The nine-term Republican Iowa congressman and kingmaker in his state’s crucial presidential caucuses told the Star Newspaper Group he was done in House GOP Leader Kevin O. McCarthy (R.-Calif.) after years of challenging the compromises made by the House GOP leadership.
“I have five different sources, who have informed me that Kevin McCarthy actively and aggressively was seeking to convince President Donald Trump to endorse my primary opponent Feenstra within at least two-and-a-half weeks out and all the way up to primary day itself,” said Rep. Stephen A. King, who was beaten by state Sen. Randall L. Feenstra in the June 3 primary.
“When in history has anybody gone to that kind of length to—I’ll just say—scrub out the people, who speak up for the principles of the platform and the party and who are effective doing it,” he said. “And, who, by the way, to some degree neutralize the establishment agenda, which is being driven by our leadership.”
House GOP campaign committee leader attacks King week before 2018 midterm
King got the first taste of the effort to scrub him out one week before the 2018 midterm election, when the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee Ohio’s Rep. Steven E. Stiver called out King as a white supremacist.
Stiver’s attack on King came as the NRCC left 40 House seats unchallenged and it was clearly in the air that if the Democrats retook the House, they would find a reason to impeach President Donald J. Trump.
It was an attack that could not have happened without the permission of possibly Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R.-Wis.) and most certainly McCarthy, then the majority leader, King said. “That raised a million-and-a-half dollars for my opponent in the last week of the election and it validated all of the heat that had been poured down on my head.”
The Iowa Republican said at the time, he did not think of it as a plot, rather it was just a chance for leadership to take him out, since it was obvious House Republicans were going to lose control of the lower chamber. King won his seat by three points and he was the only Republican winner that night in the state’s four-seat House delegation.
One week after the election, Iowa Republican Gov. Kimberly K. Reynolds called for King to resign his seat, he said. “That gave license to every establishment Republican in the state to start taking shots at me.”
Then, the day before Thanksgiving 2018, a top White House advisor reached out to King, he said. “He said: ‘They are coming at you again.’”
The congressman said he was ready to dismiss the warning as just political conjecture. “But, he got into specifics and he said: ‘They are coming at you again and they believe that the media was distracted and could not turn on their guns on you. They believe they can force you to resign.’”
Three times in the conversation, the White House advisor warned King that the Republican leadership was working to take him out, he said. Then, the advisor told him that the GOP leadership had already chosen a messenger to approach the president to convince Trump to send out a negative Tweet against King. “When that happens, that will be the trigger that unleashes everything—and so he said: ‘My strongest advice to you is to pre-empt this thing at the White House any way you can.”
King said he was told who the messenger in the White House would be and on Jan. 8, 2019, he went to White House and met with the messenger to air out his case and why he deserved to be protected.
“I had that meeting and I walked out of there feeling pretty good,” he said. “It was a 40-minute meeting and what I was told was: ‘We’re too good of friends. We would not do anything like that.’ I believed that when I walked out of that room.”
The next day at 11:23 a.m., Feenstra announced his primary challenge to King.
“The following day, The New York Times story comes out, the 10th of January and the rest is history,” he said. In the article, reporter Trip Gabriel claimed that King told him that white supremacy should not be considered offensive. There is no tape, but King said he was misquoted and that Gabriel took his comments about the importance of continuing to teach Western Civilization courses and conflated it with Gabriel’s own wind-ups to the questions.
After the Times article, McCarthy stripped King of all his committee assignments.
King’s influence with Iowa Caucus voters pulls presidential candidates to the right
Beyond his impact as a senior member of the House Judiciary and Agriculture committees. As the congressman from Iowa’s most conservative part of the state, King had tremendous influence in the Iowa Presidential Caucuses.
In 2012, he gave his endorsement and political organization to former Pennsylvania senator Richard J. Santorum, the winner that year. In the 2016 contest, King backed Texas’ Sen. Edward R. “Ted” Cruz and King’s support was a critical reason Cruz beat Trump.
“Cruz wouldn’t have won Iowa without me,” he said.
In the end, King said Trump came out of Iowa a much more conservative candidate, because of the Cruz campaign—and that his influence in the caucuses pulls the candidates to the right—one of the main reasons the Republican leadership had to take him out.
King enters public life in 1996
King, who celebrated his 71st birthday May 28, said he ran for state senate in 1996, because he found himself spending more and more time in the state house trying to explain to politicians how their legislation was hurting businesses like his construction company.
“I realized one day, people making the decisions, some of them life-and-death decisions, simply didn’t have the moral foundation, the character or the understanding to be making those decisions,” he said.
“They were making political decisions, instead of the profound life-and-death and moral and constitutional decisions,” he said.
After six years in Des Moines, King said he took a run at an open House seat in 2002, because he found himself more interested in the national political debates and he did not know when he would get another shot at Washington.
King’s district, Iowa-4, was then Iowa-5, but essentially it is the northwest corner of the state, bordering Nebraska to the west and Wisconsin to the north, hovering just on top of Omaha and Des Moines. The biggest city in the district is Sioux City with just more than 80,000 souls, but, the district is also home to Pocahontas County, where a 30-foot “Indian Princess” is a popular roadside attraction.
Four times King crosses Boehner, GOP House leadership
The congressman said his relationship with House Republican leaders was excellent until the GOP lost the House in the 2006 midterms and Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R.-Ill.) did not seek a leadership post in the next congressional session. That lame duck session, King was one of 27 House Republicans voting for Indiana’s Rep. Michael R. Pence (R.-Ind.), who was soundly beaten by Ohio’s Rep. John A. Boehner in the race to lead the House GOP.
“We went through those four years in the minority just fine,” King said. “They needed junkyard dogs that would tie into Pelosi and the leftist agenda and to take them on on the floor and in the media—and I did that aggressively.”
The second time King said he crossed Boehner was after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) dropped the House Democrats’ version of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, during the 2009 session.
Boehner’s team gathered the Republican House Conference for a briefing about the bill and after 90 minutes of discussing the different sections of the bill, the GOP House members were told they would let the bill pass without a fight, he said.
“We were told: ‘This is what they are going to do. They have to votes. We don’t have the votes to stop it, so here’s where you buy your plane ticket home after Obamacare passes the House,’” he said.
“It was a stunning thing to hear from leadership,” he said.
King said he and a small group of other conservatives took to the microphones and rallied their colleagues to resist Obamacare—a losing fight that was led by King with Minnesota’s Rep. Michele M. Bachmann and Texas’ Rep. Louis B. “Louie” Gohmert Jr.
The fight against Obamacare was lost, but it motivated the base to give Republicans control of the House again, which gave King his third chance to cross Boehner—this time, he did not support the Ohioan for speaker, but speaker he became.
Although, Boehner took the gavel with the largest Republican House majority since the 1947-1949 session, his tenure was full of rancor and disappointment with Boehner and his leadership team repeatedly beating back proposed legislation from conservatives—including attempts to defund Obamacare.
Eventually, King joined House conservatives led by Rep. Mark Meadows (R.-N.C.), now White House Chief of Staff, in driving Boehner from office in October 2015 with a motion to vacate the chair, which Boehner avoided with his resignation.
“Boehner never believed, like I believed,” he said. “Boehner was undermining our constitutional responsibilities and he had to go and all of his acolytes after that have hated me.”
One of those acolytes was McCarthy, who as the then-majority leader, or No. 2 in the hierarchy, supported Boehner until the speaker’s staff started packing up their desks.
– – –
Neil W. McCabe is a Washington-based national political reporter for The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. In addition to the Star Newspapers, he is a Media Fellow at the Gold Institute for International Strategies. Prior to joining the Star Newspapers, McCabe covered the White House, Capitol Hill and national politics for One America News, Breitbart, Human Events and Townhall. Before coming to Washington, he was a staff reporter for Boston’s Catholic paper, The Pilot, and the editor of two Boston-area community papers, The Somerville News and The Alewife. McCabe is a public affairs NCO in the Army Reserve and he deployed for 15 months to Iraq as a combat historian. Follow him: @neilwmccabe2