DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King has been stripped of his committee assignments in the House of Representatives. King is facing backlash for comments he made to The New York Times, questioning why the terms white nationalist and white supremacist are offensive. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced the decision to strip all of King's committee assignments after a meeting of the House GOP Steering Committee last night. McCarthy called King's comments reckless and wrong. Let's bring in Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters from Des Moines. He has covered Congressman King's career for a good number of years.
Hi there, Clay.
CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So you've been tracking comments like this for a long time, right? This is certainly not a first for this congressman.
MASTERS: No, it's not a first. And covering the congressman over the years, he has a history of saying offensive things. And I mean, there's a running list that we could go through, all the different times where he has said something. And then top Republicans in the state, from the governor, to the state party chair, to U.S. senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, then regularly call out these remarks, say it does not represent their values. But that's kind of where it stops. But now it's a new Congress. And it's getting much more mainstream attention, I think, largely because the comments were published in The New York Times. We have Republican Senator Mitt Romney, the one-time Republican presidential candidate, even calling on King to step down.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MITT ROMNEY: He's got to resign and move on and let someone else who represents American values take his seat.
GREENE: OK. So you have someone at Romney's level actually calling for him to step down, even more action than was taken. But these committee assignments have been stripped. Is that a big deal in itself?
MASTERS: Well, Congressman King was on the Agriculture Committee, which is a big industry in Iowa. He was also on the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over immigration, voting rights, impeachment, these kinds of things. And, you know, now he has to go back to Iowa as he will start campaigning for 2020 and make the case that people should send him back to Washington. And without committees, that could be a hard sell.
GREENE: Now, the congressman has been making the argument - right, Clay? - that this was all taken out of context. What exactly is he trying to say as he explains all this?
MASTERS: He's trying to say that the comments were mischaracterized, that it was not a full quote. And in his statement after this came out and there was all this controversy surrounding it, he said he will continue to point out what he calls the truth and work with all the vigor that he has to represent his district for at least the next two years. And I should point out, too, that he is facing - already, last week - a primary challenge in 2020 against a powerful, well-known state senator from that part of the state, Randy Feenstra. And he also has had Governor Kim Reynolds, the Republican who did better than him in his district in 2018, saying that she will remain neutral in the primary election.
GREENE: So what does this story feel like in Iowa, in his home state, Clay? What are people making of these comments and what it means for him?
MASTERS: Congressman Steve King is a very divisive person in the state. I think he's largely seen by many of his voters and those that send him back to Washington time and time again as an anti-establishment Congressman. And I think that he could spin this as, hey, the elites aren't giving me a seat at the table, which potentially could work in his favor in this district that heavily went for Donald Trump. And I should point out, too, that Congressman Steve King is now the only member of Iowa's House Congressional Delegation that is a Republican. And last year, King narrowly defeated his Democratic challenger, who was a political newcomer by the name of J.D. Scholton.
And King has also announced that he plans - at the beginning of this year, he said that he's going to hold 39 town hall meetings between now and the end of the year. So there will be plenty of time for - if he holds true to this - for people to voice their concerns. And he will just continue to be this divisive person within the state of Iowa.
GREENE: Wow. And I don't want to put you in the position of making predictions. But you're saying it's not out of the realm of possibility that the idea that he is embattled could actually help him with his base in this district.
MASTERS: Yep, that's exactly what I'm saying. I think that that could work in his favor. But there is going to be a lot of attention from different Republicans to try to get him out of this seat, I think. So like all election stories, we're just going to have to watch and see how it plays out.
GREENE: All right. We'll look forward to all your reporting as we follow him along on his journey. Clay Masters of Iowa Public Radio, thanks so much.
MASTERS: Thanks, David.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.