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House effort on Steve King censure fizzles

Matter referred to Ethics Committee as some Democrats express disappointment

An effort to censure Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, for racist comments fizzled on Wednesday as the chamber voted to refer the matter to the Ethics Committee. (Bill Clark/Roll Call file photo)
An effort to censure Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, for racist comments fizzled on Wednesday as the chamber voted to refer the matter to the Ethics Committee. (Bill Clark/Roll Call file photo)

An effort to further punish Rep. Steve King for racist comments fizzled Wednesday when the chamber voted to instead refer the Iowa Republican’s case to the House Ethics Committee.

On a voice vote, the House referred a censure resolution from Illinois Democrat Bobby L. Rush to the Ethics panel, instead of censuring him directly.

Rush did not waive the reading of the resolution, as is typical. The House clerk read the full text of the measure aloud, which included examples of King’s controversial language and actions.

“I think he definitely dodged a bullet here,” said Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, who had proposed his own censure resolution to admonish King.

Rush’s proposal was a direct rebuke of King, who has compared immigrants to livestock and dogs and made other racist comments about minority groups, including on the House floor.

“Representative Steve King of Iowa, by his despicable conduct, has dishonored himself and brought discredit to the House and merits the censure of the House for the same,” the resolution read in part.


The measure’s referral to the Ethics panel was not the outcome preferred by Rush or Ryan. In the two days since they each gave notice of their resolutions, both have been pushing for a decisive vote on censuring King.

“My preference is a direct censure,” Rush said.

“I am just disappointed. I thought this rose to the level of a censure given all of the past behavior,” Ryan said. “I think not fully expressing a sense of Congress through a censure came up a little short in my mind.”

While the Ethics Committee is restricted from investigating alleged violations of conduct standards when such violations go back more than the last three Congresses, they may take up the case under an exception in the House rules: The statute of limitations can be thrown out if “the Committee determines that the alleged violation is directly related to an alleged violation that occurred in a more recent Congress.”

The Rush resolution chronicles some of King’s most inflammatory comments over the past 12 years, including questioning President Barack Obama’s citizenship and calling children of immigrants “anchor babies.”

King has faced widespread backlash in recent days for questioning, in a New York Times interview, why the terms “white supremacist” and “white nationalist” had become “offensive.”

“You know, we’re sick of that rhetoric, sick of it coming from the White House, sick of it coming from Congressman King, and I think it was time for us to put our foot down,” Ryan said.

The chamber on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly for a resolution of “disapproval” of white supremacy that mentioned King in the text. But some lawmakers didn’t think that went far enough.

Rush said he was “terribly disappointed” the House was not moving with censure now, noting that the disapproval resolution the chamber passed was “almost meaningless” because it barely mentioned King.

He said he only agreed to go along with leadership’s decision to refer his censure resolution to the Ethics Committee because he is reserving his right to call it up on the floor in the future.

“If in fact Steve King utters another racial or racist word while he’s a member in the House of Representatives, then I will be quick to pull my resolution up out of the Ethics Committee,” he said.

King declined to comment when asked if he was happy that Democrats didn’t force a vote on the censure resolution.

House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn told reporters Wednesday he has talked to Rush about why he offered a disapproval resolution over censure. Some members felt that a direct censure resolution wouldn’t draw strong bipartisan support like the disapproval resolution did.

What happens next

Censure is still an option. The House Ethics Committee could recommend a censure of King, following an investigation of the claims detailed in the proposal. The panel could also recommend a reprimand or even expulsion from the House altogether.

A censure is a formal, majority vote in the House on a resolution disapproving of a member’s conduct, generally with the additional requirement that the member stand in the well of the chamber and receive a verbal rebuke and reading of the resolution by the speaker.

The House censured New York Democrat Charles B. Rangel in 2010, after the Ethics panel concluded he had misused federal resources, failed to pay taxes on a rental property in the Dominican Republic and filed inaccurate financial disclosure forms.

A total of 23 members have been censured in the House for misconduct ranging from using insulting language on the floor to assaulting other lawmakers. More recently, censures have stemmed from behavior such as payroll fraud, sexual misconduct and financial improprieties.

Technically, there are no express consequences in the House rules after a member has been censured.

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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