Longtime civil rights champion Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) slammed Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) Monday for “bigoted and racist” comments that appeared to support white nationalism.
King landed himself in hot water Sunday when he retweeted an Islamophobic cartoon and praised the illustrator for understanding “that culture and demographics are our destiny.”
“We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” King tweeted, apparently an attack on Muslims and immigrants entering the U.S. The backlash intensified on Monday after an unbowed King appeared on CNN’s “New Day.”
“I meant exactly what I said,” King told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, adding that he’d like the U.S. to be “so homogenous that we look a lot the same.”
Lewis, who has been the target of King’s vitriol in the past, called the statement “deeply disturbing” in a press release.
My colleague has made a deeply disturbing statement because it ignores the truth about the history of this nation. Western civilization did not create itself. It was founded on traditions that emerged from Africa, Iran, China, Greece and Rome and other nations.
With the exception of Native Americans, we all came to this land from some other place in the world community, and this country is a melting pot of cultures, traditions, appearances, and languages. In order to live together as one people, we must come to respect the dignity and the worth of every human being. It is that understanding that will make us one nation, not a homogeneous appearance.
Rep. King’s statement is bigoted and racist. It suggests there is one cultural tradition and one appearance that all of humanity should conform to. These ideas have given rise to some of the worst atrocities in human history, and they must be condemned.
It didn’t take long for other Democratic lawmakers to join in denouncing King’s remarks.
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) called King a “stark, raving racist” on Twitter. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) equated King’s initial tweet with an “open endorsement of white nationalism.”
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) condemned King for regarding her family as “somebody else’s babies.”
Senate Democrats also rejected King’s remarks.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) was among the first high-profile Republicans to register his dismay.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) didn’t address King’s comments until Monday afternoon, when a spokeswoman said Ryan “clearly disagrees.”
“The speaker clearly disagrees and believes America’s long history of inclusiveness is one its great strengths,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said, according to NBC News’ Bradd Jaffy.
White nationalist figures reveled in King’s message. Former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke and white nationalist leader Richard Spencer sung King’s praises Sunday on Twitter. The neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer dubbed him a “hero.”
President Donald Trump has remained silent on King’s remarks, though White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he would “touch base” with the president later.