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Opinion >  Syndicated columns

Rekha Basu: Why did it take national condemnation for Iowa Republicans to call out Steve King?

By Rekha Basu Des Moines Register

It’s hard to believe that one racially charged interview in the New York Times was what it took to garner a meaningful punishment from congressional Republicans of Iowa’s long-standing, race-baiting congressman, Steve King. It’s infuriating that it took that interview for his Republican Senate colleagues from Iowa, who’ve been well aware of his legacy of saying such things, to even criticize him. It’s about time.

“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization – how did that language become offensive?” King was quoted telling the Times last week. Monday night, the House Republican leadership responded by removing King from its agriculture and judiciary committees, and the full House voted almost unanimously (one member wanted to go farther) to disapprove of him.

As every Iowan knows, that’s one interview out of scores of statements and positions the 4th Congressional District representative has proudly offered up denigrating non-Western, nonwhite, Central American or Muslim people throughout his decades-long political career. Imagine if Iowa’s other high-ranking elected officials had taken a principled stand before they were shamed into doing so by national fellow Republicans.

Only in recent days have Sens. Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst condemned King. Shortly before the 2018 election, Grassley could be seen on video calling King an “ally” he needed in the House. But after the Times piece brought wide condemnations of King, as did a Washington Post column by South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott, who is black, Grassley finally spoke up. Scott wrote, “King’s comments are not conservative views but separate views that should be ridiculed at every turn possible.”

Last Saturday, Ernst tweeted Scott’s piece and condemned King’s comments as “offensive and racist and not representative of Iowa.” Grassley told reporters from Axios, “I find it offensive to claim white supremacy. I will condemn it.”

Where have you been, senators? And where was Gov. Kim Reynolds, who just won election with King as her campaign co-chair? Then she was praising him as “principled.” But after winning, she said something about his needing to decide whose values he represents.

In case they’ve forgotten, here’s a little refresher on King’s actions and pronouncements:

A Washington Post story this past fall said King had met in August in Austria with members of the Freedom Party, founded by a former Nazi SS officer. He also granted an interview to a website associated with the party. This was while King was on a trip to Poland paid for by a group dedicated to preserving the history of the Holocaust.

He has said nonwhites have contributed less to civilization than white people; that America can’t restore its civilization with “someone else’s babies,” and that “mixing cultures will bring down the quality of life.” He called for America to be so homogeneous that we “look a lot the same.”

He proposed an electrified fence to keep Mexicans out, noting, “We do that with livestock.” He described Mexicans as having cantaloupe-size calves from running drugs. He justified torturing political prisoners in Abu Ghraib, comparing it to fraternity hazing.

While keeping a Confederate flag on his desk, he held up reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in Congress. He introduced legislation lobbied for by ACT for America, listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-Muslim hate group. He went to bat for the convicted former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who defied a judge’s orders not to detain immigrants nabbed through ethnic profiling. He lavished praise on European politicians for going after Muslims and trying to ban mosques and the Koran.

The Register has quoted more such comments by King over the years than I can count.

In June, King retweeted British Nazi sympathizer and Hitler admirer Mark Collett’s screenshot of a Breitbart news story about young Italians opposing mass migration, on which Collett had observed: “Europe is waking up …”

“Europe is waking up … Will America … in time?” King added.

In 2015, it was reported that both King and Ernst had accepted campaign donations from Earl Holt, the leader of a white supremacist group. After that caused a stir, both said they would donate the money to charities.

King endorsed a white-nationalist candidate for mayor of Toronto, earning the condemnation of writers for the conservative Washington Examiner and Weekly Standard, who called out his obsession with race-based politics.

Imagine if Iowa leaders had had this awakening about King 10 or 15 years ago, how things might be different for the state, and especially for King’s 39-county House district. Instead of being demonized, immigrants could had been welcomed and encouraged by their representative to help grow the region, its agriculture and small businesses. Instead of being so deeply divided and polarized under King’s leadership, the people of the district might have functioned as one, with a shared commitment to progress and growth.

Instead, his supporters have defensively carried water for him while his detractors have felt compelled to shrink from the limelight, embarrassed.

“That is not the party of Lincoln and it’s definitely not American,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said of King in stripping his committee assignments. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested King find “another line of work.”

Whatever your political views, real leadership means doing what’s right when you learn what’s wrong, not after everyone else has already condemned it – and then because of polls or popularity or because your career could suffer if you don’t.

Whatever happens to King’s career, one can only hope our other top leaders will learn from this and get on the right side for the right reasons – promptly next time.

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