Skip to Content

‘Rape and Incest’ Comments Highlight House Republicans’ Steve King Problem

House Republican leaders stripped Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) of his power in January after he made racist comments—he no longer sits on any committees—but that hasn't stopped King from making offensive remarks.

King, speaking in rural Iowa on August 14, attempted to defend not allowing abortion in cases of rape and incest. 

"What if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled those people out that were products of rape and incest? Would there be any population of the world left if we did that?" he said at the Westside Conservative Club in Urbandale, Iowa, according to the Des Moines Register. "Considering all the wars and all the rapes and pillages taken place and whatever happened to culture after society? I know I can't certify that I'm not a part of a product of that."

King's latest remarks—part of a long string of racist and derogatory comments—underscored the challenge that the House Republicans face in recruiting more diverse members of their party to try to win back a majority, especially following the retirement announcement of the only black member of the caucus, Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas). The comments also could endanger Republican hopes to win over female voters in 2020, as past Republican candidates' insensitive remarks about rape and abortion caused them to lose two Senate elections in 2012. (Republicans won back the seats in 2018.)

House Republican leaders have denounced King, but remained mum about what action, if any, they might take. 

The No. 1 and No. 2 members of the House caucus, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, both said that King's comments demonstrated why House Republicans had removed him from his committee assignments last January, but stayed silent on whether he should resign.

"I have a great deal of problems with that," McCarthy said on Fox News of King's comments. "Earlier in this Congress, there are things that Steve King said that I do not believe the party of Lincoln would stand for. And as a United Conference, we actually removed Steve King from his committees inside Congress, and I think this just continues to show why that action was taken."

However, the No. 3 House Republican, Liz Cheney of Wyoming, did reiterate her calls for his resignation.

"Today’s comments by @RepSteveKingIA are appalling and bizarre. As I’ve said before, it’s time for him to go. The people of Iowa’s 4th congressional district deserve better," she tweeted. However, she did not say what she might do to force him to resign.

(Spokesmen for McCarthy, Scalise, and Cheney did not immediately return requests for comment from Fortune on King.)

House Republicans could expel him from their caucus by a two-thirds vote of their conference. More drastically, King could be censured or reprimanded by a simple majority vote of the full House, and expelled by a two-thirds vote of the full House. Only five House members in history have been expelled from the chamber.

Even with no action from the House, King's days as a representative may be numbered. While representing a district that voted for Trump over Clinton by 27 points, he won re-election in 2018 only by three points. His 2020 Democratic opponent, J.D. Scholten, who narrowly lost to him in 2018, got a boost from multiple 2020 Democratic presidential candidates who called on their supporters to donate to him. (The candidates also called on King to resign, which means little to King.) 

King, meanwhile, only had about $18,000 in cash on hand as of June for his re-election. He also faces Republican challengers, including State Sen. Randy Feenstra, who had more than $300,000 in cash on hand.

"I am 100% pro-life but Steve King's bizarre comments and behavior diminish our message & damage our cause. Trump needs defenders in Congress, not distractions," tweeted Feenstra.

Removed from his spots on the Judiciary and Agriculture committees in January after making comments about white supremacy and white nationalism, King has been faced with little to do as a representative in the minority party. The stripping of committee seats that Republican leaders took against King highlighted their comparative reticence to speak about offensive remarks made by President Donald Trump about women and minorities.

But even as a much-diminished representative, King, apparently, shows no signs of going away quietly.

More must-read stories from Fortune:

—When will Twitter ban white nationalists? Civil rights leaders urge action
Several states suing Trump's EPA over new 'dirty power' rule
—Why the U.S. labeled China a currency manipulator
—How Trump’s plan to import Canadian drugs would work
—Listen to our audio briefing, Fortune 500 Daily
Get up to speed on your morning commute with Fortune’s CEO Daily newsletter.