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JOHNSTON — As criticism rained down on 4th District Rep. Steve King for remarks he made about “white supremacy,” the chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa said those comments should be considered in their totality.

Chairman Jeff Kaufmann flatly rejected the idea of white supremacy, saying the term and what it stands for “is not of the spirit of the Republican Party or the spirit of this country.”

“Let me just say very clearly that the word ‘white supremacy’ is offensive to me,” Kaufmann said. “It’s offensive to the Republican Party of Iowa. We are the party of Lincoln … and, quite frankly, I think the use of the word is inappropriate.”

King, a nine-term Republican from Kiron, was quoted in the New York Times asking when terms such as “white supremacy” became offensive.

“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?” he said in a nearly hour-long interview with a Times reporter.

King, a longtime opponent of illegal immigration who frequently posts politically incorrect comments on social media, was quickly condemned for his comments by leading Republicans in the U.S. House and elsewhere.

Kaufmann, a college history professor, wasn’t sure when those terms were not offensive.

“From Reconstruction times, ‘white supremacy’ has indicated some pretty negative things that are not of the American spirit,” he said Friday following taping of “Iowa Press.” “There are some things you can redefine in your own mind or not, but you have to understand the meaning of some of these phrases, especially if they’ve had those meanings for over 100 years.

“So if you said ‘white supremacy’ in Reconstruction days, it would essentially have about the same connotation that it does today,” he said. “I’m telling you the Republican Party in 1870 did not support that, and I’m telling you that the Republican Party in 2019 doesn’t support that.”

U.S. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy issued a statement calling King’s language “reckless, wrong and has no place in our society. The Declaration of Independence states that ‘all men are created equal.’ That is a fact. It is self-evident.”

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana said it is “offensive to try to legitimize those terms.”

On Friday, King spoke on the House floor to clarify he was merely raising a question, not endorsing the concept of “white nationalism and white supremacy.”

“I reject those labels and the evil ideology they define,” he said, reading from a statement he had released to the media Thursday. “The people who know me know I wouldn’t even have to make this statement because they do know me. There’s nothing about my family or my history or my neighborhood that (supports) these false accusations.”

Later, Scalise said it was important King “rejected that kind of evil because that’s what it is: evil ideology.”

It’s unlikely the criticism of King will stop anytime soon.

Former Florida governor and 2016 GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush said on Twitter “It’s not enough to condemn @SteveKingIA’s unconscionable, racist remarks.

Republican leaders must actively support a worthy primary opponent to defeat King because he won’t have the decency to resign.”

So far, King, who survived his closest re-election contest in November by a 50 percent to 47 percent margin, has drawn three primary opponents. State Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, referenced King’s “caustic nature” in announcing his candidacy.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott said Republicans are accused of racism “because of our silence when things like this are said.”

Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price said on “Iowa Press” that Republicans have been silent when King has made offensive comments in the past.

“Republicans have always stood by Steve King all the way up to and including the night before the election when (Gov.) Kim Reynolds ended her campaign with Steve King up in Sioux Center and then a week later says, ‘Oh, Steve King needs to really think about what his future is going to be,’ ” Price said.

“You know, you can’t have it both ways,” he said. “And the fact is, is that the Republican Party has always stood by Steve King. The latest rhetoric is not anything new from Steve King. We’ve heard this for years and years and years.”

“Iowa Press” can be seen at noon today on Iowa Public Television; and online at IPTV.org.

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Statehouse reporter for The Courier

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