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Pressure grows on House GOP to denounce Steve King

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanEarmarks look to be making a comeback Former staffers push Congress for action on sexual harassment measure House Republicans need history lesson in battle over next leader MORE (R-Wis.) and other GOP leaders are facing mounting pressure to speak out and take action against Rep. Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingIowa governor: Steve King needs to decide if he wants to represent ‘the values of the 4th District’ Conservative magazine posts recording of King using derogatory language against immigrants How Steve King turned his back on states’ rights for Big Ag 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 CurbeloGOP lawmaker defends Mia Love from Trump attacks: 'I was disgusted when I heard it' Feehery: With 2020 looming, Republicans must learn lessons from midterms Republicans must learn from the election mistake on immigration 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 Stivers Conservative magazine posts recording of King using derogatory language against immigrants Steve King accuses Weekly Standard of trying to ‘advance a Leftist agenda’ Conservative groups call for new slate of House GOP leaders 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 need history lesson in battle over next leader Trump’s hard lesson for Republicans: Fight back The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — Congress returns to leadership races, lame-duck drama MORE (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseNew hurdle arises in Pelosi’s march to speakership This week: Congress starts lame-duck with leadership fight House Republicans set to elect similar team of leaders despite midterm thumping 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 TrumpDeath toll in Northern California wildfire rises to 48: authorities Graham backs bill to protect Mueller Denham loses GOP seat in California 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 BoehnerHouse Republicans need history lesson in battle over next leader Republicans jockey for top GOP spot on House Foreign Affairs Committee McMorris Rodgers won't run for GOP leadership 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 BoehnerHouse Republicans need history lesson in battle over next leader Republicans jockey for top GOP spot on House Foreign Affairs Committee McMorris Rodgers won't run for GOP leadership 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.