House Dems wrestle with issuing harsher punishment for Steve King

House Democrats are grappling with whether to take the rare step of censuring Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) after the House Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to condemn the controversial lawmaker.

Some rank-and-file members are eager to more severely punish King for making racist remarks and defending white supremacy in an interview with The New York Times. Reps. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) have introduced separate censure motions as “privileged” resolutions, meaning either lawmaker could force floor votes on the motions as soon as Wednesday.

Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) huddled with the duo Tuesday night to talk about a path forward, and discussions were still underway on Wednesday. Ryan’s version of the censure resolution is far more narrow and could likely pick up more support than Rush’s motion, which compares King to a “rabid” animal.

“I understand Bobby Rush’s feelings. Bobby is a very good friend. We talk often. We discussed this at length before the vote. And we have discussed it since the vote. The fact of matter is, I hesitate to go as far as censure for anything that’s done outside the realm of our official duties,” Clyburn said on MSNBC on Wednesday.

House Republicans earlier this week also stripped King of his committee posts.

One of the top concerns among Democrats is that censuring King would open the floodgates for Republicans to retaliate with action of their own. A censure motion requires King to stand in the well of the House while his colleagues rebuked him and read the resolution out loud — a far more severe step than the disapproval resolution approved by the House on Tuesday.

Several Republicans have already privately discussed the possibility of censuring freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a liberal firebrand who made headlines after vowing to “impeach the mother—-er” in reference to Trump. Several GOP lawmakers have also seized on comments made by Tlaib this month that they argued were anti-Semitic.

“If Steve King gets censured, all bets are off,” one House GOP aide said. “If Democrats do force a censure vote for comments made outside the house floor, Democrats probably realize there are other things for us to look at it.”

Democrats are waiting on a formal decision from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who must decide by Wednesday night whether the resolutions qualify as “privileged’ and to set a time when it can be brought to the floor. Democratic leaders could also move to table the motion if it’s brought to a floor vote, though they have not made an indication that they would do so.

Democratic leaders have so far been mum about how they will proceed.

“We’ll see what happens moving forward,” said Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), when pressed on whether there would be further action. “We got Republicans who have indicated perhaps we should move on.”

Clyburn, who sponsored the disapproval resolution, acknowledged the possibility of a censure battle. The South Carolina Democrat has made clear that he thinks the disapproval resolution was the more appropriate course of action, though he also said he would vote for censure if it did come up on the floor.

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