SIOUX CITY -- Northwest Iowa officials questioned Tuesday whether U.S. Rep. Steve King can still effectively represent the 4th Congressional District after losing all of his committee assignments as a punishment for his controversial remarks on white supremacy.
Amid growing calls that he resign his seat, King remained defiant, promising to "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.”
Sioux City Mayor Bob Scott said the decision by House Republican leaders to strip King of his committee posts "definitely hurts" his influence in the chamber.
Committees "in general have a lot of power," Scott said. "You've got a chance to get legislation in for your district when you are on a committee."
"It means (King) isn't going to be in a position to help us on particular concerns to Sioux City," said the mayor of the largest city in the 39-county district.
King served on the Agriculture, Small Business and Judiciary committees in the last Congress, and he chaired Judiciary's subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice. Republican leaders voted Monday night to take away all of his assignments for the next two years. Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy cited King's comments in a New York Times story that "call into question whether he will treat all Americans equally, without regard for race and ethnicity."
His removal from the Agriculture Committee means Iowa, the nation's leading farm state, will not have a representative on the panel for the first time since 1899. Iowa's three other members of Congress -- Democratic Reps. Abby Finkenauer, Cindy Axne and Dave Loebsack -- are not members of the committee, which has jurisdiction over agriculture, forestry, nutrition, water conservation, and other ag-related fields.
At a time of low commodity prices and falling farm incomes, it is important for the state to have a strong voice advocating for agriculture interests, Iowa Farmers Union President Aaron Lehman said. Lehman, who farms in rural Alleman, said whether King can be effective without working on a committee "is a judgment call."
"To not have a seat at the table on the agriculture committee is extremely disappointing. It is all the more harder to pass policies for farmers," Lehman said.
Some elected Republicans in Iowa argued that King has let the state down by losing his committees. They included state Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, who announced, one day before the Times article was published, that he would challenge King in the 2020 GOP primary.
In a Wednesday tweet, Feenstra wrote, "Agriculture is the backbone of NW Iowa. However, as of today, we're left without a seat on the Ag Committee. It's time to elect an effective conservative and #RetireSteveKing."
Tim Bottaro, a Sioux City attorney and former Woodbury County Democratic Party chairman, said it is unfortunate that King will keep drawing his $174,000 annual salary, despite his diminished stature. Bottaro said discussions in committees best frame the issues, so King won't be as well informed for votes on the House floor.
"Committees take all the time. (King) is going to be twiddling his thumbs," Bottaro said. "He is getting paid for doing nothing. It is a ripoff for the taxpayer. He is a waste of space."
Woodbury County Republican Party Chairwoman Suzan Stewart said King will continue to handle congressional tasks in a way that well advocates GOP principles.
"Republicans from the 4th District have come to expect Steve King to champion the district and promote conservative objectives for the district. He can continue to do much of this with or without committee assignments," Stewart said.
In an interview with The New York Times for a story last week on immigration and race, King was quoted saying, "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?"
In a statement Monday, King insisted the quote "has been completely mischaracterized." The congressman said he was only wondering aloud: "How did that offensive language get injected into our political dialogue? Who does that, how does it get done, how do they get by with laying labels like this on people?"
In a rare procedure, the House approved a resolution designed to rebuke King for the comments. In a strange twist, King was among the 424 House members who voted for the resolution, which called for the chamber to reject white nationalism and white supremacy as “hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States.”
The lone dissenting vote was Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois, who argued for the House to take the more serious step of censuring King for his "repugnant and racist behavior." Rush and Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, introduced separate censure resolutions. Democratic leaders said they are debating whether to bring the resolutions up for a floor debate on Wednesday.
In addition to efforts to censure King, there were bipartisan demands that the congressman resign.
The Journal, the largest newspaper in the 4th District, published an editorial in Wednesday's edition that called for King to step down, concluding that "whatever measure of influence or effectiveness King possessed in the House is, in our view, gone."
Rep. Liz Cheney, of Wyoming, the third-ranking House Republican, suggested earlier Tuesday King leave Congress over his remarks. "I think he should find another line of work," said Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
If King were to resign, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds would have five days to call a special election to fill the vacant seat, under state law. The special election could occur no earlier than 40 days after the resignation.