Steve King, Hurling Insults at Immigrants, Is Rebuked by His Own Party

WASHINGTON — Long before Donald J. Trump took aim at immigrants, there was Representative Steve King of Iowa.

Since Mr. King’s election to the House in 2002, and before that in the State Legislature, where he first tried out his English-only trademark talking point, Mr. King, a Republican, has injected himself into the immigration debate with inflammatory and at times boorish statements.

Against the backdrop of an emboldened white nationalist movement in the United States, his Twitter post over the weekend — “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies” — suggested that Mr. King was sliding from his typical messages to something far darker. It was praised by both the white supremacist David Duke and The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website.

But it was also quickly criticized by many Republicans, including Speaker Paul D. Ryan, whose office said he “clearly disagrees” with Mr. King, and Representative Carlos Curbelo, Republican of Florida, who is of Cuban descent. Mr. Curbelo responded on Twitter: “What exactly do you mean? Do I qualify as ‘somebody else’s baby?’”

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The tweet, written to show support for Geert Wilders, a far-right Dutch parliamentarian who has called for shutting down mosques in the Netherlands, put Mr. King in a familiar position, as the subject of condemnation in his own party.

“Now we’re in the Trump era, where anything goes,” said David Kochel, a Republican strategist from Iowa who helped lead Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign. “He’s always been consistent with these extreme views, but this articulation of full-on white nationalism is a few clicks past ‘cantaloupe calves,’ which was reprehensible to begin with. I don’t believe these views represent anything but the most extreme elements of the race-baiting fringe.”

While Mr. King has also left room for rape victims, eco-friendly light bulbs, the District of Columbia and other topics in his incendiary outbursts on Twitter, television and the House floor, his most memorable droplets of disdain have been for unauthorized immigrants, most notably Mexicans who he once proclaimed had “calves the size of cantaloupes” from hauling drugs across the border.

But except for the 2013 fruit analogy — which led John A. Boehner, the speaker at the time, to publicly chastise Mr. King and privately make a decidedly less nice body-part analogy about him to aides — Republicans have largely written off Mr. King as a fringe player in legitimate policy debates.

“Remarks of this nature are always deplorable no matter the political climate in our country,” Mr. Curbelo said in an email. “One of the president’s recurring themes and messages is that all Americans bleed the same red blood despite our great diversity. Mr. King’s sentiment directly contradicts this idea.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Ryan, who has been loath to dip into controversies stirred by Mr. Trump, said, “The speaker clearly disagrees and believes America’s long history of inclusiveness is one of its great strengths.”

In Iowa, the state’s Republican chairman, Jeff Kaufmann, said: “I do not agree with Congressman King’s statement. We are a nation of immigrants, and diversity is the strength of any nation and any community.”

Mr. Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer, claimed ignorance of the Twitter post on Monday; Mr. King’s spokeswoman said he was too busy to be interviewed.

Mr. King, 67, represents the most conservative corner of Iowa, and has long held policy positions rooted in deeply conservative beliefs, especially concerning immigration, which he once deemed a “slow-motion Holocaust.”

He has often said he was made aware of illegal immigration as a small child by his father, the onetime mayor of a small Iowa town who taught him to take a hard line. Mr. King dropped out of Northwest Missouri State University to run a construction contracting business, and ran for the State Senate in 1996 when he first cottoned to the idea of an English-only America, something he would push for legislatively throughout his career.

“Our language is getting subdivided by some forces of the federal government,” Mr. King once said. “It is time to speak with a common voice. The argument that diversity is our strength has really never been backed up by logic.”

He has argued vociferously — long before Mr. Trump ran for office pushing strict anti-immigration measures — including against protections for young adults brought over as children who have been successful in America, a group many Republicans support. In 2006, he suggested a complex plan for building an electrified wall at the border, noting that this was a practice used to control livestock. In 2012, he compared immigrants to dogs.

He also accused former President Barack Obama of advancing immigration policies based on race. “The president has demonstrated that he has a default mechanism in him that breaks down the side of race, on the side that favors the black person,” he said in a radio interview in 2010.

Some of his other pet issues have also had a racial tone. For instance, he once railed against a multibillion-dollar funding measure for settlements for African-American farmers and American Indians on the House floor. “We have a very, very urban senator,” he said, referring to a measure that Mr. Obama supported when he was a senator.

Mr. King has also long targeted the Affordable Care Act; he skipped his middle son’s wedding in 2009 to cast a vote against it.

While many politicians, including Mr. Trump, often try to back away from statements that offend, Mr. King amiably doubles down. On Monday, confronted about his tweet, he told CNN, “I meant exactly what I said,” adding that he would “like to see an America that’s just so homogeneous that we look a lot the same, from that.”

These sorts of remarks make Iowans of both parties cringe, even though many Republicans do so anonymously.

“He’s a grandstander who says things that embarrass the whole state,” said Michael L. Fitzgerald, a Democrat, who has been Iowa’s treasurer since 1983. “Democrats think he’s an ass, and sometimes Republicans do too.”

Mr. King faced his first primary challenge in a decade last year in a safe Republican district, but he has succeeded in many respects because people in the district find him personally affable and helpful. Both parties note that Mr. King does not try to run for statewide office, mindful of the limits of his popularity.

The test going forward will be of Mr. King’s so-far limited national sway over Republicans, which he has sought to expand by trying to attract Republican presidential hopefuls to his annual pheasant hunting outing near his home.

In 2016, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, campaigned vigorously with Mr. King, retelling a joke over and over about how Chuck Norris wore Steve King pajamas, to demonstrate the congressman’s super toughness.

Mr. King’s weekend tweet “is proof that it’s hard to get attention in our current politics,” Mr. Kochel said. “For Congressman King, it’s always been tough to stay out in front of this sad pack.”

Representative Steve King of Iowa, left, talking to supporters at the Republican State Convention in Des Moines in 2014. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Steve King Says Civilization Can’t Be Restored With ‘Somebody Else’s Babies’

Representative Steve King, a Republican from Iowa who has a history of making inflammatory statements viewed by many as insensitive or outright racist, was roundly criticized on Sunday for his apparent endorsement of white nationalism.

Mr. King made the remark on Twitter when he shared a story by the Voice of Europe website about the far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who wants to end Muslim immigration and ban the Quran and who has called Moroccan immigrants “scum.”

Critics said that Mr. King echoed the principles of white nationalism, the belief that national identity is linked to the white race and its superiority to other races. Self-proclaimed white nationalists emerged as a small but vocal group during the candidacy of Donald J. Trump, celebrating his promises to crack down on illegal immigration and ban Muslims from entering the United States, as well as heralding his presidential victory as a chance to preserve white culture.

David Duke, the white nationalist and former Ku Klux Klansman who called Mr. Trump “by far the best candidate” during the campaign, celebrated Mr. King’s comments.

But many people quickly condemned Mr. King. “You, Congressman, are simply a bigot,” one person replied. Another person wrote, “You know that you were ‘somebody else’s baby’ too, right? Or do you not understand how this works?”

Representative Carlos Curbelo, Republican of Florida, responded from his personal Twitter account, asking Mr. King to explain himself.

Representative Ted Lieu, a California Democrat who was born in Taiwan, shared a photo of his sons on Twitter.

And Miriam Amer, the executive director of the Iowa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called on Republican Party leaders in the state and nationwide to repudiate the message.

“This racist tweet crosses the line from dog-whistle politics to straight-up white supremacist advocacy,” she said in a statement.

A representative for Mr. King did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. King, who was elected to Congress in 2002, questioned what nonwhites have contributed to civilization at a panel discussion in July about the racial makeup of the Republican Party.

“I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you are talking about,” he said. “Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”

The month before, he tried to block an effort to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. In 2013, Mr. King said that for every successful child of undocumented immigrants, there were 100 others who were drug mules with “calves the size of cantaloupes” from hauling marijuana.

King doubles down on controversial 'babies' tweet

Rep. Steve King doubled down Monday on comments he made over the weekend in which he appeared to criticize foreigners and immigrants, drawing complaints of insensitivity on social media and from some of his Hill colleagues including from within his own party.

King, a prominent Iowa Republican and a vocal advocate against illegal immigration, tweeted Sunday, "We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies."

Asked by CNN's Chris Cuomo on "New Day" to clarify his comments, King said he "meant exactly what I said."
"You cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else's babies. You've got to keep your birth rate up, and that you need to teach your children your values," King said, paraphrasing remarks he said he's delivered to audiences in Europe. "In doing so, you can grow your population, you can strengthen your culture, and you can strengthen your way of life."

King said he'd like to see less of an emphasis on race in the future.

"If you go down the road a few generations, or maybe centuries, with the inter-marriage, I'd like to see an America that is just so homogenous that we look a lot the same," he said.

King, who was expressing support in his original tweet for far-right Dutch candidate Geert Wilders, predicted that "Europe will be entirely transformed within a half-century."

King has long been concerned about the decline of "American culture," and said he merely wished to see immigrants better assimilate into the United States. Pressed whether he saw all Americans as equal, the Iowa congressman said their backgrounds mattered.

"I'm a champion for Western civilization," King said, adding that all people do not contribute to American society equally. "They contribute differently to our culture and civilization."

King said differences had nothing to do with their humanity, but their backgrounds: "It's the culture, not the blood. If you could go anywhere in the world and adopt these little babies and put them into households that were already assimilated into America, those babies will grow up as American as any other baby."

House Speaker Paul Ryan, also a Republican, "clearly disagrees" with King's comments, a spokeswoman told reporters.

"The speaker clearly disagrees and believes America's long history of inclusiveness is one of its great strengths," Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in a statement.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer declined to weigh in on the comments when asked about them during the press briefing Monday.

The new comments from King could invite a new round from scorn from liberals and immigrant groups. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat and civil rights leader, quoted King's tweet, calling it "bigoted" and "racist."

"This is bigoted & racist. It suggests there is one tradition & one appearance that all humanity should conform to," Lewis wrote.

After his supportive statement for Wilders, Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu, who is Asian-American, tweeted a photo of his two children.

"Dear Representative Steve King: These are my two babies. --Representative Ted Lieu," he said.

After his supportive statement for Wilders, Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu, who is Asian-American, tweeted a photo of his two children.

"Dear Representative Steve King: These are my two babies. --Representative Ted Lieu," he said.

Several Republicans also joined in.

"America is a nation of immigrants. The sentiment expressed by Steve King doesn't reflect our shared history or values," 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush wrote.

One notable rebuke came from a fellow Republican congressman, Carlos Curbelo, who is Hispanic.

".@SteveKingIA What exactly do you mean? Do I qualify as 'somebody else's baby?' #concernedGOPcolleague," he tweeted.

And Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, tweeted: "Get a clue, @SteveKingIA. Diversity is our strength. All looking alike is such a waste. A travesty. I wanna be me. All others are taken."

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