Republicans say Steve King's 'stupid,' 'racist' remarks may result in action against him

"It was stupid," Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said of the comment. "It was hurtful. It was wrong. And he needs to stop."
U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, speaks during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill on June 28, 2018.
U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, speaks during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill on June 28, 2018.Alex Wong / Getty Images file

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By Allan Smith

Three leading Republican lawmakers on Sunday signaled that GOP Rep. Steve King may be subjected to action by his peers over his recent remarks to The New York Times questioning why the terms "white nationalist, white supremacist" were offensive. The comments were widely condemned as being racist, adding to the Iowa lawmaker's troubling history of similar statements.

The lawmakers, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana echoed a chorus of GOP voices speaking out against the comments.

"White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” King said to The New York Times last week. “Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”

King has since walked back his remarks, telling NBC News' Kasie Hunt that he rejects white nationalism and white supremacy.

"It's not part of any of my ideology," King said. "I reject anyone who carries that ideology."

The nine-term member of Congress, who has a history of similarly racist statements, has already drawn a Republican primary opponent in his upcoming election.

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King served as national co-chair for Cruz's 2016 presidential campaign, and the GOP senator was asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" about the inflammatory remarks.

"What Steve King said was stupid," Cruz said. "It was stupid. It was hurtful. It was wrong. And he needs to stop. I think all of us ought to be united, regardless of party, in saying, white supremacism, white nationalism, is hatred. It is bigotry. It is evil. It is wrong. And I think we need that clarity. And I'm certainly going to urge everyone to provide that clarity."

NBC's Chuck Todd asked Cruz if he would support King in the future.

"You know, what I'm going to do is urge everyone to stand for principles that matter," Cruz said, adding that "when it comes to speaking out against bigotry, whether it is the Klan or Nazis or anything else, I have a lifetime of standing up to that bigotry. And I'll continue it."

On CBS's "Face the Nation," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said "action will be taken" against King, saying Republicans will review whether he will keep his committee assignments.

And on ABC's "This Week," Scalise pointed to a number of other Republicans who have condemned the remarks when asked to address the topic. Scalise, the second-ranking House Republican, advised King should read GOP Sen. Tim Scott's recent Washington Post op-ed. In that piece, Scott, the lone black Republican senator, wrote that "when people with opinions similar to King’s open their mouths, they damage not only the Republican Party and the conservative brand but also our nation as a whole."

But Scalise then called on Democrats to call out lawmakers on their side who have offended others.

"There have been many Democrats who have said not only highly offensive things, align themselves with anti-Semites, have called on physical violence, they haven't pushed back on any of that language," he said. "We've got to raise the bar on civility, George. We need to call it out on the Republican side and the Democrat side. I've been willing to call it out on both. It's time those Democrat leaders you just mentioned call it out when it happens on their side as well."

Scalise added that he "would imagine" that House Republicans will "continue talking about" taking substantive action regarding King.

"This just popped up on Friday," he said. "We were very quick to reject those comments. There is no place for hate, for bigotry, or anybody who supports that ideology. It's evil ideology. We all ought to stand up against it."

Earlier, both of Iowa's Republican senators, Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, condemned King's remarks. Former Republican Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2016, said condemning the "unconscionable, racist remarks" was "not enough."

"Republican leaders must actively support a worthy primary opponent to defeat King, because he won't have the decency to resign," he said in a tweet.