Jewish Republicans celebrated the ouster of Rep. Steve King in Tuesday’s Iowa primary, after voters in the state’s 4th district decided they’ve had enough of the conservative lightning rod known for making incendiary comments about immigrants and white supremacy throughout his nearly two decades in Congress.
As soon as election results in the five-way race made it clear that one of King’s opponents, Randy Feenstra, had emerged victorious were announced Tuesday night, Matt Brooks, chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition tweeted that “we are very proud to be a part of kicking (King) out of Congress.”
Last month, the RJC took what it admitted was the “rare step” of endorsing a primary challenger to an incumbent congressman. Brooks declared at the time that “We have made it clear for some time that Rep. King does not represent the values of the Republican Jewish Coalition or the Republican Party.”
On Tuesday, the RJC said in a statement that, "Steve King does not represent the Republican Party and it's time for him to leave Congress. We are happy that Randy Feenstra, a strong conservative and a friend of Israel, will be our party's candidate for Congress in Iowa's 4th district seat this year. The RJC PAC endorsed Randy and raised over $40,000 for him because we believe in him. We expect him to win in November and we look forward to welcoming Randy to Washington, D.C. next January.”
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King, a nine-term congressman, was shunned by his party leadership in Washington and many of his longtime supporters at home. In Iowa’s primary, his challengers argued that King’s loss of clout, even more than his continuous string of provocative and racially-charged statements, was reason enough for turning on him.
King, 71, the lone Republican in Iowa’s U.S. House delegation, was stripped of his committee assignments in 2019 for comments appearing to question the criticism of white nationalism in an era of increased sensitivity among Republicans nationally about the alt-right and white supremacists. He wondered aloud in a New York Times story about when the term “white supremacist” became offensive. King said the remarks were taken out of context.
In 2018, King met with members of the far-right Freedom Party, founded by a former SS officer, in Austria after participating on a trip to Poland sponsored by a Holocaust education group. And Jewish leaders in his Iowa district condemned King for expressing anti-immigrant rhetoric similar to that of the shooter who killed 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in October 2018, calling him “an enthusiastic crusader for the same types of abhorrent beliefs held by the Pittsburgh shooter.”
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Last year, King joked that he endorsed one aspect of Chinese oppression of its Muslim minority because “everybody ought to eat pork.”
In addition to stirring up controversy regarding race and religion, King also drew anger with remarks on other issues throughout the years, comparing immigrants to livestock and appeared to make light of rape and incest in defending his anti-abortion views.
Throughout his primary campaign in Iowa, critics in both parties charged that King was no longer an effective representative for Iowa’s 4th Congressional District on agriculture and other local issues.
Establishment Republicans suggested King’s ouster would easily keep the seat in the party’s hands, warning a King primary victory would jeopardize it. Feenstra faces Democrat J.D. Schoulten, who lost by 2 percentage points to King in 2018.
King was vastly outspent by Feenstra and conservative groups backing him, including onetime King backer National Right to Life, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobbying group.
“I called Randy Feestra a little bit ago and conceded the race to him, and I pointed out that there’s some powerful elements in the swamp and he’s going to have an awfully hard time pushing back against them,” King said, referring to outside groups that spent to support Feenstra and attack King. “He assured me that’s what he would do, and I’m thinking of those super PACs that came into this race and how powerful they are.”