SIOUX CITY -- This isn't the 2019 in the U.S. House that Steve King had in mind when he won a ninth term in November.
King, a full-throated social conservative, was looking to fending off Democratic initiatives and support fellow Republican President Donald Trump against possible impeachment proceedings. Instead, the Iowa 4th district congressman is now fighting for his own political life, and vowing not to resign, after recent remarks on white supremacy elicited calls for his censure within the very first week of the 116th Congress.
It has been a contentious last 10 days for King.
House Republican leaders voted Monday to take away all of his committee assignments for the next two years in the wake of a New York Times story in which he was quoted as saying, "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?" The next day, the House overwhelmingly approved a resolution of disapproval intended to rebuke King and denounced “hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Mitt Romney, a former GOP presidential candidate, and Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking GOP House member and daughter of a former vice president, were among the elected officials who suggested King resign his seat. The Journal and three other daily newspapers that circulate in the 4th District -- The Ames Tribune, Des Moines Register and Fort Dodge Messenger -- also published editorials calling for King to step down.
Despite the uproar, a defiant King refuses to leave.
"No, no chance at all. I'll go out of this place dead before that happens and the Lord will have to make that decision," King told WHO Radio on Tuesday.
To the contrary, King quickly sent out an email urging supporters to donate to his re-election campaign, casting himself as a victim of a cabal of the "unhinged left" and "NeverTrumpers" who are out to "destroy" him because of his unwavering opposition to illegal immigration.
In the email, King tied himself to President Donald Trump, noting the Times "relentlessly and dishonestly attacks" the Republican president and now is "coming after me by shamelessly twisting my words, quoting me out of context, and using their Leftist comrades in the media to parrot their false talking points."
“We have seen this playbook before … like when the media tried to defeat President Trump by calling him a racist,” he continued. "We know how that worked out, don't we?"
Before the latest controversy, King was in line for seats on the Agriculture, Small Business and Judiciary committees. As one of the president's "strongest allies," King claimed, in his fundraising letter this week, he was targeted because his Judiciary seat put him in "perfect position to defend Donald Trump against the impeachment charges that are so likely to be brought."
In a Dec. 18 interview with The Journal, King promised to vigorously defend Trump if Democrats attempted to impeach him over charges related to special prosecutor Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
King dismissed accusations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. He called for a deadline for Mueller to finish the investigation.
He said Americans are divided on whether Trump was involved in issues being investigated by Mueller, "based on who they want to believe," since the president has supporters and detractors, depending on how they view his policies and personal life.
In the December interview, King also said he would support Trump's quest to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. Democrats have refused Trump's demand for at least $5 billion for the wall, leading to the shutdown of non-essential parts of the federal government since Dec. 22, the longest in U.S. history.
King described the wall as the "most pivotal" and "contentious" piece of legislation this year. King, who had been in line to be the ranking member of the Judiciary's subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice after serving as chairman of the panel, argues the wall would stem the tide of illegal immigration from Mexico and Central and South American nations.
In his latest email to donors, King insisted he also was targeted by his political opponents because " (they)know full well I've been pushing for tougher immigration law for years" and "they universally understand that, were it not for me in Congress, amnesty would be the law of the land for tens of millions of illegal aliens."
Even before the latest setbacks, King was adjusting to life in the minority party after Democrats won 40 seats in the mid-term elections.
"(House Majority Leader) Nancy Pelosi will take that big gavel and kill off anything I want," King said in December.
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With Democrats in charge, King in the interview said he would be forced to resort to more House floor speeches and media interviews to counteract the bad public policy pieces he assumes will be introduced.
The uproar over King's white supremacist comments came just days after Randy Feenstra, a prominent Republican state senator from Northwest Iowa, announced he would challenge King in the 2020 GOP primary.
Feenstra, an assistant Senate majority leader who also chairs the powerful Ways and Means Committee, has argued King's long history of racially-charged comments has embarrassed the district and the state and reduced his influence in the House. King's recent removal from all House committees has compounded that problem, Feenstra said.
"Today, Northwest Iowa doesn't have a voice in Congress because Steve King's caustic nature has left us without a seat at the table," Feenstra said in a tweet. "It's time to #RetireSteveKing."
King's weak showing in last fall's election led Feenstra to enter the race. After winning re-election by 23 points in 2016, King squeaked by Democrat J.D. Scholten by just 3 percent in November in a district where there are 70,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats.
A poll released late last week suggested King's political standing in the district has fallen even more following the wave of negative publicity over the last week.
The poll, published by a PAC created by Jim Mowrer, a Democrat who previously ran for the 4th District seat, showed 42 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of King, while 54 percent have an unfavorable opinion. That's a far worst split than for Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds (61/31), Sen. Joni Ernst (59/30), and Trump (57/42).
When asked whether voters would choose King or a generic Democratic candidate for Congress right now, King lost to the generic Democrat, 45 percent to 37 percent, with 18 percent saying they were unsure. Poll respondents also chose Scholten over King, 44 percent to 39 percent. The poll did not test King against Feenstra or other challenges in a hypothetical primary.
20-20 Insight LLC, an Atlanta-based firm founded by Democrats, surveyed 472 likely voters in the 4th District on Jan. 16 and 17.
MIXED CONSTITUENT REVIEWS
Hannah O'Callaghan, of Sioux City, said she doesn't support King, contending reports of his support for white supremacists constitute "baggage" that makes him less effective as a congressman. In a Jan. 7 interview with the Journal, prior to publication of the Times story, she referred to King having to defend his remarks on race and support for political candidates and parties with ties to white supremacy in the final weeks of last fall's campaign.
"I don't think he should be (serving), with all the things he had going on," O'Callaghan said.
In a separate interview, also on Jan. 7, Gordon Thompson, of Sioux City, said King has been responsive to voters needs of the 4th District.
While Thompson likes King's stance on policies and has repeatedly voted for him, he said he's glad King announced two weeks ago he would break with his recent practice and hold public town hall meetings in all 39 counties of the district.
The first forum is scheduled for Thursday, but King's office has not yet announced where it will be held.
"He does care. I'm just glad someone shook him up, because now he is paying attention," Thompson said.
In the email appeal last week, King also claimed the "rabid leftist media" because they were " unable to defeat my campaign in the 2018 midterm elections" are now "blasting the airwaves in a pathetic attempt to paint me as a 'racist.' "
King has repeatedly insisted the Times "completely mischaracterized" his comments during a nearly hour-long interview. The congressman said he rejects the ideology of white supremacy, adding that he comes from a family of abolitionists who "paid a price with their lives to make sure that all men and now all women are created equal."
"Like the Founding Fathers, I am indeed a champion of Western Civilization and American culture -- I'm an American Nationalist -- not a 'White Nationalist' or 'White Supremacist,'' as the Times imply in their biased coverage," he wrote in the fundraising email.