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 seriously expect any of these outcomes, but if King's Republican brethren are serious about "standing up against white supremacy," to borrow Steve Stivers' phrase, there are steps they could take to prove it.