Pressure grows on House GOP to denounce Steve King

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash: Trump incorrect in claiming Congress didn't subpoena Obama officials Democrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate MORE (R-Wis.) and other GOP leaders are facing mounting pressure to speak out and take action against Rep. Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingIowa Steak Fry to draw record crowds for Democrats Ocasio-Cortez rips Steve King after he shares video drinking from toilet-fountain hybrid at border Steve King says he drank from toilet at detention center MORE (R-Iowa) for his public support of white nationalist candidates and racially offensive comments.

The pressure comes just days after a deadly shooting in a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh and as King, a staunch conservative and immigration hard-liner, suddenly finds himself in his first competitive race in years.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on Wednesday urged GOP leaders to formally censure King and called on Ryan to strip King of his subcommittee chairmanship. And Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloProgressive Latino group launches first incumbent protection campaign The Memo: Bad polls for Trump shake GOP Anxious GOP treads carefully with Trump defense MORE (R-Fla), a Hispanic lawmaker, said on MSNBC the same day that he would never vote for someone like King.

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“His comments and his actions are disgusting,” said Curbelo, who is facing a tough reelection fight in a heavily Hispanic district in South Florida.

The condemnation from the ADL and Curbelo follow announcements from several companies — including Intel, Purina Petcare and Land O'Lakes — that they were halting campaign contributions to King. National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversFinancial sector's work on SAFE Banking Act shows together, everyone achieves more GOP ratchets up 2020 attacks as impeachment storm grows Let's improve state and federal regulation of bank vendors MORE also issued a rare repudiation of King just a week before Election Day.

“Congressman Steve King’s recent comments, actions, and retweets are completely inappropriate,” tweeted Stivers, a GOP congressman from Ohio and a member of Ryan’s leadership team. “We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms, and I strongly condemn this behavior.”

But other top GOP leaders have remained silent about King. Spokespeople for Ryan, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyHouse Republicans 'demand the release of the rules' on impeachment GOP leader defends Mulvaney amid backlash over quid pro quo comments Republicans seek to delay effort to censure Schiff after Cummings' death MORE (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseHouse Republicans 'demand the release of the rules' on impeachment Scalise, Cole introduce resolution to change rules on impeachment Republicans seek to delay effort to censure Schiff after Cummings' death MORE (R-La.) did not respond to requests for comment.

One senior GOP aide predicted King won’t apologize and that top GOP leaders won’t retaliate against King, especially after President TrumpDonald John TrumpFlorida GOP lawmaker says he's 'thinking' about impeachment Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort Kurdish group PKK pens open letter rebuking Trump's comparison to ISIS MORE repeatedly called himself a “nationalist” at a Texas campaign rally last week.  

“Does Steve King lack discipline? Absolutely. No one is saying he’s good for the Republican Party,” said a senior GOP aide. “But if there is anything the president has taught in all of this it is: Never apologize. In some ways, King is the proto-Trump. His strategy is say something; if the left comes at you and hits you over the head with it, double down.

“If you apologize like Megyn Kelly, you’re done because an apology is an admission of guilt.”

King’s Democratic challenger, J.D. Scholten, said he appreciated the comments from Curbelo and Stivers.

“I don’t think it shows much leadership by continuing to allow this to happen,” Scholten said in a phone interview with The Hill. “That’s why I thought Rep. Stivers, it was such a big statement, and important that it came from the chairman of the NRCC.”

Scholten said that it’s up to each Republican to choose whether to speak out about King but that the incumbent has crossed a “threshold.”

“This is something that I think is a clear no-brainer, but it’s up to them to decide if they want to comment on it or not,” he said.

King, who has served in Congress since 2003 and is chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, has come under fire before for what many view as racist comments and positions.

Former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerIs Congress retrievable? Boehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader MORE (R-Ohio) publicly denounced King at a 2013 news conference after the Iowa conservative said undocumented immigrants had “calves the size of cantaloupes” from hauling drugs across the desert.

Privately, BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerIs Congress retrievable? Boehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader MORE called King an “asshole,” according to a lawmaker.

But King’s more recent comments and actions have drawn increased scrutiny since Saturday’s mass shooting that left 11 dead and many more wounded at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

In mid-October, King endorsed a white nationalist candidate for Toronto mayor, Faith Goldy, who has promoted a 1930s book that calls for the “extermination of Jews” and attended the Unite the Right rally of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., last year. King also gave an interview in August with a website associated with a far-right Austrian party founded by a former Nazi SS officer.

King defended his association with the Austrian group, telling The Washington Post over the weekend that members of the group “would be Republicans” if they were in the U.S.

Following Stivers’s comments Tuesday, King responded by saying the attacks against him are “orchestrated by nasty, desperate and dishonest fake news.”

“Their ultimate goal is to flip the House and impeach Donald Trump,” King said. “Establishment Never Trumpers are complicit.”

King’s campaign on Wednesday referred The Hill to the statement and did not respond to requests for an interview with the congressman.

King’s 4th District in northwest Iowa went for Trump by double digits in 2016, but his reelection race appears to have become more competitive in recent days.

A poll conducted Oct. 27-29 by the Democratic firm Change Research found King with only a 1-point lead. And the nonpartisan Cook Political Report on Tuesday shifted its rating of the race from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.”

Cook’s House editor, Dave Wasserman, pointed out on Twitter that Scholten has spent $1.4 million on ads for the past two weeks and is getting $300,000 in air support from a super PAC ripping King as “Klan and neo-Nazi approved.”

King, meanwhile, has not run any ads yet. And some Republicans took Stivers's tweet as a warning to GOP donors to stay away.

“Stivers represents the GOP apparatus. That was a signal to donors and super PACs to back off,” said the senior GOP aide.

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, said that his group is planning on Thursday to also shift their rating of the race from likely to leaning Republican.

“It has been a challenging few days for King, to be sure,” Kondik said. “How that translates to reality on the ground, I do not know.”

Scholten tweeted early Wednesday that his campaign had raised more than $350,000 in a period of just over 24 hours.

“I see the momentum that we have and I’m very confident that we’re neck and neck right now,” he told The Hill.

But the King campaign has seen themselves in recent days as in a strong position to win.

The campaign on Tuesday released a poll conducted by WPA Intelligence that found the congressman with an 18-point lead, though it was conducted several days before the Change Research poll.

“Iowa voters are overwhelmingly choosing to stick with Congressman Steve King’s proven leadership and they are rejecting his opponent’s nasty, desperate, and dishonest attacks funded by San Francisco liberals,” the campaign said in a statement when it released the poll.