Steve King displays a Confederate flag on his desk (updated)

Anyone even vaguely familiar with Representative Steve King has probably heard some of his statements about immigrants who are not authorized to be in this country.

But although I’ve followed King’s career closely for more than a decade, I didn’t know until I saw this news segment yesterday that he displays a Confederate flag on his desk.

On July 6, King introduced “Sarah’s Law,” named after his constituent Sarah Root. She tragically died in a car crash caused by a drunk driver, who was also living in the U.S. illegally. The text of Sarah’s Law is here; it would require “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to take into custody illegal aliens who have been charged in the United States with a crime resulting in the death or serious bodily injury of another person.”

KCAU, the ABC affiliate in Sioux City, ran a segment about King introducing Sarah’s Law on the July 7 evening newscast and on a lunchtime show the following day. King’s staff uploaded the video to YouTube, and King then shared it on his congressional Facebook feed. (Hat tip to Bleeding Heartland reader Sandi O’Brien, who shared King’s post on her own news feed.)

Around the 25-second mark of the video, KCAU cut to footage of King sitting at his desk.

Steve King with Confederate flag photo Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 10.02.31 PM_zpsnhxvi1dm.png

That’s the Iowa flag, the U.S. flag, the “Don’t Tread On Me” flag beloved by tea partiers, the papal flag (King was deeply moved to hear Pope Francis speak last year), and the Confederate flag.

Not only was Iowa a Union state, our state sent more soldiers per capita to fight for the Union than any other. More than 13,000 Iowans never came home from their Civil War service, succumbing to either disease or battle wounds.

Republican Party of Iowa Chair Jeff Kaufmann blew a gasket when some GOP activists in Marion County displayed Confederate flags during a July 4 parade last summer. He told the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s Rod Boshart,

“I am just absolutely, utterly disgusted on multiple levels,” Kaufmann said in a telephone interview. “Shame on them and I don’t want them in my party.” […]

“That’s really disloyal to all those veterans from Iowa that fought to save the union and fought against that flag, so I just think that is most inappropriate,” Branstad said. “It’s disrespectful to all those Iowans from Marion County that went down to fight to save the union, so I’m totally baffled that that would happen in this state.”

Kaufmann said the Republican officials involved in the incident need to apologize to the people of Iowa and to the Republican Party of Iowa, especially for disrespecting the 17,000 Iowans [sic] who died in the American Civil War 150 years ago while fighting as part of the Union army.

“I’m disappointed in what I’ve heard. I condemn their actions on behalf of the Republican Party of Iowa in the strongest words possible,” Kaufman said. “I’m very disappointed that a local central committee would engage in such juvenile and stupid demonstrations.” […]

“We are the party of Abraham Lincoln. We were the party that supported the Union army and we are still that party of Abraham Lincoln. I absolutely won’t tolerate it. We have no room in our party for people like that — none,” he said. “I hope they toss those people out (of the local GOP) so fast, it’ll make your head swim. And, if they don’t, I’ll lead a party of 98 central committees.””

I’m seeking comment from Kaufmann about King giving the “Stars and Bars,” a symbol of treachery, a prominent place in his office.

I don’t expect any colorful outburst, though. The Iowa GOP chair may be a part-time U.S. history professor, but he’s a full-time loyalist to Republican elected officials and candidates. He’s said little about Donald Trump’s various offensive remarks lately but had harsh words for an Iowa delegate to the Republican National Convention who doesn’t want to cast his ballot for Trump: a “puppet” who is “self-centered and arrogant and dumb,” a person “living in his own fantasy world,” and so on.

Meanwhile, King spent part of last week beating the drum about making English the official language of the United States. He had a bee in his bonnet about that issue while serving in the Iowa Senate. Governor Tom Vilsack vetoed the first official-English bill that reached his desk but signed a revised version in 2002, the year he was up for re-election and King ran for Congress for the first time.

Here’s King speaking on the U.S. House floor on July 7 in support of his amendment not to allow the use of federal funds to enforce an executive order President Bill Clinton 13166 issued in August 2000. That amendment directs federal fund recipients, including contractors, to “facilitate language interpretation with anyone who seeks to engage with them.” King asserted that Clinton’s executive order had been “highly costly, not only to the taxpayers but to the consumers in this country” and “began to slow down this process of assimilation in America.”

King has often claimed that immigrants are not integrating into society, despite substantial evidence to the contrary in a 2015 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

King has long implied that undocumented immigrants commit violent crimes at higher rates than native-born Americans; his Congressional website highlights such crimes in a section called “Illegal Immigration Stories.” However, researchers have found that “‘Cities and neighborhoods with greater concentrations of immigrants have much lower rates of crime and violence’ than similar places without immigrants.”

UPDATE: I haven’t heard back from King’s office, and neither Kaufmann nor the Iowa GOP responded on the record to my request for comment. The Des Moines Register’s Brianne Pfannenstiel reported more reaction to the news.

Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP State Area Conference of Branches, said the flag symbolizes division and slavery. She also called it “anti-Iowan.”

“Iowans fought and died to uphold the Union,” she said. “And given (King’s) recent attempt to block Harriet Tubman from the $20 bill, and of course his track record, I just think Iowa voters need to take another look at who they elected to office.” […]

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday he recognizes that “for historical reasons” some people want to recognize and respect those who fought for the Confederacy. But he said he disagrees with King’s choice to display the flag.

“I don’t agree with that, and I guess that’s his decision,” said Branstad, a Republican. “People have a right to display whatever they want to. But I’m proud to say we’re on the side of the Union. And we won the war.” […]

Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said Monday he stands behind comments he’s made previously about the Confederate flag.

Last year Kaufmann said of activists who displayed the flag, “Shame on them and I don’t want them in my party. […] I absolutely won’t tolerate it. We have no room in our party for people like that — none. I hope they toss those people out […].”

Does he feel the same way about King now?

King’s Democratic challenger Kim Weaver released this statement on July 11.

Sheldon, IA – “Today I learned, like a lot of Iowans did, that my opponent, Congressman Steve King, proudly displays a Confederate flag in a prominent place in his government office. Like a lot of Iowans, I’m disgusted by his gross insensitivity to the millions of Americans for whom that flag is a symbol of racism and division, and I join them in calling on Mr. King to remove it immediately.

“As I think back on the pain this country experienced just last week in the wake of the tragedies in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas, I’m struck by two things as they relate to Congressman King’s reaction. First, while he rushed to a video camera Thursday morning to record a message of support to the Dallas Police Department, to my knowledge he has had nothing to say about Anton Sterling or Philando Castile.

“Secondly, I’m particularly confused by these words from Congressman King, which were part of that videotaped statement: ‘This has shocked us back to a reality, and that reality is there’s evil in the world. And that evil in the world deploys itself sometimes at the slightest inspiration.’ The utter hypocrisy of these words spoken by a man who proudly displays a symbol of racism and white supremacy on his desk boggles the mind.

“While recording the statement I’m referring to, Congressman King wore a police emblem on his tie as a show of support of the slain officers in Dallas and the brave officers who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the protesters. To Mr. King, I would say this: Congressman, the emblem on your tie was a symbol. So is the flag on your desk. Take it down.”

The Iowa Democratic Party released this statement from executive director Ben Foecke.

“The only place a confederate flag belongs is in a museum, and Steve King has no business displaying a blatant symbol of hate in a government office. This is really nothing new from Congressman Steve King who does little to hide his racism and complete disrespect for minority communities. This is just the latest example of King’s career built on exclusion and discrimination. Last month, King proposed an amendment to block Harriet Tubman from appearing on the $20 bill. In light of last week’s tragedies, our nation should be spreading a message of unity, not division.”

Pat Rynard noticed that the flag has been on King’s desk since at least April, but was not there in July 2014. Rynard’s post at Iowa Starting Line noted that King has defended Confederate flag displays in the past as a free speech issue.

Of course the First Amendment permits displaying racist symbols like the traitor’s flag. That doesn’t mean a member of Congress representing one-fourth of Iowans should do so. The Des Moines Register shared a video showing King discussing his abolitionist ancestors. (The Republican Party grew out of the anti-slavery movement.)

Screen shot from a July 7, 2016 news segment on KCAU TV in Sioux City.

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  • Thank you for this post.

    I have seen a small, but growing number of people flying the Confederate flag in Iowa. It is disgusting, and it shows a willful ignorance and disrespect of the sacrifice many Iowans made in the fight against slavery.

    • Just saw one

      A tiling machine on a flatbed truck just went by my house an hour ago flying the slave owner’s flag–a big one.

    • That's so disturbing

      Obviously they have the right to free expression but that is such a hateful symbol.

  • Iowa Is A Wonderful State

    Is That A Rep Flag For You Or The State Your Serving?
    I’m a transgender here in this fine state, and I have to say you are a man who needs some revising, and education on the diversity of people you work for, and who also gave you a desk to sit at, and a pay check to feed your family.

    Ms.Brandie Rose DeVore