Congressman Steve King Rallies Conservative Ideas

Republican Congressman Steve King is known for his strong conservative stance on issues like the budget, immigration and abortion. The Tea Party-backed lawmaker from Iowa was one of a handful of Republicans to vote against a budget extension to avoid a government shutdown. And he's been an outspoken advocate of the campaign to defund President Obama's health care reform plan. Host Michel Martin speaks with Representative King about his position on a range of issues, from the national budget to gay marriage.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

On the program today, those controversial hearings on whether American Muslims are being radicalized are over for now. But the debate on whether Islamic law needs to be specifically outlawed in the U.S. goes on. More than a dozen states are considering such measures, and we will talk about that a little later in the program.

But we begin with our weekly political chat, and we have a newsmaker interview with a lawmaker who is in the thick of some of the most important debates on Capitol Hill, Congressman Steve King, Republican of Iowa.

He's represented Iowa's 5th District in Congress since 2003. He is the vice chair of the House Subcommittee on Immigration. He is the chair of the Conservative Opportunity Society. That's a conservative caucus on Capitol Hill. He's known for his strong conservative stance on issues like the budget, immigration and abortion.

Previously on this program, we heard from him about his efforts to stop drugs used in abortions from being prescribed by physicians over the phone, so-called telemed abortions. Most recently, he was one of only a handful of Republicans to vote against a bill supported by the House leadership to fund the government temporarily to avoid a government shutdown.

Welcome back to the program, Congressman, thanks so much for joining us once again.

Representative STEVE KING (Republican, Iowa): Well, thanks for having me back. I appreciate it.

MARTIN: I do want to just clarify because another Congressman King has been much in the news this week, Congressman Peter King of New York. You are not related. I just want to clarify that.

Rep. KING: There's a distinction between us. He often gets the blame for things I do. And this time not vice versa.

MARTIN: OK. So, let me just start with the budget because you were one of only six Republican representatives who voted against the bill that would have funded the government for two more weeks to allow further negotiations on a long-term budget plan and that avoided shutting down the government. Why?

Rep. KING: Because the House had for over - well, 90 hours of floor debate during an entire week, worked its will, as the speaker had asked the House to work its will on HR1, the continuing resolution. That's the House position. We sent it over to the Senate. Harry Reid refused to consider it, nor to provide a counter-offer.

So, our House leadership put together a two-week CR that eliminated all the work product of the House of Representatives, the will of the House, so to speak. And in order to, as they said, grant the leadership time to negotiate. I believe that they had had time to negotiate. They saw what was coming. We had two weeks from the time my amendment was filed to shut off all funding to ObamaCare.

I've been denied an opportunity to receive a vote on the legislation that would have cut off all the automatic funding in ObamaCare, 105 and a half billion. And so I see this as kicking the can down the road. We're going to have a confrontation at some point. And if we're not willing to challenge the president, the president will get exactly everything that he's willing to fight for.

MARTIN: Just to clarify, you've asked your party to attach a measure cutting $100 billion out of the health care overhaul which you call - many Republicans call ObamaCare. Is it worth it to shut down the government to force a vote on that particular issue?

Rep. KING: You know, that's the question that the president would have to answer. And, you know, from my standpoint, it's this, that the House has put the money out on the table to keep all of the government functioning. And if we say, here it is, operate this government.

But, Mr. President, if your unconstitutional legislation that has been rejected by the American people in the numbers of 87 new freshmen Republicans here in the House of Representatives and a number of new freshmen senators, every Republican in the House and Senate has voted to repeal ObamaCare. Two federal courts have found it unconstitutional. And so, this is not a hard moral decision.

The president would find himself in a position of having to defend ObamaCare and arguing that all of the functions of government are not worth as much as the implementation of his unconstitutional legislation. That's his decision. I want to offer that decision to him, let him make it. If he shuts the government down, the American people will know why.

MARTIN: In the past, though, when these government shutdown - well, the most recent experience that many people will remember, during the Clinton administration when the government shut down over the failure to reach agreement on the budget. The Republican Party did not fare well in the aftermath, in public opinion. They were viewed as obstructionist, intransigent and so on and so forth. So, why do you think that wouldn't happen again?

Rep. KING: Well, I've been accused of all those things in every year of my political life for one thing. But here's - my point is this, that by now I do have some background and experience and judgment on these things and political science being one of them. I argue that political science is not a science. It's certainly not an exact science. It might be a soft science, according to some.

But one data point on the continuum of history, the government shutdown in 1995, does not an axiom make. It was an entirely different subject. It was a different cast of people that were involved, a different president, different leaders, different members of Congress in the House and Senate. This is an issue of principle. It's an issue of principle on the Constitution, on an unsustainable policy that's been offered. And I believe that the result is the exact opposite if this House takes this stand.

And that is why I and Michele Bachmann have offered a letter that's posted on our websites that we have signed that says we will vote no on any continuing resolution that does not shut off the funding to ObamaCare. And we've asked our colleagues to go on our website, sign the letter and let their constituents know that they stand with us. If we get enough people on this letter, we will be able to unfund ObamaCare.

And then there'd be the insurance companies in America, the health care providers, those that are out there with their professions, hanging in limbo, who will be able to make decisions on their future and they'll have a confidence that this ObamaCare issue will one day be ended.

MARTIN: One more question on the budget before we move on to other topics. There are those who argue that shutting the government down even temporarily is just a wrong move economically when the recovery is as fragile as it is, just taking that kind of money out of the economy, even for reasons of principle, as you say, at a time when gas prices are rising, at a time when the unemployment rate is still, you know, very high. Many people argue just on economic grounds, it's just a poor decision at this fragile time. What do you say to that?

Rep. KING: Well, I'm not advocating that we willfully shut down the government. I'm advocating that we shut off the funding to ObamaCare. And I think the House has spoken strongly. I did vote no on that CR for the reasons that I said. But, you know, the significant majority of the House, including some number near 100 Democrats, voted to extend the funding. That statement's been made. The Congress does not want to shut down the government. If that happens, that will be the president's decision.

And, by the way, Harry Reid is at this point, he's a negotiating surrogate for the president. So when he speaks, we should understand it's the voice of the president speaking through him on these issues. Yes, he has latitude within his influence as a majority leader in the United States Senate. But it'll be the president that will make this decision.

If the government is shut down, it will be the president that does so. And if we're not willing to challenge the president over these important issues, again, he will get exactly everything that he's willing to fight for.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. And I'm speaking with Iowa Congressman Steve King. He's a Republican. He represents the 5th district of Iowa.

Congressman, before we leave the budget, I do feel that I need to ask you about this whole situation at NPR. It just seems appropriate to me because defunding NPR is one of the issues that is being debated on Capitol Hill. I just wanted to ask your opinion about that.

Rep. KING: Well, I thought you might ask that question. I didn't necessarily prepare an answer, but I will tell you that I saw the film last week. And I did not see the full two hours. It may or may not be out there now. And so, what I said to them was I will not be commenting on this tape until I see it within the full context.

MARTIN: Just to clarify for people who aren't aware what we're talking about, the former vice president for development, Ron Schiller, was captured on tape by a conservative filmmaker and activist who captured him making some, what all of us here, I think, believe are completely bigoted and unprofessional remarks about - but as we said that Mr. Schiller had resigned and in fact had planned to do so even before this meeting. But that's what people are talking about and he was captured on tape. That tape is on our website if people want to see it.

Sir, go ahead.

Rep. KING: Yes. OK. And, you know, as I look at that, there's - I would put that tape in a similar category to the tapes that we saw of ACORN, the tapes we saw of Planned Parenthood in that it appears to reflect the culture of what's going on within the management.

And so, that, I think, casts a pall over congressional funding for NPR. And at this point, you know, I would - and it started with the Juan Williams firing and now we saw - we've seen Vivian Schiller step down.

I think that it's going to be hard to see federal funding come NPR's way under these circumstances, especially these budget circumstances. If we were flush with cash, it'd be a different argument. But right now, there's two things working against it and there's a pattern of ACORN and Planned Parenthood that this seems to fit into so...

MARTIN: And, hello? Congressman King?

Rep. KING: Yes.

MARTIN: Oh, I'm sorry, there was just a - there was a hit there. I thought that the line had been dropped.

Rep. KING: OK.

MARTIN: One more question on that point. That the argument is made, and if I could just assert that I have no opinion on this. This is not my job. I just felt that it was appropriate to offer you the opportunity to comment if you chose to, because this is an issue that was in the news this week - is that most of the funding, the vast majority goes to rural stations and western stations in many of these markets who do not have the capacity to raise the money to run these stations themselves. That's the only local programming many of these stations get.

I mean, a tiny fraction of the funding actually makes its way to NPR. The vast majority goes to stations. And the stations who are the most reliant on that federal funding are rural areas, where there is not - the infrastructure doesn't exist for news in any other way and I just wanted to ask if you were aware of that and what your perspective on that is.

Rep. KING: Well, I would say, Michel, that I will hear from those stations and we've got a little time to turn our ear to that before the, you know, the regular appropriations move along here. Although there's language in the CR, but I don't think that'll be included in what they offer - that'll come about today. We'll hear from that.

And the question that I'll be asking is which Schiller is right? Ron, who said that NPR didn't need the money or Vivian who also stepped down, who had a press conference the day before that said NPR does need the money. And that's the question that this Congress will be listening to and listening to the answer to.

And right now, it's going to be hard for me to vote to fund NPR from what I've seen. And because of that and because of the budget, and I think there'll be many members of Congress that will take that same position.

MARTIN: Finally, we only have a minute left, I did want to ask whether you feel that - you've been working on these issues for some time. I know you have very strongly, particularly about defunding the health care overhaul and other matters. Do you feel that you're making headway in having your point of view be heard and understood, and that making some headway in these policy initiatives that you've been working on?

Rep. KING: Well, yes, certainly, but not with the magnitude that I had anticipated or hoped. In that I laid out this strategy almost a year ago when I introduced the legislation to repeal ObamaCare. And I said, we'll file the legislation, we'll get as many signatures as possible, we'll do a discharge petition, we'll win a majority. When we do that, we'll pass the repeal of ObamaCare. We've done all of that.

Now it comes time to defund ObamaCare, and I'm not seeing the resolve within this House of Representatives to do that to the level that I think. It should have been automatic. We shouldn't have to have this discussion. We are - and I'll keep pushing because I believe in it strongly - that the arc of history is turned if we don't repeal ObamaCare.

MARTIN: All right. Steve King is a Republican congressman from Iowa. He represents the 5th District. He was kind enough to join us once again from the studios at the House of Representatives. Thank you so much for joining us.

Rep. KING: Thank you very much.

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