Iowa Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King Saturday held his first town hall since he was rebuked by colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives and was removed from committee assignments over a controversial comment in a New York Times story.
In a packed room at the Primghar Community Building in O’Brien County, King addressed the Jan. 10 article where he was quoted asking, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization – how did that language become offensive?”
“It is stunning and astonishing to me that four words in a New York Times quote can outweigh 20-some years of public service, 20-some years of giving you my word every day, and not one soul has stood up and said that I’ve ever lied to you and misrepresented anything or given it to you in any spin that’s anything other than what I believe to be the objective truth,” said King, to his constituents.
He later added, “I should have never done an interview with The New York Times.”
King reiterated that the quote was taken out of context. He said when he asked “how did that language become offensive?” he was speaking about Western civilization only.
“They are denigrating Western civilization today,” King said. “And if they can break down Western civilization and turn it into the scourge of history, then our freedom is gone and there’s nothing left to fight for.”
King answered a constituent’s question about how he’ll represent the district without being seated on any committees. The congressman said being in the minority party in the House, it would be difficult to pass his bills through the committees. He said he had already planned to focus on working with the executive branch and President Trump to pass legislation.
Throughout the town hall, some residents stood up to share that they support the embattled congressman.
“As I came up today, I thought, it must be difficult to come with the difficulties you’ve been through to come back and face your constituents, and I was wrong,” said resident Pamela Harmon. “You’re proud, you’re talented and we’re proud of you.”
“We just want you to know that we support you and we love your conservatism and we pray that they never silence you,” said Lori Scroggin of Hartley.
In an interview after the town hall, Scroggin said she believes what King said about the New York Times quote being mischaracterized. She asked, “why would they try to silence him?”
“Why would they try to make him out to look like a neo-Nazi when we know he’s the furthest thing from that?” Scroggin said.
Though a couple of Republicans have already set up federal campaign committees to challenge King for his seat in 2020, Scroggin said she’ll still support King if he seeks a 10th term.
“My hope would be that we not go down without a fight,” Scroggin said.
Kelly O’Brien, the chairman of the O’Brien County Republican Party has known King for 30 years. When asked if King could ever go too far to a point where O’Brien would not support him, he said, “If he really was a racist, I wouldn’t support him. But he’s not. I know he’s not.”
“I’ve known him for 30 years,” O’Brien said. “I know he’s not like that.”
Though there were a lot of supporters at the town hall, some constituents who voted for King in recent elections said they no longer will. Jay Hofland of Sanborn said he plans to support state Sen. Randy Feenstra, who has set up a federal campaign committee to seek the Republican nomination for King’s seat in 2020.
“I have some real concerns on how well [King] is representing us,” Hofland said.
Kelly Nieuwenhuis from Primghar said he hasn’t supported King in the last five elections. He said “it’s not the first time” King has made a controversial statement.
“I can see how sometimes things are taken out of context,” Nieuwenhuis said. “…But it’s been constant going on for several years, the comments he’s made. And I don’t think he represents, at least he doesn’t represent me as a District 4 constituent in his comments.”
One instance Nieuwenhuis said stands out in his mind is in October when King came under fire for endorsing a white nationalist candidate in a mayor’s race in Canada.
King has a history of inflammatory remarks, according to a New York Times timeline. In 2017, he drew sharp criticism for a tweet supporting Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician who ran for prime minister in the Netherlands: “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies.” The chair of the Iowa GOP condemned King for his tweet. King defended that tweet saying it’s about how “we’re watching as Western civilization is shrinking…”
Earlier this month, King announced that he plans to hold 39 town halls from now through December across the 39-county 4th District. No protesters were seen before the O’Brien County town hall began. A note was posted on the door of the building that read “No signs allowed. Please return to your vehicle or leave at door.”