On Saturday morning, Sen. Joni Ernst’s official Twitter account posted two tweets addressing the New York Times profile of fellow Iowa Republican Steve King published Jan. 10, which featured the congressman asking, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”
I condemn Rep. Steve King’s comments on white supremacy; they are offensive and racist – and not representative of our state of Iowa. We are a great nation and this divisiveness is hurting everyone. We cannot continue down this path if we want to continue to be a great nation.
— Joni Ernst (@SenJoniErnst) January 12, 2019
And three minutes later, in case anyone was confused as to which white supremacist remarks by King the previous tweet was referring to:
I condemn Rep. Steve King’s comments on white supremacy; they are offensive and racist – and not representative of our state of Iowa. https://t.co/lJDBCc7NXK
— Joni Ernst (@SenJoniErnst) January 12, 2019
Others on Twitter were quick to point out Ernst’s page says, “Tweets from Joni are signed JKE.” Neither tweet was signed JKE, meaning they were written by an Ernst staffer and not the senator herself, although Ernst presumably approved them.
The Times profile was not the first instance of King expressing surprise at the proposition that “white nationalist” is considered a negative term, as WHO-TV anchor Dave Price observed in a recent tweet. During an interview on WHO-TV’s The Insiders, broadcast on Oct. 21, King was asked “What is a white nationalist?”
Video: Iowa's Steve King said white nationalist is "derogatory." But adds, "I wouldn't have thought so a year or 2 or 3 years ago." (From Insiders. Full video https://t.co/xahHJ5c63K pic.twitter.com/YJmumfB6sI
— Dave Price (@idaveprice) October 30, 2018
King began his reply, “Well, I’m not sure of that. First of all, I think you have to be white.” He concluded, “[White nationalist] is a derogatory term today. I wouldn’t have thought so, maybe a year or two or three ago. Today they use it in a derogatory term [sic], and they imply, it implies that you’re a racist.”
Four days after that interview aired, the Washington Post published a story on a meeting King had in August with members of a far-right, white nationalist Austrian political party founded by a former Nazi SS officer, whose members embrace conspiracy theories very similar to the one the Tree of Life synagogue shooter believed. It wasn’t the first time King had met with members of the Freedom Party, but this meeting occurred during a trip to Europe sponsored by a Holocaust memorial group.
During his visit to Austria, King gave an extensive interview to a site associated with the Freedom Party, in which he fully embraced an anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic conspiracy theory promoted by the party.
On Oct. 30, the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee announced that in response to King’s statements, the committee was withdrawing its support for his reelection.
Ernst, who endorsed King for reelection in 2018, continued to stand by King. She stood next to King, literally, on the day before the November general election, when Ernst and King were featured speakers at a get-out-the-vote rally for Republican candidates at the Sioux Gateway Airport in Sioux City.
Ernst called it “an honor and privilege” to introduce King, when it was his turn to speak. She smiled broadly as King recounted meeting Ernst for the first time, when she was deployed in Kuwait with the Iowa National Guard in 2003.
“We’ve been together almost every step of the way” since then, King told the crowd.
Ernst has cautiously sought to separate herself from King since his election victory last year. Following State Sen. Randy Feenstra’s announcement on Jan. 9 that he will challenge King in the 2020 Republican primary, Ernst said she would remain neutral in the primary. Ernst is also up for reelection in 2020.
On Jan. 10, the former mayor of Irwin, Iowa, Bret Richards, announced his intention to run against King in the next Republican primary. “I know I won’t embarrass the state,” Richards told the Des Moines Register, when asked about King’s white nationalist rhetoric.
Update: On Monday evening, members of the Republican Steering Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously to strip Steve King of all committee assignments. King had been serving on several committees, including the Judiciary Committee and the Agriculture Committee.
King is the third Republican representative to be stripped of all committee assignments in the 116th Congress, which was sworn in early this month. The other two, Duncan Hunter of California and Chris Collins of New York, are both currently under indictment. King, on the other hand, was stripped of his assignments after Republicans decided within the last week that his long history of white nationalist rhetoric was unacceptable.
King tweeted Monday night that the committee’s action was an “Unprecedented Assault on my Freedom of Speech.” He also posted a photo of prepared remarks, which conclude, “I will continue to point out the truth and work with all the vigor that I have to represent 4th District Iowans for at least the next two years.”