COLUMBIA — U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, slammed his own party Friday for not speaking up louder against racially charged comments made by U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.
In a recent interview with The New York Times, King questioned why the phrases "white nationalist" and "white supremacist" are considered offensive.
Scott, R-S.C., responded in a Washington Post op-ed Friday that the opinions of people like King are damaging to Republicans, conservatives and the country as a whole.
"Some in our party wonder why Republicans are constantly accused of racism — it is because of our silence when things like this are said," Scott wrote. "King’s comments are not conservative views but separate views that should be ridiculed at every turn possible."
Known for years on both sides of the aisle as an incendiary lawmaker, King has in the past endorsed a Toronto mayoral candidate with neo-Nazi ties and met with far-right Austrian leaders.
In 2013, King claimed that for every child of illegal immigrants who is a valedictorian, "there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
That episode once prompted Mick Mulvaney, another South Carolina Republican who is now the acting White House chief of staff, to chastise King during a local GOP breakfast years ago in Goose Creek.
"We need to stop celebrating the absurd in our party and stop rewarding the outrageous and the stupid," Mulvaney said at the time. "We have to figure out how to deal with it as a party."
Since joining the Senate in 2013, and particularly during the Trump administration, Scott has developed a national reputation as the GOP's "conscience on race issues."
After racial violence in Charlottesville, Va., that included a white supremacist killing a woman with his car, Scott said Trump's equivocal response in which he blamed "both sides" had compromised his moral authority.
Scott also has voted down two high-profile judicial nominees in the past year due to what he viewed as "questionable track records on race" and urged his Republican colleagues to stop putting such nominees forward.
King's recent quote was: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”
"I will admit I am unsure who is offended by the term 'Western civilization' on its own," Scott wrote in his op-ed, "but anyone who needs 'white nationalist' or 'white supremacist' defined, described and defended does lack some pretty common knowledge."
King later tried to walk back his comments about white supremacism in a statement, saying, "I reject those labels and the evil ideology that they define." That came after colleagues like U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., denounced his remarks as "abhorrent and racist."
At least one South Carolina Republicans came to King's defense, however.
U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill, told The Post and Courier he hadn't seen King's most recent comments, but he reiterated his faith in King's character that he first expressed after one of the party's top campaign officials disavowed him shortly before election day.
"I know him, and there is not a racist bone in his body," Norman said. "He's as kind and compassionate of a guy as I've met. He's led the way for the rights of the unborn. He's just a class guy."
After enduring criticism from fellow Republicans last year when he took out his pistol during a meeting with constituents to make a point about gun safety, Norman said he could empathize with King's situation.
"I've been on the receiving end, and I didn't understand that," Norman said, "and I don't really understand it with him either."