Republican Rep. Steve King – who has long been a target for criticism because of his public comments on race and immigration – rejected Thursday being labeled a white nationalist, following bipartisan outrage for comments he made appearing to lament that white supremacist comments are considered offensive.
“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” the Iowa Republican told The New York Times in a story published Thursday. “Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”
Following the report’s publishing, King argued in statement posted on his Twitter account that he is “simply a Nationalist.” King stressed that he rejects “those labels” of white nationalism and supremacy “and the evil ideology that they define” and condemns “anyone that supports this evil and bigoted ideology.”
King did champion Western civilization, which he referenced in his initial comments to the Times.
“It’s true that like the Founding Fathers I am an advocate for Western Civilization’s values, and that I profoundly believe that America is the greatest tangible expression of these ideals the world has ever seen,” he said. “Under any fair political definition, I am simply a Nationalist.”
He later added, “This conviction does not make me a white nationalist or a white supremacist.”
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle blasted King for his remarks.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called King’s comments “reckless” and “wrong.”
“Everything about white supremacy and white nationalism goes against who we are as a nation. Steve’s language is reckless, wrong, and has no place in our society,” the California Republican said in a statement.
Asked to weigh in on King’s comments, House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Lousiana told reporters, “It’s offensive to try to legitimize those terms.” He added that he thought it “was important that (King) rejected that kind of evil” when the Iowa Republican put out a statement later on Twitter.
“These comments are abhorrent and racist and should have no place in our national discourse,” tweeted Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming who is also chairwoman of the House Republican Conference. CNN has reached out to King’s office for response to Cheney’s criticism.
Democrats also attacked or mocked King.
“Dear Steve King (@SteveKingIA): FYI this is one reason you get bad search results when people type your name in Google,” Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, tweeted.
Hawaii Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz quipped, “The main thing is that Steve King does not use profanity and that is what matters in the end” – an apparent reference to the backlash surrounding freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, for calling President Donald Trump a “motherf*****.”
King has sparked several controversies for using white supremacist language, including sponsoring a white nationalist fringe candidate for Toronto mayor.
In March 2017, King tweeted, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” later telling CNN’s Chris Cuomo that he “meant exactly what I said.”
In an interview with a far right Austrian publication, King suggested that immigration and diversity brought risks.
“What does this diversity bring that we don’t already have? Mexican food. Chinese food,” King said at the time. “Those things, well, that’s fine, but what does it bring that we don’t have that is worth the price?”
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the date of Steve King’s tweet.
CNN’s Ashley Killough contributed to this report.