McConnell Condemns King's Comments on Race as ‘Unworthy’

(Bloomberg) -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell denounced Representative Steve King’s comments on white supremacy, raising pressure on GOP leaders in the House to take action to punish him.

McConnell said Monday that the Iowa Republican’s remarks are “unwelcome and unworthy of his elected position,” and that “If he doesn’t understand why ‘white supremacy’ is offensive, he should find another line of work.”

The Kentucky Republican is the highest ranking Republican to condemn King’s rhetoric amid the latest controversy surrounding his racist or anti-immigrant comments. Although he stopped just short of calling on King to resign, newly seated Senator Mitt Romney of Utah said in a statement that King “ought to step aside and I think Congress ought to make it very clear he has no place there.”

Senators Tim Scott of South Carolina and King’s fellow Iowans Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley also have denounced King’s rhetoric.

On Monday evening, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the chamber’s No. 3 Democrat, said on the House floor that he had introduced a resolution disapproving of King’s comments and condemning white supremacy. He called on both Republicans and Democrats to break the “deafening silence” and support the resolution.

McConnell Condemns King's Comments on Race as ‘Unworthy’

‘Serious Conversation’

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California met with King on Monday. At McCarthy’s direction, the Republican steering committee, which decides committee assignments, met on Monday evening to discuss whether to remove him from his assignments.

“Action will be taken,” McCarthy said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday. “There is a number of things you’ll see that is taking place, but I will not stand back as a leader of this party, believing in this nation that all are created equal, that that stands or continues to stand and have any role with us.”

King came under fire last week after he was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “white nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”

Amid rising furor over that statement, King said last week on the House floor that he is an “American nationalist,” not a “white supremacist” or “white nationalist.”

“The New York Times is suggesting that I’m an advocate for white nationalism and white supremacy,” King said. “I want to make one thing abundantly clear -- I reject those labels and evil ideology they define.”

President Donald Trump said Monday he wasn’t familiar with King’s remarks. "I really haven’t been following it," Trump said.

At a rally in Iowa in October, Trump said, King “may be the world’s most conservative human being.”

“And I supported him long before I became a politician,” the president said at the rally.

Pittsburgh Massacre

King, 69, was first elected to Congress in 2002 and has a history of inflammatory statements on race and immigration as well as associating with members of far-right, nationalist movements both at home and abroad.

Just before the November elections, he was abandoned by some Republican leaders and donors over his embrace of white nationalists and for rhetoric that has been denounced as racist in the wake of the massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue, which brought renewed attention to some of his remarks.

Iowa state Senator Randy Feenstra recently announced he would challenge King in the Republican primary in 2020.

Democrats have called for King to be punished. The Congressional Black Caucus urged House Republicans to strip him of his committee assignments and ask him to leave the party. Representatives Bobby Rush of Illinois and Tim Ryan of Ohio both introduced resolutions to censure King.

House Democratic leaders plan to vote as soon as Tuesday on Clyburn’s resolution, according to a leadership aide. Clyburn introduced a similar resolution in 2009 to admonish Republican Representative Joe Wilson, also of South Carolina, for shouting “You lie!” as President Barack Obama addressed a joint session of Congress in 2009.

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