PRIMGHAR, Iowa (AP) — Constituents applauded Republican Rep. Steve King on Saturday at the Iowa congressman's first public event since being rebuked by his House colleagues over racist comments he had made to a newspaper earlier this month.
King told the roughly 75 people who showed up for the first of 39 planned town hall meetings in his sprawling district that he doesn't adhere to a white supremacist ideology and he repeated his assertion that he's not racist.
The nine-term House member caused an uproar after he was quoted in a New York Times story saying, "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?" King claimed his comments were taken out of context, but the House voted 424-1 to rebuke him, with King himself voting in favor of the resolution, and Republican leaders denied him any committee assignments.
Addressing what he called "the elephant in the room" in his opening remarks at Saturday's event, King expressed frustration that his comments about white nationalism and white supremacy in the Times interview led to even his fellow Republicans disowning him.
"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," King said. "And not one soul has stood up and said I've ever lied to you or misrepresented anything. Not one soul has stood up and said Steve King has ever acted in a racist fashion, that he ever discriminated against anybody."
King has long been known for making caustic comments, especially on issues related to race and immigration. Shortly before the November election, the Washington Post reported that King met in Austria with the far-right Freedom Party, which has Nazi ties. King said the meeting was with business leaders, including one person from the Freedom Party, but the Post stood by its story.
Although King's recent comments drew a relatively large media contingent to Saturday's meeting, none of the constituents who were on hand said anything critical about the controversy and a couple expressed their support, telling King they think he's doing a great job. In the few instances in which King's history of insensitive comments and his most recent statements arose, the audience seemed supportive, and they stood twice during the gathering to applaud him.
Pamela Harrman criticized what she called a "progressive movement to change our country" and said liberals can say anything while conservatives are demonized when they speak out.
Harrman said she supported King and shook her head at other Republicans "all bailing out on you."
Lori Scroggin added, "We support you and support your conservatism."
People mostly wanted to talk about the issues of governing, asking King about efforts to allow more corn-based biofuels in gasoline, economic development and changes that would allow people to temporarily enter the country legally to work on cattle operations. King didn't take questions from reporters.
Such town hall meetings have been unusual for King, who for years declined to hold them. He argued that he could meet with constituents more effectively by speaking with them privately rather than at public gatherings, which he claims would be dominated by opponents from outside the district.
However, after his narrow victory over Democrat J. D. Scholten, who for months traveled in a motor home throughout the district, King announced that he would hold town hall meetings in all of the district's 39 counties.
Only two months after King's narrow win, he drew a conservative and likely well-funded Republican primary challenger in state Sen. Randy Feenstra, an assistant Republican legislative leader known for pushing a large tax cut through the 2018 Legislature. Last week, Woodbury County supervisor Jeremy Taylor, a former state legislator, announced he'd also seek the 4th District GOP nomination. At least two others have said they are considering running in the Republican primary.
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