The head of the National Republican Congressional Committee sharply condemned Rep. Steve King (R-IA) over his most recent racially charged comments, a major break for the party after years of defending the lightning-rod lawmaker.
Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), the head of the NRCC, didn’t mince words in a Tuesday afternoon tweet, calling King’s recent words and actions “completely inappropriate” while making it clear he saw them as racist.
Congressman Steve King’s recent comments, actions, and retweets are completely inappropriate. We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms, and I strongly condemn this behavior.
— Steve Stivers (@RepSteveStivers) October 30, 2018
That comes amidst building criticism of King, a longtime lawmaker with a strong nativist streak who has repeatedly endorsed and echoed white nationalists both in the U.S. and Europe. And it follows intense pressure on Republicans to rebuke anti-Semitism in the party after a man who spewed hateful, anti-Semitic comments online murdered 11 Jewish worshippers in Pittsburgh last weekend.
The NRCC has been among those feeling the heat for charged rhetoric. The organization has been running ads showing wealthy Democratic donor George Soros, a frequent target of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, surrounded by piles of money while lumping him in with “left-wing mobs.” The spots that have drawn accusations of anti-Semitism, and Stivers defended those ads over the weekend. Soros was one of many prominent Democrats who received a bomb in the mail last week. .
Stivers’ decision condemn King comes after the latest in a long string of controversy. King recently met with far-right Austrian leaders of a party founded by a former Nazi during a trip to the country that was paid for by a Holocaust remembrance group. His response was to defend the meeting, saying the far-right Austrians “would be Republicans” if they were in the U.S.
The congressman is also backing a white supremacist for Toronto mayor.
In the past, he’s retweeted neo-Nazis and hasn’t shied away from incendiary rhetoric about Muslims and immigrants. Over the summer he said Muslims shouldn’t work in his district’s meat-packing plants because they won’t eat pork. In 2013, he famously declared that DREAMers have “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
The Midwestern dairy giant Land O’ Lakes recently disavowed its previous support of the congressman as well after a boycott threat.
King responded by calling Stivers “complicit” in wanting Democrats to take over the House:
King Response pic.twitter.com/H8iXI3cM1x
— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) October 30, 2018
In spite of all this, there’s still a good chance King will win his reelection next week.
The congressman sits in a district that President Trump won by 27 points and where voters have kept him to office after previous controversies — even against a well-funded challenger in 2012.
An online poll of the district released Monday night found him neck-and-neck with his Democratic opponent, but Iowa and national Democratic sources told TPM that those numbers didn’t match their earlier polling of the race, and King recently released his own internal poll showing him up 18 points.
But J.D. Scholten, a former baseball player running against King, has outraised and outspent the longtime congressman in the race. He’s dominated the airwaves with $1.4 million in TV ads over the last few weeks, while King hasn’t been on the air. The congressman has just $200,000 in the bank, while Scholten is flush with funds. And with the NRCC cutting bait, it’s unclear whether there will be anyone to bail King out in the race’s closing days.
This is still a reach for Democrats — but in a big enough wave year King just might lose next week.
This story was last updated at 4:10 p.m. to include King’s response.