WASHINGTON ― Two months after Congressman Steve King of Iowa was roundly condemned by other Republicans, President Donald Trump has offered not a single word of criticism of the white nationalist ― even as he hammers Democrats for not more aggressively denouncing one of their members.
King, meanwhile, has taken to talking up his relationship with the White House and with Trump personally.
“I do have a good relationship with the president,” he told a Rock Rapids, Iowa, town hall audience on Feb. 18. “Things get done when we talk. And he assigns things to the people around him to work with me.”
Three days later, he took credit for Trump’s declaration of a “national emergency” to build his border wall by telling an Iowa radio host that he had been advising Trump to declare one for months. And last week he told a different talk radio host that having lost his committee assignments has given him more time to meet with constituents. “Working with the executive branch and the White House is better, also,” he said, calling his banishment a “political lynching” orchestrated by “never-Trumpers” and “globalists.”
King’s office did not respond to HuffPost requests for comment. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders similarly did not respond to queries about King’s claims of access and influence, or whether Trump personally has ever criticized King for his views. On Monday, she said during a press briefing: “I speak on behalf of the president on a number of topics, and I have talked about that a number of times. And I’d refer you back to those comments where I used words like ‘abhorrent’ and ‘unacceptable.’”
John Weaver, a Republican consultant and aide to former Ohio governor and possible Trump primary challenger John Kasich, said there was no reason to doubt King’s claims.
“Steve King is a racist, but I don’t know him to be a liar,” he said. “For a member of the minority party in the House of Representatives, he probably has more power than any of the others, because he can call up his kindred spirits in the White House.”
King represents rural, northwest Iowa, and has a long history of language and remarks degrading Latinos and other minorities, documented at length by HuffPost and others. He claimed that large numbers of young illegal immigrants were actually drug smugglers. For years he kept a small Confederate flag on his desk in the Capitol, even though Iowa remained loyal to the Union in the Civil War.
But on Jan. 10, King’s statement to the New York Times (“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”) sparked backlash across the political spectrum and vocal denunciations by prominent Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The No. 3 Republican in the House, Wyoming’s Liz Cheney, began recruiting a GOP challenger to unseat him in 2020. “It’s racist, we do not support it or agree with it, and I think he should find another line of work,” Cheney told reporters.
Trump, though, did not criticize King. On Jan. 17, after the House had already passed a resolution condemning King’s remarks, Trump claimed he knew nothing about any of it.
“I don’t ― I haven’t been following it. I really haven’t been following it,” he told reporters.
The statement stretched credulity, given Trump’s habit of consuming hours of cable television news, which had featured King prominently for an entire week.
“The logical conclusion is that he’s not condemned him because he doesn’t disagree with anything King has said,” said GOP consultant Rick Tyler. “Sometimes it’s the obvious thing.”
The logical conclusion is that he’s not condemned him because he doesn’t disagree with anything King has said. Sometimes it’s the obvious thing.
Rick Tyler, Republican consultant
Trump was not always so shy about King. He repeatedly and vocally praised him before and after winning the White House, on Oct. 18, 2014, he called King a “special guy, a smart person, with really the right views on almost everything.” At a campaign rally on Oct. 9, Trump said of King: “He may be the world’s most conservative human being. And I supported him long before I became a politician.”
Trump also has not been shy about criticizing Democratic officials accused of bigotry. After Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota criticized Israel and suggested U.S. politicians supported it because of campaign contributions, Trump repeatedly denounced her and criticized other Democrats for not punishing her more severely.
“Congressman Omar is terrible, what she said. And I think she should either resign from Congress or she should certainly resign from the House Foreign Affairs Committee,” Trump said at a Cabinet meeting last week.