House Democrats are preparing to formally rebuke Rep. Steve King over his recent racist comments, but some Democrats are pushing for a more high-profile punishment of censure for the Iowa Republican.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, is pushing a resolution of disapproval against King that includes a broader denunciation of white supremacist and white nationalist movements.
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Clyburn’s motion will be voted on Tuesday afternoon, a day after Republican leaders voted to strip King of all his committee seats. GOP leaders have signaled they will vote for the measure, and some — like House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (Wyo.) — would like to see King retire.
“I am hopeful that we can make it unanimous,” Clyburn said in an interview. “It’s worded in such a way that Mr. King can vote for it, and step back from what he’s said. He may not like it, in that we [use] his name in it. But if he is who he says he is, he’ll vote for it.”
Clyburn said he wasn’t calling on King to step down from Congress, but he clearly hoped the Iowa Republican will give up his seat soon. King was first elected to the House in 2002 and narrowly beat out Democrat J.D. Scholten in 2018.
“I’m not calling for him to do anything,” Clyburn added. “I call for him to display a little introspection here and decide whether or not he is good for this country. That is, if he is the patriot that he says he is. And if he is, I think that he will spare his Republican colleagues the pain of his continued presence in this body.”
King on Monday night said in a statement that he wouldn’t step down even after losing his committee posts.
But some Democrats — including Reps. Bobby Rush (Ill.) and Tim Ryan (Ohio) — don’t think the Clyburn resolution goes far enough. They want a censure vote on King — where the Iowa Republican would have to stand in the well of the House while his colleagues condemn him — and are pushing privileged resolutions to force that vote later this week.
Rush, in fact, will oppose the Clyburn motion, arguing it doesn’t go far enough in condemning King’s history of racist remarks going back more than a decade.
“While I strongly condemn white supremacy and white nationalism, my position remains unchanged. Anything short of censure is shallow,” Rush said in a statement. “Steve King has made a career of making racist statements. That is the only thing he is known for and this pattern of rabid racism must be confronted head on by the House of Representatives.”
Rush also cited the House’s censure of Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) in 2010 as a reason for doing the same to King. Rangel was censured after a lengthy ethics probe found him guilty of violating House rules.
For his part, Clyburn said he is not opposed to censure — he will vote for it, in fact — but believes a resolution of disapproval “will get the biggest bipartisan vote.” It was the same procedure used to punish GOP Rep. Joe Wilson (S.C.) after he yelled at former President Barack Obama during the 2009 State of the Union address.
Inside the House Democratic Caucus meeting on Tuesday, Clyburn argued to members that the disapproval resolution would garner more bipartisan support than the censure resolution and thus send a stronger message, according to lawmakers who attended the session.
“The aim is to get near-unanimous support,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “[Clyburn] thinks the motion for disapproval will get probably 430 votes and make a more resounding statement.”
Butterfield, however, said he would vote to censure King “in a heartbeat” if it came up for a floor vote.
“[Clyburn] did not discourage Mr. Ryan or Mr. Rush from pursuing their resolutions,” Butterfield said. “But he reminded them that there is a 48-hour requirement that has to be observed. And Mr. Clyburn’s resolution meets the 48-hour requirement.”
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), a CBC member, expressed reservations about censuring King, warning it could be a slippery slope.
“I favor Jim Clyburn’s motion with more fervor because of the issue of free speech and the First Amendment,” Johnson said. “Even though someone may say something that is offensive, I believe they have that right. And they should retain that right as a member of Congress.”
“But members of Congress have a special responsibility to be magnanimous in their thinking, especially when they sit on these committees that deal with all of America, not just white America,” Johnson added.