WASHINGTON — Rep. Steve King is making a comeback. At least in his own mind.
The Iowa Republican, who has met with European far-right extremists, repeatedly given voice to racist ideas, and is most recently known for questioning why “white supremacy” is considered offensive, has spent the last six months in the shadows after he was stripped of his committee assignments at the beginning of the year.
But now he’s on a revival tour, and some Republicans are eager to help get him out of the penalty box.
“You know I’m not 100% against him becoming re-involved in the process. He has a district to represent,” Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas) told VICE News. “I think he needs to be allowed to know when he can rejoin. I don’t know if that’s tomorrow or next year or when he gets re-elected — or what.”
Since King was all but neutered by his own party leaders, the eight-term Iowa congressman has been avoiding the spotlight. Some Republicans would like him to stay there, including Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the third most powerful House Republican, who called for him to resign and told VICE News she stands by that.
But this week King was invited back into polite company by the Iowa Republican Party, which welcomed him to President Trump’s fundraiser in Iowa. Then he teamed up with social media personalities-turned-Fox Nation hosts Diamond and Silk to introduce a new, harsh, anti-immigrant bill that he named after the right-wing duo.
The legislation would divert funds from so-called sanctuary cities to homeless veterans, literally starving cities of promised and expected federal funds. King maintains he and Trump are on the same page when it comes to harshly punishing the nation’s more progressive urban centers, like Philadelphia and San Francisco, for protecting undocumented immigrants.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on that claim.
While King wasn’t allowed to travel to Iowa with Trump on Air Force One, the White House didn’t bar him from the private fundraiser. And King reveled in seeing his own fringe-right notions reflected in the president’s remarks on immigration.
“I’m glad that we’re at this point now where the president of the United States recognizes it and has made it a central point to his campaign,” King told reporters when he was back at the Capitol the day after the speech. “I’m glad that I heard him speak of this last night in Des Moines.”
King has drawn heat for retweeting British white nationalists and for going out of his way to endorse long-shot white nationalist Toronto mayoral candidate Faith Goldy last year. The final straw for GOP leaders in the House was when he told the New York Times in January, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”
Out of hiding
That’s when most Republicans in Congress abandoned him. But at the Capitol, King is no longer running from the press corps in shame. That’s in part because he feels support from the conservative media machine.
Enter Diamond and Silk — Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson — two African-American women who have made bank off their Fox News fame since Trump fully hopped into politics. At their press conference with King on the Capitol grounds this week, they yelled at reporters who dared question King and his support of racist ideologues.
“What did you two think of him retweeting a white supremacist?” VICE News asked at their press conference with King.
“I’m tired of you all playing the race card. You play the gender card. You play the sex card. It’s tiresome”
“What is the definition of a white supremacy?” Diamond shot back. “I’m tired of you all playing the race card. You play the gender card. You play the sex card. It’s tiresome. It’s time to start working for Americans. And stop calling everybody a racist.”
Thing was, King, Silk, and Diamond didn’t want to talk about King’s record of giving voice to chauvinists of “Western civilization.” They just wanted to discuss their new bill to punish cities that view themselves as compassionate for not trying to deport their residents who don’t have green cards or work visas.
“So is [sic] there any other questions?” King asked. “Let’s make them on topic or we’re not gonna answer.”
“Why were you barred from Air Force One?” a reporter asked.
“That’s not on topic,” King shot back. “Couldn’t you hear me? I can’t hear you either then. Any other questions?”
After some heated exchanges with the gathered reporters King offered a defense of himself.
“I’m misquoted in the New York Times,” King said. “There isn’t a single accuser that has come forward and said they’ve ever had a face-to-face dealing with me anything other than respectful.”
King’s carefully selected allies agreed.
“I think that Steve King should be reinstated in his committee, because he’s doing a job for the American people,” Diamond offered at one point.
Diamond and Silk aren’t alone in embracing what Democrats had thought was a disgraced King.
He’s also got allies in Congress trying to get him re-seated on his coveted committee posts. Of late his congressional besties, Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), and some others have been lobbying GOP leaders to fully empower King again.
Gohmert told VICE News that King should never have been booted from his coveted committees —– the posts where lawmakers, especially more senior ones like King, wield the most influence. He believes it was a mistake in the first place.
“Yeah. I do,” Gohmert said while walking in to cast a vote. “The New York Times didn’t punctuate the sentence properly.”
Democrats are baffled by such sentiments supportive of King.
“His remarks are consistently egregious, and he has disgraced himself and the Republican Conference repeatedly”
“His remarks are consistently egregious, and he has disgraced himself and the Republican Conference repeatedly,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) told VICE News while walking down the steps of the Capitol after casting a vote.
But many Republicans see things differently, and even some more moderate Republicans are open to supporting King’s attempted revival tour.
“I’ve always gotten along with Steve King, but he went too far on a few of the comments,” Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told VICE News at the Capitol.
Even as Steve King is facing a primary battle and tough re-election bid ahead, Peter King is assuming Steve King will be back representing his Iowa district.
“Next Congress will be a different story,” he said.
Other supposedly middle-of-the-road Republicans agree, and they’re open to giving Steve King his committee posts back no matter who King RT’s, endorses or quotes. They just want to give him an open airing of his grievances first.
“Undecided,” Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) told VICE News on the steps of the Capitol. “Wanna hear the arguments both ways first.”
Still, Katko doesn’t support the sentiments that have dripped from Steve King’s mouth though.
“Well, his comments aren’t helpful for the party, that’s for sure,” Katko said.
That’s the problem, according to Democrats who are bewildered that their GOP counterparts are even contemplating giving King a second life.
“I think that that would be an awful value statement for them. If you look at his racist and anti-Semitic and other words, I mean even since he’s been removed from committees he’s still at it. He’s still saying divisive, hateful, bigoted stuff,” Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), the former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, told VICE News. “I don’t think he’s learned his lesson. I don’t think he’s ever said, ‘I’m sorry.’”
Cover: Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, holds a press conference on sanctuary cities with Diamond and Silk at the Capitol on Wednesday, June 12, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)