ASHTON, Iowa — When U.S. Rep. Steve King hosted an Osceola County town hall Thursday, he emphasized trade and immigration and took the opportunity to stand up for personal comments and party policies.
King said a top priority for him going into the next legislative session is getting the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement passed in Congress. Already signed by President Donald Trump, the bill's next stop is the U.S. House of Representatives, the body in which King serves.
King said that nearly every House Republican supports the USMCA, but only 20 to 25 Democrats do. He feels skeptical that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will bring the bill to the floor for a vote, since so few members of her party are in favor of the trade agreement.
"We have to grow the Democrat vote to get this thing to the floor," King suggested. He said there are three Democratic House members from Iowa who haven't taken a stance one way or the other, and they would be a good place to start.
Ultimately, he predicted, "I believe we will pass it. I believe we will have the USMCA."
King added that he believes passing the USMCA will bolster trade with China and other nations. To remedy the tension with China, King has written a bill proposing a solution.
"It directs the U.S. trade representative to conduct a study to determine the value of U.S. intellectual property pirated by the Chinese, and apply a duty to all products coming from China at an amount equivalent to recover that loss and distribute it to the rightful property rights holders," he explained.
He first introduced this bill about 13 years ago, and the U.S. loss to China has been so exponential since then that King believes if his bill were to pass now, the duty would have to be introduced incrementally or else the U.S. would risk ending all trade with China.
In terms of coming to final agreements, King said Trump's unpredictable antics are an asset.
"We got all of what we bargained for (in electing Trump) and maybe a little bit more," King said. "But in a way, that's all right. If the other side doesn't know what he's going to do, that gives our president and our negotiators more power."
King reported on his recent trip to an immigrant detention center in El Paso, Texas. He said during a single night at one specific location along the Rio Grande, he watched 400 to 500 migrants be interdicted by border patrol.
"A few years ago, the border patrol kept score by how many they interdicted and placed into removal facilities," King said. "That's what we hired them to do. Today, they keep score by how short a line they can have waiting to be welcomed into America and distributed to wherever there's a city of their choice.
"Something like 40% of (border patrol workers) are occupied by taking care of people, rather than trying to protect our borders," King added.
Further comments on the asylum crisis at the border centered on statistics. King asserted that 40% of asylum seekers don't show up for their asylum hearings. Of those who do show up, 10% are granted asylum (6% of total asylum seekers).
The remaining 54% (those who appear for their hearings and are not given asylum), King said, are scheduled for deportation hearings that are set months or even years in advance. He claimed that none of those people turn up for their deportation hearings.
"That means that 100% of those that applied for asylum get to stay," King lamented. "So that's how bad it is."
The center of the immigration crisis, King said, is that "We don't have the will in Congress to do that which is right for America."
2016 election investigation
King shared his feelings about the ongoing investigation by the FBI of Trump's victory in the 2016 presidential election. He called the investigation "a nefarious plan ... first to deny Donald Trump the presidency, and then as a president-elect, try to destroy him to the point where he couldn't effectively govern, and to take him down and out of office.
"We've got a major problem at the the top, and it is a bigger corruption than anything I know of in American history." Added King of the investigation: "This is gangster activity."
King also addressed his January removal from House committees following comments attributed to him in a story in The New York Times that included, "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?"
Although he has appealed for a reversal of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's decision to withdraw his committee assignments, King said he has not been reinstated.
He maintained that his comments as quoted by the Times were wrong. As proof, he offered that in searching all of his media coverage since 2000, he had never used the words "white supremacy" or "white nationalism" before the Jan. 10 interview that led to his committee removal.
"What I did do was defend Western civilization," King said.
"This isn't my mistake, aside from doing the interview in the first place," King added. "It's Kevin McCarthy's mistake for being knee-jerk on this thing."
He referred to the criticism he received from his peers as a "political lynch mob." He added, "I don't have a single accuser."
"This has never happened in the history of the United States Congress that anybody has been ... treated in that fashion for exercising freedom of speech," King concluded.
"Whatever I have said throughout all my public career has been demonstrably and objectively and factually true," King said. "I don't want you to think that what has happened in January and multiple times since then was organic in nature. It was not. It was strategically put together. I know that."