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Steve King’s Remarks on White Supremacy Draw Widespread Rebukes From His Own Party

Steve King, the Iowa congressman who has long outraged Democrats and liberals with racist remarks and demeaning insults about immigrants, is now facing extraordinary blowback from within his own party following an interview in The New York Times in which he questioned why white supremacy is considered offensive.

Mr. King, 69, who narrowly won re-election in November, has made racist comments for more than a decade that party leaders have mostly ignored. But his statements published Thursday in The Times went further than ever, triggering a barrage of public criticism from top House Republicans as well as a former G.O.P. presidential candidate and conservatives in the media.

In the interview, which focused on how Mr. King’s once-fringe immigration views set the stage for the border wall and white identity politics pursued by President Trump, the congressman said: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”

Reflecting on the record number of black people and women in the new Congress, he added: “You could look over there and think the Democratic Party is no country for white men.”

Mr. King took to the House floor on Friday to explain his remarks, though he did not apologize.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, was among the party leaders who denounced him. “Steve’s language is reckless, wrong and has no place in our society,” Mr. McCarthy said.

Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-highest ranking Republican in the House, wrote in a tweet that Mr. King’s remarks “are abhorrent and racist and should have no place in our national discourse.”

In a statement after The Times article was published online, and in a six-minute speech in the House on Friday, Mr. King strenuously denied that he was a white nationalist or white supremacist.

Building a border wall, ending birthright citizenship and disparaging undocumented immigrants. Representative Steve King championed anti-immigration views years before President Trump made them a focal point of his administration.Published OnCreditCreditSteve Pope/Associated Press

“I reject those labels and the evil ideology they define,” he said. He did not dispute making the original remarks, but argued that he was raising a historical question about how and when the phrases came to be used to criticize people.

Mr. King, a former bulldozer operator who is in his ninth term, began his speech by saying he had made “a freshman mistake” by speaking to The Times.

“I regret the heartburn that has poured forth upon this Congress and this country and especially in my state and in my congressional district,” he said.

There were rumblings in the House on Friday about trying to formally reprimand Mr. King. Representative Tim Ryan, Democrat of Ohio, said that he was considering drafting a House resolution censuring him. And at least one top Democratic leader, Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, the highest ranking African-American in Congress, told CNN he would support Mr. Ryan’s move.

Still, it was far from clear that Democrats would actually follow-though. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi condemned the comments and acknowledged Democratic interest in taking some action, but said late Friday she was not prepared to make any announcements.

Democrats are focused on the shutdown fight with the president and may be inclined to let Republicans sort out their own dirty laundry.

And strategists in both parties said the reaction, to some degree, reflects the degree to which Mr. King has become a millstone for his party. If Mr. King is on the ballot in 2020, they say, it could benefit Democrats by depressing support for the re-election of Senator Joni Ernst, a Republican.

“What I don’t like is he’s a drag on all our candidates and an in-kind contribution to Pelosi,” said David Kochel, a Republican strategist in Iowa.

Two Iowa Republicans announced this week they would challenge Mr. King in a primary in 2020 for his Fourth District seat. He will likely face severe difficulties in raising money if he seeks re-election.

Jeb Bush, the former 2016 presidential candidate, wrote on Twitter, “Republican leaders must actively support a worthy primary opponent to defeat King, because he won’t have the decency to resign.”

The conservative National Review published an editorial on Friday: “Dump Steve King.”

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