WASHINGTON — Iowa Republican congressman Steve King says he's not a racist, but he faced intensifying criticism Friday over his remarks about white supremacy, including from a black GOP senator who said such comments are a blight on the nation and the party.
For the second time in two days, King insisted that he is an advocate for "Western civilization," not white supremacy or white nationalism. But he didn't deny remarks published a day earlier in The New York Times in which he was quoted saying: "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?"
Within hours Thursday, the House's top three Republicans condemned his remarks, and on Friday, GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina published his disapproval in an op-ed column.
King, who has denied being racist, appeared on the House floor after most lawmakers had left town.
"One phrase in that long article has created an unnecessary controversy. That was my mistake," King told his colleagues. King said terms describing bigotry, such as racism, are unfairly applied to "otherwise innocent" people.
King, in his ninth House term, spoke as key members of his party publicly took issue with his remarks and as a Republican from back home lined up to challenge him in a GOP primary.
Scott, who is black, cast King's remarks and those like them as a blemish on the country and the Republican Party, which has long had a frosty relationship with black voters.
"When people with opinions similar to King's open their mouths, they damage not only the Republican Party and the conservative brand but also our nation as a whole," Scott wrote.
King's views, Scott added, are separate from the conservative movement and "should be ridiculed at every turn possible."
"Some in our party wonder why Republicans are constantly accused of racism — it is because of our silence when things like this are said," Scott wrote.
In fact, House Republican leaders swiftly condemned King's remarks as racist. And on Wednesday, King drew a 2020 primary challenger: Randy Feenstra, a GOP state senator.
Some Democrats have called for the House to condemn King's remarks or somehow punish him. Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged Friday there was "interest" in taking action — but no decision to do so, or how.
"We'll see what we do about Steve King," she told reporters. "Nothing is shocking anymore, right?"
King's position in the GOP had been imperiled even before this week.
In 2017, he tweeted: "We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies." Then he doubled down on CNN, telling the network, "I'd like to see an America that's just so homogeneous that we look a lot the same."
Shortly before the 2018 midterm elections, in which King was running, Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, then the head of the GOP campaign committee, issued an extraordinary public denunciation of him.
King on Friday suggested he's been misunderstood. He said the foundation of the Times interview was partly a Sept. 12 tweet in which he wrote: "'Nazi' is injected into Leftist talking points because the worn out & exhausted "racist" is over used & applied to everyone who lacks melanin & who fail to virtue signal at the requisite frequency & decibels. But...Nazis were socialists & Leftists are socialists."
On Friday, King said on the House floor that the interview "also was discussion of other terms that have been used, almost always unjustly labeling otherwise innocent people. The word racist, the word Nazi, the word fascist, the phrase white nationalists, the phrase white supremacists."
King said he was only wondering aloud: "How did that offensive language get injected into our political dialogue? Who does that, how does it get done, how do they get by with laying labels like this on people?"