Want the best from VICE News in your inbox? Sign up here.
Iowa Republican Steve King is once again being accused of racism after he made disparaging remarks about Hurricane Katrina victims relying on federal government assistance.
Speaking at a town hall in Charter Oak on Thursday, the nine-term congressman drew comparisons between how his constituents have responded to the widespread flooding currently ravaging the Midwest with how New Orleans residents dealt with the aftermath of the 2005 hurricane.
King said he recalled visiting New Orleans after the hurricane and speaking to FEMA. “We go to a place like New Orleans and everyone’s looking around saying, ‘Who’s going to help me? Who’s going to help me?’” King said.
“We go to a place like Iowa, and we go see, knock on the door, at, say, I make up a name, John’s place, and say, ‘John, you got water in your basement? We can write you a check. We can help you,’” King said. “And John will say, ‘Well, wait a minute, let me get my boots. It’s Joe that needs help. Let’s go down to his place and help him.’”
Some lawmakers in Louisiana said that King’s comparison invoked the racist “welfare queen" trope — a stereotype that became amplified in the aftermath of Katrina, which was particularly devastating for New Orleans’ poor, black neighborhoods.
“These comments are disgusting and disheartening,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter. “When communities are affected by disasters, we come together to help each other, not tear each other down.”
Rep. Cedric Richmond, another Louisiana Democrat, also condemned King. “My heart goes out to all Iowans,” Richmond wrote on Twitter. “Though it unsettles me that @SteveKingIA would dare compare them to the countless victims of Katrina, many of whom lost their lives. When people show you who they are, believe them. Steve King is a white supremacist and I won’t stand for it.”
The comparison between Iowa and New Orleans isn’t fair or factually accurate.
At least 1,833 people died from Hurricane Katrina — and 1,577 of those deaths were in Louisiana. Seventy percent of New Orleans’ occupied housing was damaged, and the city’s population dropped by half the next year. The total damage was estimated to be about $125 billion.
The flooding in Iowa is bad — and has caused an estimated $1.6 billion in damage this week alone. It’s ruined crops, forced evacuations and destroyed homes. But so far, there have been only three deaths linked to the flooding in Nebraska, and none so far in Iowa.
Floodwaters are starting to recede, and soon farmers and residents who evacuated will be able to return to their homes to assess the damage. In New Orleans, the damage was so extensive that some wondered whether the city should be abandoned altogether.
On Thursday, Gov. Kim Reynolds sent a letter to President Donald Trump requesting an expedited Presidential Major Disaster Declaration for 57 counties impacted by the flooding, which, if granted, would release federal emergency funds to aid recovery.
King narrowly eked out re-election in November after decades of simmering allegations of racism came to a head.
In January, he was stripped of his committee assignments when he was quoted in the New York Times asking when the terms “white nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization” become “so offensive.”
Cover image: U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, speaks during a town hall meeting, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019, in Primghar, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)