Embattled Iowa Lawmaker Steve King Says Cruz Expressed His Support

(Bloomberg) -- Representative Steve King of Iowa, who has been abandoned by Republican leaders and donors over his embrace of white nationalists and for rhetoric that has been denounced as racist, said he got a supportive phone call from Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who’s facing a tough re-election battle of his own.

King, in an interview, said Cruz, a fellow Republican, called him on Wednesday. King co-chaired Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign in Iowa, the key early caucus state, which the Texan won.

Cruz campaign spokeswoman Catherine Frazier called the conversation "a personal call, and Senator Cruz told him the same thing he said to reporters today,” she said. Cruz was quoted by the Dallas Morning News as calling King’s remarks “disappointing” and divisive but he didn’t condemn the congressman.

Todd Gillman, the Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News, said on Twitter that Cruz -- whose lead over his Democratic opponent, Representative Beto O’Rourke, has narrowed, according to recent polls -- did not respond when asked about the phone call on Wednesday night.

King said his pollster is Chris Wilson, who has also worked with Cruz.

Earlier this week, Representative Steve Stivers of Ohio, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, took the highly unusual step of renouncing King just a week before the midterm elections that will decide control of Congress.

Stivers said he acted after last Saturday’s massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue brought renewed attention to some of King’s remarks. Dairy giant Land O’Lakes and semiconductor maker Intel Corp. then said they would stop donating to King.

“Congressman Steve King’s recent comments, actions, and retweets are completely inappropriate,” Stivers said on Twitter. “We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms, and I strongly condemn this behavior.”

In the interview, King rejected suggestions that his re-election was in trouble and said that his internal polling this past weekend showed him ahead of his Democratic opponent, J.D. Scholten, by 18 points. He dismissed a poll out Tuesday by the liberal firm Change Research that showed him leading by just one point.

Before Stivers’s comments, the non-partisan Cook Political Report downgraded King’s race from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.” Scholten, a former paralegal and professional baseball player from Sioux City, has raised $1.7 million to King’s $741,000 for this election cycle.

King, 69, has a history of associating with members of far-right, nationalist movements both at home and abroad. He also has been at the forefront of a right-wing push to end so-called birthright citizenship, a goal President Donald Trump has highlighted in recent days.

King said his critics had failed to offer anything specific.

"It’s uninformed. If it wasn’t, they would’ve cited something that gave them grief," King said on Wednesday. "Same with Stivers. If you attack someone and you don’t cite anything, you’re just a cannibal. That’s all you are."

King, in the interview, praised Trump on his vow to end birthright citizenship by executive order and argued that the president has the power to do so.

King said the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of citizenship shouldn’t apply to people who weren’t admitted to the U.S. as residents. If so, "you could put the same definition on an invading army, and argue that an invading army comes in, and if there are females in that army and have babies, they’re citizens," he said.

As for Stivers, King wouldn’t elaborate on the rare rebuke from a party’s top election strategist against an incumbent so close to an election. But he suggested he would after Election Day.

"That’s as far as I’m willing to go right now," King said. "Unlike him, I’m not willing to risk the majority by following my instincts here. Those are scores that can be settled after the election."

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