Representative Steve King

Feb 22, 2019  | 27 min  | Ep 4626 | Podcast | Transcript



Nearly two decades representing Western Iowans in the U.S. House of Representatives and Congressman Steve King is coming off his closest re-election yet amid new controversies. We sit down with Steve King on this edition of Iowa Press.


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For decades Iowa Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Now celebrating more than 40 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, February 22 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen.   


Yepsen: The past four months have been tumultuous ones for Iowa Congressman Steve King. A narrow three point victory in November was by far the closest general election of his nearly 20 years in the U.S. House. After Election Day, prominent Iowa republicans like Governor Kim Reynolds publicly issued demands that King change his public comments on issues like immigration. Then in January, some racially charged comments attributed to King in a New York Times interview set off a national firestorm leading to primary opponents for him in 2020 and a serious action by republican leaders in Washington when the Congressman was stripped of all of his committee assignments. To discuss recent events and his future, Congressman King joins us today at the Iowa Press table. Congressman, welcome back.

King: Thanks for having me back, Dave. I appreciate it.

Yepsen: Also joining the conversation are Iowa reporters Erin Murphy, he is the Des Moines Bureau Chief of Lee Enterprises and Kay Henderson is News Director for Radio Iowa.

Yepsen: Congressman, before we start, there are a lot of issues in Washington like trade and tariffs that we want to get to. But as I mentioned in the open there are a lot of controversies that have surrounded you here in the last few months. Are you sorry for anything that you've said?

King: I have nothing to apologize for, Dave. We know what the news media has done continually and the President has labeled the New York Times a dishonest entity. I think that has pretty well been held up, not only the New York Times, but a number of other places. So if I look back through this, each thing starts out with some formerly credible organization that launches this and then we have this phenomenon that America is not ready for and that is this cyber bullying that unleashes that is there and creating a firestorm. That is what has happened. If you would just hold these publications to what is true there is no story whatsoever. And there was no issue all the way up until October 24th. On October 25th the Washington Post published a story, the headline is false, the first paragraph is false, the story is false. But that built something that then Steve Stivers capitalized on in a way just a week before the election.

Yepsen: He is the head of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee.

King: The former Chairman of the NRCC, yes. And from that time forward things went the other way. But we were up, 13 days before the election we were up 18 points. And, by the way, this phenomenon is not just exclusive to the fourth congressional district, there are multiple congressional seats across America that saw the same kind of drama take place, or similar drama I should actually say, and we lost 40 or 41 seats. There is a reason for that. A lot of this was a nearly perfect storm. Part of it was orchestrated, some of it was just I'll say would call it good luck on their side. By the time we got to January 10th, however, I had been warned that something, they were going to try another move, they tried another move and that came out of the New York Times.

Yepsen: What did you, what did the New York Times get wrong? What did you say? How are they wrong in what you said?

King: Well, I'd say, Dave, that this was a 56 minute interview. There is no tape. There is no transcript. Whatever he has for notes he won't release either and he will not say what the question was that he asked me that he quoted me responding to. But it's this, that I looked at that and I said, I don't think in those terms over those odious ideologies of white nationalism or white supremacy. But I had done an interview earlier that was published later with the Christian Science Monitor that described that these terms had been weaponized by the left. And I used the terms racist and Nazi and fascist and white nationalist. I didn't say the other word, the white supremacy one. That's all, that's a matter of record today. That story has been written, published January 15th. So I have made it a point that they weaponized the language. And then I said, western civilization. How did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classrooms learning about the merits of our civilization and then to follow the thought just to find out that now it would become a pejorative against us on today's world. That is the message that was there and so I look back and we went to LexisNexis, it took us about three weeks to get to these facts and it is this, in all of history LexisNexis shows that I have never said either one of those terms identified as the odious ideologies, never. But 276 times I've used the words western civilization. So if you want to score it on a matter of logic it's Steve King 276, New York Times zero and zero.

Yepsen: Kay?

Henderson: You got criticized by some quarters in October when you endorsed a candidate for Toronto Mayor who was a white nationalist. You went on an Iowa media show, Dave Price on WHO-TV asked you to define white nationalism on that videotape and I'm going to, when you were asked to define it you said, it is a derogatory term today. I wouldn't have thought so maybe a year or two or three ago. Let’s give you another run. What is white nationalism to you?

King: Well, white nationalism is a term that is used today and it really says racist. And I said that in that quote too. I said today is means racist. That is the part that is exactly behind your quote. And it meant a similar thing probably for a long time. But it has not been utilized in our language in any way except until the last one, two or three years. I checked that too, Kay. And tracing that back you can say this, from 2000 on up until 2016 the utilization of the term white nationalism is virtually zero until about 2016 when it shoots up 10,000 times and then 2017 to 30,000 times. And so what I'm referring to is the weaponization of those terms again. And I've said it multiple times, there's no part of me that believes in anything that is advocated by folks that identify themselves as white nationalists or white supremacy. And the Toronto Mayor, been described as a white nationalist, so has the President by the Des Moines Register. And so if we're going to run away from anybody that has ever been labeled by somebody on the left we can't talk to each other at all.

Henderson: One thing I hear from Iowans and even some of your republican counterparts is they see a conflict by a guy who swears, takes an oath of office to Congress on the Bible that your relative carried in the Civil War fighting for the Union, yet you had a Confederate flag on your desk in Congress. Why?

King: Well, I appreciate having a chance to describe that. About two and a half years ago or so we've had for years we've had open rules on appropriations bills. That lets any member come down to the floor of the House and introduce an amendment, force a debate and a vote on those issues. I've actually passed more amendments than anybody else in the United States Congress according to my staff's analysis. And that is a freedom of speech issue. That summer the democrats brought amendments that were taking Confederate flags down, even if they happened to be part of a state flag, and there is a Supreme Court decision that says that we have to watch people burn the American flag as a matter of freedom of speech. No one else would defend the idea of freedom of speech. I saw that on C-SPAN what was going on, on the floor, I immediately interrupted my meeting, I ran down to the floor and I gave about a five minute speech on freedom of speech and respecting history. And so I'm the only one that took the opposite position. The rest of them curled up, they were afraid of it. And I went back to my office and I said, go find me a little Confederate flag, I'm going to stick it there with the rest of them, that is going to be my symbol for freedom of speech. It stayed there for a few weeks, I took it down, it's not there, it has not been there since. But I am descended from abolitionists. My great-great-grandfather, five times great, gave his life to put an end to slavery. I understand all of this. Abraham Lincoln is about, his life was about saving the Union. I'm about the Union, I'm about the Constitution, I'm about the Bill of Rights. But that's what that was about and too many people don't have enough courage to even submit themselves into the debate let alone take a stand. One tiny little flag there for a few weeks to make a point.

Yepsen: Erin?

Murphy: Congressman, one of the things that David mentioned early on is part of the fallout from this has been the removal of your committee assignments. And for viewers who might not be familiar with the process that is one particularly effective way that a Congressman can have an influence in legislation. You are in the minority party now on top of it. You have no committee assignments at the current time. I know you're working to get those back. In the meantime, is there any way for you to be an effective Congressman for the fourth district?

King: Yeah, actually in anticipation of this, and it has been brought up in the past also, Erin, I took a look back through the things that we've gotten done was it because I was on a committee or was it because I was in the right place at the right time with the right ideas? And if there is ever going to be a time not to have committee assignments this time with Nancy Pelosi as the Speaker of the House is that time. There is no republican legislation that is going to come through any committees, any committees that I was sitting on at least, and so the loss of leverage is, you can't measure it, it's so small from that standpoint. But it's a political talking point for my political opposition and they will use it over and over again. But that doesn't mean that I don't think committees are valuable. They are. They need to be more valuable than they have been recently. And we have seen leadership pull power up to themselves and take it away from the committee chairs, from the committees. They write bills in the Speaker's office or in the leader's office and then they shove them over to the rules committee, take them directly to the floor. That is what has been going on. I want a system that actually brings it from bottom up not top down. That is how that thing looks to me.

Yepsen: Just to put a finer point on it, do you expect to get those assignments back eventually?

King: I'm reluctant to make a prediction, Dave, because I don't want to change the dynamics. But I have to build a critical mass within the Republican Conference. I've got to build a media support. I've got to have constituents that will be part of this as well. And once they understand the truth, to penetrate the truth in that this is a misquote in the New York Times and a rational person cannot look at that and conclude otherwise and so that means that reasonable and rational people have to go back and reconsider this. I just need to have a critical mass before they'll push it. And you know how it works when you get egos attached to the issues, they've got to be separated otherwise you can't get to the issue.

Yepsen: One of the reasons this is a problem for you is that Trip Gabriel, the New York Times reporter who misquoted you, he's known as a pretty good reporter. You obviously feel you had a different experience with him. But that is one of the reasons why this has had such momentum behind it.

King: Well, I wish somebody would ask him to produce a tape or produce a transcript or at least tell us what question he asked. I think I know the question and I don't want to speak it here because I could well be wrong. But also, Brit Hume looked at this and said, it's clear that Steve King is talking about western civilization only. His critical eye went into that. Mark Steyn did the same thing and delivered about a ten or fifteen minute monologue on this topic. He can say that he is a respected reporter and I think he's a personable fella, that's probably part of the reason why we had a 56 minute conversation.

Murphy: Congressman, you mentioned the other article that built into this, the Washington Post story, on a trip that you made to talk with some leaders in Austria. Maybe backing out more broadly from that and not getting into that meeting itself, and some of your critics have noted the amount of travel you take overseas and some of the issues that you take up that maybe aren't directly beneficial to the fourth district. I wanted to give you an opportunity to address that. How is that trip that you made there and that discussion that you had with those leaders and some of the other trips that you've made, how are they beneficial to the fourth district?

King: I can give you an example. I've made six trips into Egypt and each time I met with now President el-Sisi. I met him when he was the Minister of Defense and I kept going back. As long as he kept his promises my promise was to come back and shake his hand and thank him. I just had him come to me a couple of days ago and say that, let's see, and say that there is a church in Egypt that has been rebuilt by the Army and they couldn't believe that it was done and they posted a soldier out front to guard that church. That was part of my work in the constitutional effort with Chairman Mussa to write a constitution that the Egyptian constitution would protect freedom of religion and it would restore and rebuild the churches that were destroyed. That's an example. Another one would be Taiwan. I made two trips to Taiwan, built personal relationships both with President Ma and President Tsai. I've sent six of my staff people there, one at a time, all of that by the way wasn't any taxpayer’s expense. And we end up with a big grain deal here in Iowa. I'm not exclusively responsible for that but I certainly helped it along. And so that's some examples promoting trade. And you never know what you can capitalize on. I have another grain deal that is bigger than the Taiwan thing that will be exclusively me if we get to the point where I can announce it.

Yepsen: We've got way too many questions and not enough time. Kay?

Henderson: Are you running in 2020?

King: I am running in 2020.

Henderson: What will be your message to voters who might support one of your primary opponents who have criticized you for comments and for your actions in Congress?

King: First, I would say to them don't let the leaders in this country, the power brokers in this country, tell you who is going to represent you in the United States Congress. That is the central message. Second one is this, republicans out there don't take issue with any of my votes or any of my positions on these issues. I don't see my political opponents that are coming and saying I would have voted differently or I would have taken a different position. And so when you have somebody that represents the platform, that is a fire for our American and our Iowa values, somebody that has been able to inject a lot of these values into the presidential race and when I walk into the Oval Office today and I look around and I think, my gosh, we got our Iowa values here in this Oval Office embodied within President Donald Trump. They'll think about all of that and I think they'll want to support the President and they'll want to support me.

Murphy: Should there be any concern among those republican primary voters that you could be a drag on the republican ticket? In this past election you only won, as David noted, by three percent, which is far closer. You had far fewer republican votes than other republican candidates in the fourth district. Senator Ernst will be up in a statewide race in 2020. Should republican primary voters be worried about that?

King: Well, I think that number is 3.7%. I know that we won with a larger margin than Governor Reynolds did in her statewide race. And I asked some people up there just the other day, what kind of negative ads did they run, did Fred Hubbell run against Kim Reynolds in Northwest Iowa? Some of them said none. We faced all of the ordinance that they could throw against us. We were outspent 14 to 1 head to head. We were outspent 75 to 1 in independent expenditures. And they bought everything on the Internet they could possibly be. They had a nearly perfect storm and still we came out of there with the 3.7% victory. So I don't think it's a drag on the ticket either or you would have seen that happen. We don't have all the numbers in from the Secretary of State and I don't have them analyzed I should say but that would be my answer. No sign of it in the last election, why would you think that there would be one in the future election? Donald Trump will be on the ballot. He and I are four square on the same agenda here. I'm the guy that actually created the immigration policy that helped launch him into the presidency and I support him on the wall and every other piece of his agenda.

Yepsen: Congressman, you anticipated my next question about immigration. The President talks about a lot of the, makes the allegation that many people who are here illegally have committed a lot of crime. Some people believe he got that information from you. And I've heard you talk about that issue. Fact checkers and all kinds of experts are saying that is just not true, they don't commit any more crimes per capita than the native population. What do you say to that criticism?

King: Well, Dave, I probably should have come here armed with the other data out there. But there's data, Arizona passed legislation to require their record keeping on crimes committed by illegal aliens in Arizona. That data down there actually says the opposite. And then Texas also has been very clear, it has come out here within the last month or so that they have identified at least 3,000 that were murdered by illegal aliens in Texas along over a period of years that goes back I think five or seven years all together. But we should just think of this, to think that crime is committed less by immigrants, first you have to separate illegal aliens from legal immigrants. Legal immigrants, I've long been an advocate for legal immigrants. They're here on more or less on probation. If they have a green card they'll lose that if they commit a crime. So I believe people with a green card commit fewer crimes than American citizens do, natural born American citizens because they're on probation.  But not so for illegals. And, by the way, nine out of the ten most violent countries in the world are south of our southern border and one of them is not Mexico.

Henderson: You have been the leading critic on the House side against what you call amnesty. This week at the Statehouse there was a vice president from an Iowa construction firm who told legislators considering requiring the e-verify system for all new hires that his company does that, but he's looking for non-U.S. citizens because of their work ethic. What do you say to businesses in your district that want new workers, that they can't expand because basically we're at full employment here in Iowa and the population needs to grow?

King: Well, I have actually two pretty big answers for that. About a year ago now we did a study, it took a long time to pull it together but it's all out of federal data, their published data. And so I asked these questions what are Americans doing? First one is how many? The estimate was 326 million Americans, about 7 million of them on unemployment, 46 million are simply not in the workforce and they're still working age and then you can go on with some other categories from which you can hire some but none from which you can hire all. And we came up with 107 million Americans that are in categories from which we could hire some. And so they are out there. Americans are, but they're not in the right place and they don't have the right skills. That's one thing. Second is, if we really need this labor let's have this debate, if they're coming in on a temporary work status let's make sure that they are bonded. I had that conversation with the President and I informed him that he has the authority to require that these visas be bonded in every circumstance and he likes that idea and he has asked me to work with Stephen Miller on that topic.

Yepsen: Congressman, let's switch to some other issues here. Trade. You were on this program worried about an all-out trade war. Aren't we in an all-out trade war now?

King: Well, I envisioned something worse than today when I said that, Dave. I don't think we'll know until we look back on this and see what kind of agreements are resolved. But I'm not as optimistic about getting a ratification of our USMCA agreement as I expected when, essentially when we sign, when the President and the leaders of the three countries signed off on that. I think that is going to be drug out for a long ways. Nancy Pelosi has a record of doing that. Second is China and I'm very troubled about China. But the center of that has always been, as I've said, the Chinese piracy of U.S. intellectual property to the tune of $500 to $600 billion a year. We cannot tolerate that. It's got to be fixed. And we've been distracted with this wall situation on the southern border. I hope this can be resolved and we can really turn our attention to the trade.

Henderson: Soybean farmers really hurting, the dairy industry really in dire straits. Is there something Congress can do other than just wait for the Trump administration to resolve the trade issues?

King: Well, in the soybeans as you know we provided $1.65 a bushel last year's crop and most of that has been made available. I know there's another tranche that is perhaps not on its way yet. But when I look at the markets today we're crawling up there towards $4 corn and we're well into, we're into, I shouldn't say well into, $9 beans. And so those are the numbers, $4 corn and $9 beans, that keep most of our producers whole. So let's push the trade on those issues and I want the Chinese thing done but I don't want to weaken the President's hand by undercutting him. And so those kind of conversations I'm having I'm doing in private rather than through the press.

Murphy: Congressman, the President has declared a national emergency in order to get some funding for the wall. If this is indeed a national emergency at the southern border why was this not handled sooner in the administration? Why was this not handled in January of 2017?

King: Well, I just have to tell you what I think about this all along. I went into Paul Ryan's office on December of 2016, President-elect Trump was in the wings. One-on-one meeting, Paul Ryan and I, Speaker Ryan, and my purpose was to find out his commitment to funding the wall. It was a mandate for President Trump. And at the end of that meeting his final words were, when I wanted clarification he said, I believe that the President needs the resources necessary to secure the border. In the context of that conversation that meant the wall. But what it turned into was a slow walk through two years. We let the President down. I say that Republican Party, republican leadership let the President down. I told the President early September, let's have the showdown September 30th and if it's a government shutdown then let the voters decide in November. But he was promised that he would get the funding for the wall by republican leadership, the funding for the wall by December 7th. That didn't happen obviously and now this is the last chance.

Murphy: Is the national emergency the way to go in your mind? In the past you expressed concerns with President Obama using his executive authority to get around Congress. Is this not President Trump using a national emergency declaration in the same way?

King: Well, President Obama created clearly unconstitutional programs that didn't exist before. And I would say DAPA and DACA are two of those. And in this case the President has been, every President has been granted the authority to declare an emergency for national security reasons since 1976 so that is from Jimmy Carter on. I don't know if he's the one that signed it or if it was a predecessor. So he has that constitutional authority according to statute. And one of the other questions that is raised is no funds shall be drawn from the Treasury unless they are first appropriated by Congress and that's a constitutional provision. But it's all about funds that have already been appropriated and this has been done about 38 other times by the counts that I'm getting from people.

Henderson: Congressman, half a minute left, why are you having town hall meetings? You went for quite some time without having them. Is that a signal of some sort?

King: I missed them, Kay. I just missed the town hall meetings. But I told people why. We had people showing up that were just using it as a forum for them to have a demonstration. But there has been a public call for town hall meetings so I decided all right, I'm listening, I hear you. We're going to do at least 39 with many other meetings along the way but we'll do one in every county before the end of the year. And they're going good so far and I'm enjoying them a great deal.

Yepsen: Congressman, thank you for being with us today, appreciate your time. We're out of time.

King: Thank you, David.

Yepsen: And thank you for joining us. We'll be taking a brief hiatus for the next two weeks to prepare for Iowa PBS's annual Festival programming. We're back on Friday, March 15th with more episodes of Iowa Press. For all of us here at Iowa PBS, I'm David Yepsen. Thanks for joining us today.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.

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