King, in his own words
By MARK DOVICH and JEFF A. CHAMER For The Jefferson Herald
Finding a former congressperson often is easier said than done. But a Google search, a trip through the Boyer Valley phone directory and a bit of advice from churchgoers in Kiron (pop. 300) make finding the home of former U.S. Rep. Steve King almost as simple as driving down a dusty country road.
King, a Republican once called by The Washington Post “the congressman most openly affiliated with white nationalism,” represented Iowa’s 4th congressional district from 2003 to 2021. He is writing a book, to be published this year, that he vows will clear his name, “going back to the beginning.”
King here is referring to a series of controversial statements he made throughout his career that ultimately led to his removal from his House committees in 2019. Last year, he lost in a Republican primary that saw several of King’s former GOP allies decline to endorse him or choose to endorse the eventual winner, Rep. Randy Feenstra, instead. King since has returned home to northwest Iowa.
We arrived at King’s unassuming home, with faded blue siding and a wooden porch that shows its age, on a sunny yet chilly Friday morning in early May. We knocked on the door, and King walked out onto the porch, wearing sandals, a long-sleeve shirt and khaki pants stained with dirt from working in the garden. We asked if we could interview him.
Sharp and prepared, he pulled out his phone to record the conversation, an extra layer of caution for a man who owed his fall from GOP grace in part to statements he gave to the media.
For more than an hour and a half, the conversation meandered from topic to topic as King, unrepentant, reflected on his divisive political career and the current political climate. He said that President Biden has failed to live up to the moderate platform he presented during the election. He also said that the federal government has been too easy on China, profiting off of U.S. intellectual property.
King added that he hopes to reconnect with former President Donald Trump, although the two have not spoken since the election in November. He offered unsolicited advice to Rep. Liz Cheney, at the time facing a GOP mutiny similar to the one King faced last year, though for very different reasons.
“I don’t regret any statement I’ve made,” he told us as we got ready to leave. “I regret not countering the false statements like Trump did.”
What follows is our conversation with King — the former congressman in his own words:
God and the GOP
I have this great gift that God has given me. I love people; I really do love people. And I always figured that if I just tell the truth and roll my convictions out there, let the chips fall where they may. My truth has always been my faith in God, my support for the Constitution and the Declaration and the Republican platform. And I’ve advocated for all of those things.
For me, I never thought that I had those (Republican) leaders ever elect me; it was the 750,000 people here in the 4th congressional district. I adhere to the Republican platform because I believe in it, and I’ve worked on it for decades. And so I worked to advance that. One of my clearest promises was that — and this was clear back in 2002 — if you elect me to this seat, I will use the seat to move the political center to the right. And I’ve kept my promise on that.
Donald Trump and King
The things that I have stood for are much of what Trump has stood for. And the people that are Never Trumpers don’t like him personally, and they can’t separate their personal dislike from the policy success. And we’ve had tremendous policy success, especially given the adversity that he faced before he ever signed into office. That tax cut stimulated this economy. The vaccine wouldn’t be deployed yet if it had not been for the insight of Donald Trump. Those are Trump’s successes.
I’ve not contacted President Trump in some time, partly because he’s been surrounded by a team that I have less confidence in than I have in him. The cellphone that I used to always call, that number is no longer available. But I’m looking at sometime in the future, I’d expect to be down in that neighborhood and give him a call and drop in.
Liz Cheney, Democratic tool
Even though I think she’s smart and ambitious, I don’t think she’s faced adversity. The environment that she grew up in was always at the highest levels of power, and the door was always open for Liz to walk through. I think that gave her a false sense of confidence. When she should have been listening to her colleagues, I think she thought she needed to be lecturing to them, because people had always listened to her.
When you take on the president, and you’re of his party, and you lead the effort to vote to impeach him, that’s a big deal. I think they just got to that point when Biden did his speech to the joint session, and that fist bump (between Biden and Cheney) symbolized everything. It was like she’s a tool for the Democrats. Those talking points that she gave after the January 6 event, when she attacked Trump, were used on him over and over again in the impeachment hearing. She was the best ammunition Democrats had. I think Liz overplayed her hand and should have listened.
Joe Biden, divider-in-chief
One thing he did present was unity, that he needed to pull the country together. I don’t disagree that the country is as polarized now as it’s ever been, at least in my lifetime. But once he was sworn into office, he immediately stacked all of those executive orders up on his desk and made a big show of him signing those executive orders. That seemed to be designed to undo everything he could with his executive power that had been accomplished by the Trump administration. That was anything but unity. That was driving a wedge, and it was making a really clear message that he was going to do everything he could to reduce Trump’s accomplishments to the maximum amount.
Since that period of time, he has been relatively low key, but I’m really troubled by the shift that he’s done with the country. The trillions of dollars that have been spent and that are queued up to be spent will put you all in debt. And I probably won’t be around long enough to have to pay that, but somebody’s got to pay for it eventually. I don’t think that’s well thought out at all. I think it’s Keynesian economics on steroids. I think it’s driven by left-wing ideology. I don’t know where Joe Biden is ideologically himself, but it seems to be that he’s being driven by the left. And there seems to be no voice in the Pelosi caucus that restrains him in a way that would get anything to come out that’s bipartisan. Nothing of substance has been bipartisan.
There were a few things that Trump was for in foreign policy that I didn’t agree with, but on balance, he reset things. He understood that China was eating our lunch. I went over there and beat on the Chinese in five cities back in about 2005. They were then stealing half-a-billion dollars’ worth of our technology and our IP (intellectual property) a year. I wrote a bill that would put a duty on all products coming from China in an amount equivalent to the stolen IP, plus an administrative fee, and distribute those proceeds back to the rightful intellectual property rights holders. So when I say, “I told you so,” I’ve been telling them that one for a long time.
What King did in Congress
I fought to keep border security, all the people that want cheap labor and open borders. They’re undercutting me constantly. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the U.S. Chamber of Amnesty; that’s what they have become today. I pushed the wall stronger than anybody else in Congress, long before we ever thought Donald Trump might run for president, and built a wall on the floor of the House. I’ve got that back here in my office.
No one fought Obamacare harder than I did. Somebody wrote an article sometime back that, when they searched through the Congressional Record, of all the times I said “Obamacare” into the Congressional Record, the next-most-frequent person only mentioned it one-sixth as many times as I had.
And I just read a memo yesterday that said that I was a lead pro-life voice in the House of Representatives, probably in the entire Congress, because there’s not a very strong one in the Senate. And I think that’s true; that was true at the time. But National Right to Life didn’t want to move my heartbeat bill, and I had the votes to pass it out of committee and to the floor. They had been given a veto power by our Republican leadership. So I took on National Right to Life and beat them up on the floor of the House and put a poster up to tell them what they really were. And so they lined up and endorsed my opponent in the primary.
Winning re-election in 2018
A fellow by the name of Seth Klarman, whom I’d never heard of before, a vulture capitalist, dumped half a million dollars into a PAC that was mostly used to attack me. And they started calling me anti-Semitic. And there’s no stronger supporter of Israel. I’ve been in Netanyahu’s office several times. And I just tell them, “I’m to the right of Likud. What else do you want to talk about?”
So then after the election, I thought, “OK, the election is over. Everybody needs a rest.” But they didn’t seem to think they were going to rest. So about two or three weeks after the election, I had a conference with a top political operator of the presidential campaign level. And he said, “They’re gonna try again.” And I passed it off, because I thought, “Can they do that?” He actually brought it up three times before I paid attention to him. He said, “They’re going to try again, and they believe that they would have gotten you in the previous election if they hadn’t been distracted by the other midterm elections. But they believe they can marshal all of the media forces in the nation against you. And they just pick a time when it’s a down news cycle.
And then they will choose a messenger who has President Trump’s ear and confidence to go to President Trump and get him to send out a negative tweet. When that happens, they’ll launch everything at you. And they will attempt to force you to resign.”
And those words echo in my ear yet to this day: “Force you to resign.” How could they do that? They’d have to presume I’ve got some dirt in my background that I don’t want people to find. It isn’t there.
Losing to Feenstra in 2020
Randy Feenstra announced on Twitter that he was running for Congress and challenging me in a primary. He had no rollout plan. He had no website. He had spent the morning deleting all of his previous tweets, and sent this one tweet out: “I’m going to challenge Steve King.” And the following day, the New York Times story came out (in which King made a series of heavily criticized statements about white supremacy), and the rest is history. So you know, I have got a mountaintop villa here I’ll sell you if you think that’s all a coincidence.
The media and I
How do I deal with the negative press? I try not to, because there’s been so much trash written about me. It’s because I have been targeted by the left and the Never Trumpers and the RINOs (Republicans in name only) on the right. And so they accelerated all this. What I would say to my press secretary was, “Answer back, challenge them, get it corrected, get the corrections printed in the media.” But at a certain point, we gave up on that, because we might force a correction, but there’d be 20 other articles written we couldn’t ever get to. We couldn’t whack-a-mole that thing. And they would write more articles because we contacted them and challenged them.
If you’re in politics, you don’t get to make a mistake. And I’ve had good relations with the media for a long time. It doesn’t sound like what we said today. But when I would go back to the speaker’s lobby, there were 30 or 40 reporters back there. And I would talk to a whole gaggle of them many, many times, and so I’ve always encouraged them. But objective truth has to be at the anchor — objective truth.
I focus most of my waking hours on getting my book finished. When that hits print, then I’ll be doing all kinds of book signing stops all over. That’ll be late summer. I was asked to do radio programs, and that I’ve been pushing off, so now they’re on my agenda. I’m busy as I can be, but I just feel like I should go around and reintroduce myself to my neighbors. I haven’t been around enough to interact with them the way I used to.
Some of (mentoring young GOP hopefuls) is going on, and has gone on for some time. But those are private discussions. I don’t want to make this sound arrogant or anything, but if you throw anybody into what I’ve been through for the last 24 years — including foreign travel to 70 different nations, a good number of them multiple times, agriculture issues that are there, immigration issues, which are the most complex that we face, more complex than health care and more complex than taxes — that’s a tremendous knowledge base.
I want those young people to succeed, and I want them to be able to learn as much as they can from me. I am encouraging, and we always try to identify people that are altruistic. I want people like that, who want to serve. And then let that service be their reward, instead of looking out for how they were beneficiaries of the work they do.
If there’s anything I miss from not being in Congress any longer, it’s not having the leverage to help people the way we did for years. That’s extremely rewarding.
Not ruling out another run
(If I were to run again, there) would have to be kind of a groundswell. And I don’t see that scenario at this point. But I will stay active on policy issues and engaged in dialogue. And we’ll see where that leads me.
Mark Dovich and Jeff A. Chamer are graduate students at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Chicago.