Iowa Rep. Steve King is facing criticism after he defended white nationalism and white supremacy in an interview. "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?" King said to The New York Times. "Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?"
He later posted a statement to Twitter, after the interview was published, saying, "I want to make one thing abundantly clear; I reject those labels and the evil ideology" represented by those terms. "I am simply a Nationalist," he said, not a white nationalist or white supremacist.
"I condemn anyone that supports this evil and bigoted ideology which saw in its ultimate expression the systematic murder of 6 million innocent Jewish lives," he wrote. Like the Founding Fathers, he wrote, "I am an advocate for Western Civilization's values."
King, one of the most right-wing members of Congress, also told Times that he is not a racist, saying his Twitter timeline shows him greeting Iowans of all races and religions in his Washington office. He said he supports immigrants who come to the U.S. legally and assimilate, since "the culture of America" matters more than race.
Several top Republicans spoke out to condemn the remark. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, "Everything about white supremacy and white nationalism goes against who we are as a nation. Steve's language is 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."
Minority Whip Steve Scalise said, "I think it is offensive to try to legitimize those terms. I think it was important that he rejected that kind of evil because that's what it is, it's evil ideology."
And the number three House Republican leader, GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney, blasted King's remarks, tweeting about the Times interview, "These comments are abhorrent and racist and should have no place in our national discourse."
King's comments come asa primary challenge in 2020 from state Sen. Randy Feenstra. King fended off a challenge from Democrat J.D. Scholten in 2018, although he won by a narrower margin than he has in the past.
In the interview, King credits himself with President Trump's shift to his own hardline views on immigration. "Donald Trump came to Iowa as a real nonideological candidate," King said. He recalled telling Mr. Trump, "I market-tested your immigration policy for 14 years, and that ought to be worth something." King in the past has shown a model of a 12-foot border wall he had designed on the House floor.
King, 69, has attained notoriety for statements and positions that appeal to white nationalists. His history of controversial comments caused the National Republican Congressional Committee to rescind all support for him before the 2018 election, with NRCC chairman Steve Stivers condemning him and "white supremacy and hate." King has, and the state's Republican governor has also .
-CBS News' Rebecca Kaplan contributed reporting.