If Republicans rebuked Steve King, they must challenge Donald Trump

If Republicans rebuked Steve King, they must challenge Donald Trump
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The king has no clothes. He has been stripped bare and, this time, some in his own party are pulling away his garments, exposing him for what he is.

I am talking about Representative Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingSteve King asks for Congressional Record correction over white supremacist quote Steve King urges supporters to pray for his committee assignments to be restored: report Constitutional conservatives need to oppose the national emergency MORE, who in an interview for the New York Times last week declared, “White nationalism, white supremacy, Western civilization. How did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and civilization?”

This is why some members of Congress should be required to pass some kind of standardized admissions test. In this case, the exam would be on history. Language is offensive when it seems to harken nostalgically to the capture and enslavement of blacks to serve their white masters, to the lynchings, to the cross burnings, to the poll taxes, and to the Nuremberg laws in Nazi Germany requiring racial purity to save Aryan civilization.

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Of course, King is no stranger to racial epithets. The Iowa Republican does not just spew them, he seems to chew on them delightfully. They lay on his tongue like a beef jerky. In 2013, he said that for every illegal immigrant who is a valedictorian, “there is another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they have calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

In 2017, he tweeted, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Last October, he endorsed a Toronto mayoral candidate with far right ties including appearing on the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website, and promoting a 1936 book calling for the elimination of the “Jewish menace.” The candidate later walked back, claiming she had not read the entire book. Geography might be another admissions test for King. Why would an American representative endorse a Canadian mayoral candidate? Maybe he thought it was an election down in Toronto, Iowa.

This time, however, the response to King is different. The Republicans who in the past winked at his statements have instead slammed them. He lost his committee assignments. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthySteve King asks for Congressional Record correction over white supremacist quote Steve King urges supporters to pray for his committee assignments to be restored: report Congress allows Violence Against Women Act to lapse MORE stated that his language was “reckless, wrong, and has no place in our society.” Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyOvernight Energy: Zinke joins Trump-tied lobbying firm | Senators highlight threat from invasive species | Top Republican calls for Green New Deal vote in House Liz Cheney calls for House vote on Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal Liz Cheney mocks Booker over factory farming comments: 'I support PETA - People Eating Tasty Animals' MORE said his remarks were “abhorrent and racist.” The two Republican senators from Iowa repudiated him. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottSenate approves border bill that prevents shutdown Senate passes bill to make lynching a federal crime Partnerships paving the way to sustain and support Historically Black Colleges and Universities MORE, the only black Republican senator, wrote in an editorial, “Some in our party wonder why Republicans are constantly accused of racism. It is because of our silence when things like this are said.”

In his own Iowa district, two Republicans announced they will primary him. One potential challenger said, “Our current representative’s caustic nature has left us without a seat at the table.” The other promised not to “embarrass the state,” which seems to be a lackluster campaign slogan. Former Florida Republican Governor Jeb Bush backed the challenge by tweeting, “Republican leaders must actively support a worthy primary opponent to defeat King, because he won’t have the decency to resign.”

On that, Bush is absolutely right. Decency is not exactly high on the list of competencies of a man who predicted during the 2008 campaign that if Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Memo: Bernie Sanders’s WH launch sharpens ‘socialist’ question Obama spends Presidents Day at Ayesha Curry's San Francisco restaurant Government's misguided holiday to celebrate itself MORE was elected president, “the radical Islamists and their supporters will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11 because they will declare victory in this war on terror.”

Republicans in Congress want to unyoke themselves from King in 2020. Removing him from his committees was a step in the right direction, especially for a party that is loath to fall out of step with supporters on the far right. Still, the initial reaction of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump nominates Jeffrey Rosen to replace Rosenstein at DOJ McCabe says ‘it’s possible’ Trump is a Russian asset McCabe: Trump ‘undermining the role of law enforcement’ MORE was to sidestep the controversy. Our Twitter addicted and Fox feasting president somehow missed this breaking news on King, saying, “I haven’t been following it.”

That is the continuing problem. The Republicans can strip King of his committees, excoriate him, censure him, and reprimand him. But for as long as they refuse to challenge the president when he gives comfort to neo-Nazi marchers, vilifies immigrants, mocks Native Americans, and spews decisive rhetoric, then King is really just a pawn. So thank you, Republicans, for what you have started. But your work is just beginning.

Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years. He served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is a novelist whose latest book is “Big Guns.” You can follow him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael and Facebook @RepSteveIsrael.