Steve King spins GOP punishment into political weapon

Rep. Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingThirty-four GOP members buck Trump on disaster bill Overnight Energy — Presented by Job Creators Network — House Republican tries to force Green New Deal vote | 'Awkward' hearing to vet Interior nominee and watchdog | House panel approves bill to stop drilling in Arctic refuge Steve King: One 'good side' of climate change could be shrinking deserts MORE (R-Iowa) is mounting an aggressive pressure campaign in response to House GOP leaders punishing him by taking away his committee assignments over his comments about white nationalism.

House GOP leaders are signaling that it is unlikely they'll change their minds about granting King spots on committees in the future, but King is capitalizing on the issue in an effort to force their hands as well as shore up support in his home district.

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In the Iowa district he has represented since 2003, King is holding town halls where he presents himself as the target of the media and Washington establishment. 

King asked supporters at a recent event to pray for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Buzz grows Rep. Amash will challenge Trump as a Libertarian MORE (R-Calif.) to reverse the decision about his committee assignments, saying that the leader needs to "separate his ego from this issue and look at it objectively."

McCarthy does not seem moved by King's efforts.

“Leader McCarthy does not have any plans to change his mind regarding Rep. King not receiving committee assignments," McCarthy's office said in a statement to The Hill.

When asked by a constituent at the Monday town hall what he was doing to get back on committees, King said that he needs a "critical mass" of fellow House Republicans to support him. He added that some colleagues have privately expressed sympathy.

"Kevin McCarthy has been getting a lot of phone calls, and the more phone calls he gets and the more persistent that it is, the more he is gonna realize that it was a bad decision he made, based upon one comment misquoted in The New York Times, reported as fact," King said, according to the Sioux City Journal.

King has also asked for a change in the Congressional Record transcript of his House floor remarks last month that would move a dash in his controversial quote to The New York Times. King has claimed that his comments to the Times appearing to question why the terms white nationalist and white supremacist have become offensive were misinterpreted due to a misplaced dash and wants the hyphen moved in the official record.

"White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?" King was quoted as saying in the Times. King wants the dash moved to in front of "Western civilization" as he says he meant to ask when that subject became offensive.

King also this month released a letter to McCarthy from more than 200 conservatives across the nation demanding that the House GOP leader issue an apology and reinstate King's committee assignments.

The letter's signatories included former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas); William Owens, founder and president of the Coalition of African American Pastors; evangelical leader James Dobson; and anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney.

"If we don't stand with this good man against the media-manufactured assault today, none of us will be safe from it tomorrow," the letter reads.

McCarthy and other top House GOP leaders made the decision to strip King's expected committee assignments knowing full well that it would significantly curtail his legislative influence as a member of Congress. The decision follows years of racially inflamed controversies sparked by King, who is now in his ninth term.

King had served on the Judiciary, Agriculture and Small Business committees. He even chaired a Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution and civil justice in the last session of Congress, while serving on the Agriculture panel was a prime spot for a lawmaker representing a rural district.

King is keeping busy despite the lack of committee work. He has introduced 20 bills since the start of the new Congress, including legislation he has also filed in the past to make English the official language of the U.S. and to limit birthright citizenship. King can also still speak and cast votes on the House floor.

But King, who represents the reddest district in Iowa, is using his reduced influence in Congress to do "his best to rally his ever-receding base," according to Nick Ryan, an Iowa GOP consultant who backed a primary challenge against King in 2016.

Ryan suggested that voters in the district would be more receptive to King demonstrating support among community leaders instead of running against the Washington-based GOP leadership.

"Most Iowans could care less what the 'leader' of a group in the Beltway thinks about their congressman," Ryan said. "King would be much more effective if he could get real leaders from his district — mayors, councilpersons, legislators, businesspeople — to proudly and openly endorse him and advocate for him. To that end, there is a deafening silence."

Even after King was punished by being removed from committee assignments, the Des Moines Register called on him to resign in a scathing editorial.

And King was already facing trouble in his district before GOP leaders revoked his committee assignments.

He narrowly won reelection in November against Democrat J.D. Scholten by just more than 3 points. President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Democrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure MORE won the district by 27 points in 2016.

King subsequently announced at the beginning of January, before GOP leaders revoked his committee assignments, that he would hold town halls in each of the 39 counties in his district.

That marked a reversal from recent years when King had avoided the town hall format in favor of telephone town halls and private meetings, claiming that outside groups were paying protesters to disrupt his events and expressing concern they could turn violent.

King didn't offer a reason for his change in position on town halls, but said in a statement at the time that “town hall meetings are an opportunity for members of the public to express their concerns to me, and for me to deliver my constituents an overview of the work I am doing in Washington on their behalf."

King quickly drew Republican primary challengers from the start of this year, with at least three candidates throwing their hats in the ring: state Sen. Randy Feenstra, former Iowa legislator and county Supervisor Jeremy Taylor and former Irwin Mayor Bret Richards.

Ryan said that King "is more vulnerable than he ever has been," noting that Iowa donors have been open to supporting the other candidates running against the incumbent. 

Despite the string of primary challengers and near-defeat in the general election, King nonetheless has a long history in his district.

"This is a candidate with nearly two decades of electoral victories, most of them stunningly lopsided, who is remarkably capable — due in no small part to constant practice — of rebounding from controversy," said Brad Best, a political science professor at Buena Vista University, which is located in King's district.

Even if unsuccessful, his pressure campaign on GOP leaders may play well with his voting base at home.

"I think many voters in the 4th District very much agree with the idea that the media is out to get Republican candidates, that political correctness has gone too far, and that King is unfairly targeted by outside groups," said Dave Andersen, an assistant professor of political science at Iowa State University, which is also located in King's district. "He's trying to convince them that he's been the victim here."