CLEVELAND — Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa has a tendency to ignite controversy. He once advocated building a wall along the US-Mexico border with an electrical wire, saying it would “be a discouragement” for illegal immigrants to cross over, and added, “We do that with livestock all the time.” More recently, King caused a social media uproar by questioning the contributions of non-white “subgroups” to Western civilization on an MSNBC panel Monday with Chris Hayes.
After Esquire’s Charlie Pierce speculated that the Republican National Convention may feature “the last time that old white people will command the Republican Party’s attention” and said the convention hall is “wired by loud, unhappy, dissatisfied white people,” King responded with exasperation.
“This ‘old white people’ business does get a little tired, Charlie,” he said. “I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about, where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”
Amid the backlash that immediately ensued, King did not backtrack from his remarks but rather attempted to clarify and defend them. In an interview with The Times of Israel Tuesday, King argued that he was responding to Pierce’s insinuation that a “subgroup of white people” would no longer have influence within the party, which he found “offensive.”
When asked how his comments might seem to the “subgroup” of Jewish Americans, he stressed that Jews themselves were “part of Western civilization and part of the reason it has been such a successful civilization.” He also said that “leftists have taken an offensive against white people in America, ideologically and politically, and we need to stand up for the contributions from Western civilization that have served as the foundation for what makes our country so exceptional.”
On Trump and Israel
While King adamantly defended his controversial comments, he was less willing to fully champion Republican nominee Donald Trump’s articulated approach to conducting US foreign policy toward Israel.
The self-proclaimed constitutional conservative has been strongly pro-Israel throughout his House tenure. Moreover, he was co-chair of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential bid, which made robust support for the Jewish state a lynchpin of the campaign. Cruz also bashed Trump repeatedly for saying he would be “neutral” on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Asked if he thought Trump would wind up pursuing such a strategy, King indicated he couldn’t say exactly, but expressed some concern over how much the Republican nominee has solidified his thinking on the matter. “I don’t think I know,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know what he’s going to do, and I hate to speculate. I would say that I’m not sure that Donald Trump has worked out a policy toward Israel that’s long-term, good and sustainable.”
To be sure, King added, “I think he’s still shaping foreign policy, so I give him some room on that. And I’m going to listen very carefully to his speech on Thursday night, and there will be things in there that are surprises. There will be news that will be out of that immediately, and people will be live blogging and the next morning there will be pundits talking about it. I want to pay attention to that.”
Asked whether Trump’s vow to seek a two-state solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians (he promised to give it “one hell of a shot”), and the party’s removal of support for such an outcome from its platform, reflected a divide within the party over Israel policy, King insisted it did not.
‘I’m not sure Trump knows exactly where he stands yet, but from where I sit, I say there is no two-state solution’
“I think if there’s a division in a party — it’s among the Democrats, and I think it’s stark there,” he said. “And again, I’m not sure Trump knows exactly where he stands yet, but from where I sit, I say there is no two-state solution.
“A two-state solution would only be a new place to build up more arms to fire more rockets into Israel proper,” he added. “So I don’t think they should concede the land Israelis have fought over.”
When pressed to provide an alternative to a two-state outcome, King did not address concerns that Israel’s failure to securely separate from the Palestinians could risk its long-term Jewish and democratic character, but said, “If we’re going to resolve anything, we’ve got to address the origin of the hatred, and that reaches us too; we have to defeat the theology of radical Islamic jihad, and that’s at the core of the hatred and the violence that’s there.”
While King has not formally endorsed Trump’s presidential bid, he was pleased with the billionaire’s first major move as a candidate: selecting Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to be his running mate.
King and Pence both entered the House in 2003, and have been friends for 24 years. Trump’s choosing another traditional conservative, King said, “fills in a lot of the blanks that needed to be filled,” including on Israel. “There’s no question that Mike Pence will never leave Israel, and he’ll stand there with them,” he said. “He’s got Israel’s back without any doubt.”