The conservative congressman Steve King drew bipartisan condemnation for saying “our civilization” couldn’t be restored “with somebody else’s babies” while the Iowa representative defended his comments and said they were “not about race”.
On Sunday, King praised the far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who has espoused anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric and last month called Moroccans “scum”.
“Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny,” King wrote on Twitter, linking to another tweet in praise of Wilders. “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”
Asked to clarify his comments on Monday, King told CNN’s New Day: “I meant exactly what I said, as is always the case.”
King expanded, saying he had delivered the same message to an audience in Europe.
“You cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else’s babies,” he reiterated. “You’ve got to keep your birth rate up, and you need to teach your children your values. In doing so, you can grow your population, you can strengthen your culture, and you can strengthen your way of life.”
A spokesman for the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, said King’s “vile racism has no place in decent society, much less in the US Congress”.
“It’s no accident that communities across America have been threatened by emboldened racists,” the spokesman, Drew Hammill, said. “The GOP leadership must stop accommodating this garbage, and condemn congressman Steve King’s statements in the strongest and most unequivocal terms.”
Through a spokeswoman, the House speaker, Paul Ryan, expressed disagreement with King’s comments.
“The speaker clearly disagrees and believes America’s long history of inclusiveness is one of its great strengths,” said Ryan’s spokeswoman AshLee Strong in a statement.
By Monday, King’s remarks had drawn condemnation from across the political spectrum, including from his House colleagues in both parties.
The Florida Republican representative Carlos Curbelo, who is the son of Cuban exiles, addressed King directly on Twitter.
The Georgia Democratic congressman John Lewis, a civil rights leader, called King’s comments “bigoted” and “racist”.
Linking to King’s tweet, Lewis wrote on Twitter: “It suggests there is one tradition & one appearance that all humanity should conform to.”
And the Democratic representative Ted Lieu, who is Asian American, tweeted a photo of his children.
Dear Representative Steve King: These are my two babies. --Representative Ted Lieu pic.twitter.com/MHU21jJUrY— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) March 12, 2017
Jeb Bush, the former Republican presidential candidate, whose wife is from Mexico, said: “America is a nation of immigrants. The sentiment expressed by Steve King doesn’t reflect our shared history or values.”
On Monday, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, declined to weigh in when asked about King’s remarks during the daily press briefing.
King had one vocal supporter, however. The former leader of the KKK, David Duke, praised the congressman on Twitter, writing in all caps: “GOD BLESS STEVE KING!!!”
“David Duke isn’t welcome in Iowa,” the Iowa Republican party chairman, Jeff Kaufmann, said in a statement in response to King’s remarks.
“First of all, I do not agree with Congressman King’s statement. We are a nation of immigrants, and diversity is the strength of any nation and any community,” Kaufmann said. “Regarding David Duke, his words and sentiments are absolute garbage. He is not welcome in our wonderful state.”
The Iowa Democratic party called on the state’s GOP delegation to censure King for his comments and remove his name from any future Republican party-sponsored events and fundraisers.
“King’s remarks come just a week after a synagogue was threatened in Mason City,” the Iowa Democratic party chairman, Derek Eadon, said in a statement. “Iowans are angry. They are scared. They are sick and tired of being associated with King’s despicable behavior.”
King has aligned himself with the European far right before. He met the French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen with fellow a Republican congressman, Dana Rohrabacher, last month in Paris. In September, he posted a photo of himself with Wilders and wrote: “Cultural suicide by demographic transformation must end.”
In October, King deleted a retweet about Britain’s decision to leave the EU and, in December, he expressed his condolences about the loss of the far-right Freedom party in the Austrian presidential election.
King’s tweet follows a televised tirade on MSNBC in July asking what non-white “sub-groups” had contributed to society.
Asked on CNN if he was advancing a theory of white nationalism with his commentary, King disagreed and said his comments were “not about race” but rather about the promotion of “western civilization”.
“This is an effort on the left, I think, to break down the American civilization, the American culture and turn it into something entirely different,” King said. “I’m a champion for western civilization.”
King continued his defense, lamenting what he viewed as too much focus on race, especially by liberals during the Obama era.
“If you go down the road a few generations or maybe centuries with the intermarriage, I’d like to see an America that [is] so homogenous that we look a lot the same from that perspective,” he said. “I think there’s far too much focus on race, especially in the last eight years. I want to see that put behind us.”