Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who tweeted a potentially racist statement on March 12, said he's been receiving pats on the back and support from other Republican colleagues.
The tweet mentioned the leader of the Netherlands' far-right party, Geert Wilders. Wilders has been linked to a growing wave of ethno-nationalistic populism sweeping Europe, and has made statements many have denounced as Islamophobic.
King tweeted, "Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies." The anti-Muslim Dutch politician and his party were heading into national elections shortly after the statement was made. Wilders was running to be the country's prime minister, but was defeated.
King immediately came under fire from other GOP members of the House who questioned the intent behind the use of the phrase, "we can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies." Fellow Republicans pointed out that in relation to Wilders' anti-immigration policies, and President Donald Trump's own, the statement targeted immigrants in the U.S.
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Following King's tweet, fellow GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida, the son of Cuban immigrants, replied, "What exactly do you mean? Do I qualify as "somebody else's baby?" #concernedGOPcolleague."
But when asked about the response he's received from his GOP colleagues so far, King replied, "My colleagues have generally been coming by and patting me on the back. And a surprising number have said that they pray for me. And, meaning they support me and they agree with me, a surprising number ... I don't often have members come up and say at the end of the day, 'I prayed for you this morning.' So they must think I've got a lot of arrows in my back."
"Steve makes remarks like that all the time," Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, the son of Syrian and Palestinian immigrants, told The Hill on March 16.
Both Amash and Curbelo have condemned the tweet, as have a number of other GOP lawmakers, reports The Hill.
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King continues to argue that his statement has been distorted by critics. Nearly every Democrat has condemned the statement as racist, anti-immigrant and thinly veiled white nationalism.
"Any rational person would know that if I'm sending a tweet out for a candidate for prime minister of the Netherlands, and I say 'our civilization,' they would have to know that I'm not talking about race in America. I'm talking about the civilization we share," King said.
Republican House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said he disagreed with King's tweet in an interview on March 13 with Fox News, reports The Hill.
Democratic House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California called on Republican leaders on March 14 to remove King from his position as chairman of a subpanel in the House Judiciary Committee on the Constitution and Civil Justice as punishment.