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Steve King says House leader will allow for 'exoneration,' return of committee assignments

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Rep. Steve King speaks at town hall

U.S. Rep. Steve King answers audience questions during a January town hall at the Ho-Chunk Centre in Sioux City.

SIOUX CITY -- Northwest Iowa Congressman Steve King said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has agreed to a process by which the nine-term incumbent can get "exoneration" and back on committees that were stripped in January 2019 after King's controversial published remarks about white supremacy.

“On April 20, Kevin McCarthy and I reached an agreement that he would advocate to the (Republican) Steering Committee to put all of my committees back, all of my seniority," King said at a forum Monday night.

“When Congress comes back into session, when the steering committee can (inaudible) together, I have Kevin McCarthy’s word that that will be my time for exoneration.”

King made the remarks during a Monday evening candidate debate in Spencer, Iowa, as moderated by the Spencer Daily Reporter. That came during his final wrap-up of the 90-minute Iowa 4th Congressional District debate, which comes ahead of an important June 2 primary election involving King and four Republican challengers.

Those four, Randy Feenstra, Steve Reeder, Bret Richards and Jeremy Taylor, also took part in the forum. All four men spoke after King raised the committee issue, and none addressed what he said in their closing remarks.

In a New York Times story on immigration 16 months ago, King was quoted as asking, "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?"

The published remarks fueled a national backlash that prompted GOP House leaders to strip him of his committee assignments for at least two years, and for the full House to pass a resolution condemning white supremacy and white nationalism. 

Since then, King has repeatedly insisted the Times reporter misquoted him, and that Republican leaders were too skittish over the fallout to reinstate him to his committees.

King took to the House floor in January 2020 to again criticize McCarthy, describing his treatment by the GOP leader as "unprecedented."

During his speech, King also displayed large graphs that showed a sharp increase in online stories using the term "white nationalism" in the years since Donald Trump was elected president in 2016. He argued the political left has adopted a strategy of using the “weaponization of language" to attack conservatives and Trump supporters.

Attempts to reach McCarthy by phone were unsuccessful. A message at his Washington office said the phone mailbox was full, and a message at his Bakersfield, California, office said people should attempt to reach McCarthy by the contact information on his website.

As in past attempts by the Journal to reach McCarthy by email, the site says the Republican leader is unable to reply to email from constituents outside his district.

Also on Monday, a poll of the Iowa 4th race by American Viewpoint Inc., of Alexandria, Virginia, was released showing Feenstra had climbed to nearly even with King. A summary by an AV official shared on Feenstra's campaign website showed King led Feenstra, 39 percent to 36 percent, which is in the polling margin of error, which is 5 percent. 

The poll was of 350 likely Republican voters, taken on May 7-8.

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“Iowans have stepped up and done their part to slow the spread of COVID-19,” said House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford. “It is also time for the Legislature to return to Des Moines so we can complete our work.”

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