WASHINGTON — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters Monday that the GOP had voted unanimously to remove Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, from all committees amid the rising uproar over his recent comments about white nationalism.
"We will not be seating Steve King on any committees in the 116th Congress. It was a unanimous decision..." McCarthy told reporters. "In light of the comments — these are not the first time we have heard these comments. That is not the party of Lincoln, and it is definitely not America. All people are created equal in America, and we want to take a very strong stance about that."
Asked whether he would support a campaign challenge to King, McCarthy said that decision was up to the voters — but "I think we spoke very loud and clear that we will not tolerate this type of language in the Republican Party."
The Republican Steering Committee voted Monday night to revoke King's assignments to the Judiciary, Agriculture, and Small Business Committees.
McCarthy, who met privately with King for an hour earlier Monday, said the party had not opted to remove King from the conference itself — but he did not rule out supporting further moves, including resolutions censuring or reprimanding the Iowa congressman.
King immediately blasted the move in a statement that dubbed it a "political decision that ignores the truth," saying his remarks had been taken out of context.
"My record as a vocal advocate for Western Civilization is nearly as full as my record in defense of Freedom of Speech," he added. "...I will continue to point out the truth and work with all the vigor that I have to represent 4th District Iowans for at least the next two years.”
The move came just hours after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blasted King on Monday, calling his remarks in a newspaper interview published last week "unwelcome and unworthy of his elected position."
“If he doesn’t understand why ‘white supremacy’ is offensive, he should find another line of work,” McConnell, R-Ky., said.
McConnell’s comments about King, R-Iowa, were among the most forceful issued to date by a top congressional Republican.
“There is no place in the Republican Party, the Congress or the country for an ideology of racial supremacy of any kind. I have no tolerance for such positions and those who espouse these views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms,” McConnell said. “I commend Sens. Grassley, Ernst, Scott and others for their leading voices in the Senate, and Leader McCarthy for his strong stand on this matter in the House.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, later called on King to resign Monday evening, calling his remarks "reprehensible."
"I think it's important for the American political system, for people who have views that are reprehensible to no longer serve in public office," he told reporters. "And I think he ought to step aside."
McConnell’s comments came as two House Democrats introduced or were preparing separate resolutions Monday censuring King for his comments in a recent interview with The New York Times: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?" he asked. "Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”
House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., told reporters Monday afternoon that he planned to introduce a resolution of disapproval as a way to reprimand King, a day before what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.’s 90th birthday. Clyburn said it’s like the “tale of two Kings” and he will be “calling on the House to break their silence.”
Separately, Reps. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., and Tim Ryan, D-Pa., introduced resolutions Monday that would censure King, who has served in Congress since 2003.
President Donald Trump has not yet weighed in on King's remarks, saying when asked by reporters Monday that "I haven't been following it. I really haven't been following it."
King backtracked quickly last week after his comments were first reported, telling NBC News, “I reject white nationalism. I reject white supremacy. It's not part of any of my ideology. I reject anyone who carries that ideology.”
But Republicans seemed unmoved, with some pointing to his long history of inflammatory statements and associations with far right and racist figures.
"This wasn’t the first time, but his language questioning whether or not the notion of white supremacy is offensive is absolutely abhorrent, it is racist, we do not support it or agree with it," Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the third-ranking Republican in House leadership, told NBC News on Tuesday. "I think he should find another line of work."