On the birthday of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, the House passed a resolution rejecting white nationalism and white supremacy. Majority-party Democrats called the vote a day after House Republicans barred Rep. Steve King of Iowa from serving on any committee. King had sparked the rebuke by questioning why the language of white supremacy had “become offensive.”
“By losing his seat on the Agriculture Committee, Iowa farmers are left without a vote on the important committee for the first time in 120 years,” tweeted Randy Feenstra, the Iowa state senator who is running against King, a nine-term incumbent, in the 2020 Republican primary in northwest Iowa. King narrowly won re-election last November, dogged by charges of racism and facing a stronger-than-expected Democratic challenger in J.D. Scholten.
Without committee assignments, King will have to lobby colleagues for help rather than offer provisions himself during committee bill-drafting sessions, said Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley. “It’s going to be a lot harder to do when he’s not on committees.”
Committees have the first, and often the last, word on legislation. Their legislative products are given deference during floor debate and their members are regarded as experts on the issue at hand. It is difficult for an outsider to win a floor fight when committee members unite to defend a bill.
The decision by Republicans to deny committee assignments to King brought comparisons to the 2012 ouster by GOP leaders of Kansas Rep Tim Huelskamp, a hard-line conservative, from seats on the Agriculture and Budget committees for repeatedly voting against GOP positions. Farm groups in the “Big First” congressional district, one of the top agricultural districts in the nation, turned against Huelskamp and helped Roger Marshall defeat him in the 2016 GOP primary election.
“National/DC media will focus on King’s removal from Judiciary (immigration & impeachment there). His GOP primary opponents will focus on King getting bounced from Ag Committee. Ask Huelskamp how losing that crushed him in primary,” said Paul Kane, Washington Post senior congressional correspondent, on social media.
GOP leaders acted against King following a New York Times story about his “full-throated embrace of nativism” and his role in “white identity politics that are ascendant in (President) Trump’s Republican Party.” The newspaper quoted King as saying, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization – how did that language become offensive?”
House Majority Whip James Clyburn quoted the same passage from King in the first paragraph of H Res 41, which passed 424-1. It says the House “once again rejects White nationalism and White supremacy as hateful expressions of intolerance.”
King said his words were misinterpreted and his rhetorical question applied only to Western civilization. “I can tell you this, that ideology never shows up in my head. I don’t know how it could possibly come out of my mouth,” he said, in announcing he would vote for the resolution. “The New York Times has a different version of this. They have a habit of attacking the president as a matter of fact.”
Several Democrats rebutted King. David Cicilline of Rhode Island said the quotes in the Times were “part of a well-documented history of embracing the far right.” Primila Jayapal of Washington state said King “has made a trade in…raising fundamentally racist and unacceptable ideas.” Barbara Lee cited an earlier tweet from King that read, “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” a common line among white nationalists.
Last fall, King endorsed a white nationalist candidate for mayor of Toronto, reported NBC News.
“Where does President Trump stand on this resolution?” asked Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat. “So far we have heard nothing but silence.”
To watch a C-SPAN video of debate on the resolution, click here.