Doug Schoen: Steve King should be ostracized, not ousted

Rep. Steve King faces bipartisan backlash as Republicans and Democrats condemn his comments on white supremacy

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says there is no place in Congress or the country for an ideology of racial supremacy and that King’s statements are unworthy of his elected position.

This past weekend, in an interview with The New York Times, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, was quoted questioning why white supremacy is considered offensive.

Rep. King’s remarks are especially troubling, not only because Tuesday marks Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, but also because it demonstrates prejudice still exists in our politics.

Accordingly, I agree with the Republican leadership’s recent moves against King, particularly Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stripping King of his senior positions on prominent Congressional committees and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, among others, encouraging King to resign.


Tuesday afternoon, the House of Representatives voted 424-1 to admonish King.

On the question of whether King should be expelled, though, as some Democrats have called for, I find myself profoundly disquieted and concerned.

On one hand, I firmly believe that a congressmen with a long track record of expressing vulgarities and racist statements does not have a place in the House of Representatives.

On the other hand, I feel equally as strong that we should not go down the path of regulating speech.

Put another way, it is perfectly acceptable and right to make judgements about the abhorrent nature of statements made by members of Congress, and following up in the way that McCarthy did, by stripping that representative of valuable privileges. But taking legislative action would be a step too far.

At this time, King should, of course, be encouraged to resign in an effort to make it clear that his rhetoric has no place in our politics. My concern is that if we start regulating speech in his case, what other speech will then be regulated?

Make no mistake about it, I am not an apologist for Steve King.

When Sen. McConnell, R-Ky.,  said King should find “another line of work,” I completely agreed.

When House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said of King’s remarks: “That is not the party of Lincoln and it’s definitely not American,” I completely agreed.

I believe that if we give license here to regulate speech, we will open a Pandora’s box that allows all sorts of unpleasant, and indeed offensive, speech, to be used as a pretext to throw elected members out of office.

Further, when Senator Tim Scott, R-S.C., the only African-American Republican senator, said: “Some in our party wonder why Republicans are constantly accused of racism — it is because of our silence when things like this are said,” I completely agreed.

For the sake of our national discourse, it is reassuring that the recent Republican response to Steve King’s statements is already significantly better than it was to the events that transpired in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.

It seems that since that time, as well as since the House Republicans lost as many as 40 seats in predominantly suburban and ethnically diverse districts nationwide this past November, the party has begun re-evaluating its position and message on racially charged issues.

Indeed, this upcoming Monday, when we as a nation will celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s life and work, we must be reminded that there is still much more that needs to be done.

Beyond the statements made and actions taken by congressional Republicans, it is time for President Trump to speak out against Representative King as well. This is about more than electoral politics and deals directly with the values our country represents.

It is the right move for Republican leaders, from President Trump down, to isolate King, deny him the perks and privileges of his seniority, such as subcommittee leadership, and indeed strip him of all committee assignments.

The same process of condemnation is now being done by congressional Democrats. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., introduced a motion on Tuesday that denounces white supremacy and white nationalist movements, and hopes that it will pass unanimously with Steve King’s vote.

Other members of the Democratic party, such as Representatives Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, and Bobby Rush, D-Ill., who in fact voted against the admonishment, think Clyburn’s motion does not go far enough and hope to have a censure vote on Representative King.

There are Democrats, and even members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who are not on board with censuring King. One of those members happens to be Hank Johnson, D-Ga.


Johnson said: “I favor Jim Clyburn’s motion with more fervor because of the issue of free speech and the First Amendment. 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.”

It is important that Democrats take this opportunity to denounce, not oust, Representative King. It pains me to reach this conclusion because I would like him out of the House of Representatives tomorrow. But I believe that if we give license here to regulate speech, we will open a Pandora’s box that allows all sorts of unpleasant, and indeed offensive, speech, to be used as a pretext to throw elected members out of office. And I just can’t support that.


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