Iowa Rep. Steve King
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Based on what I know about Rep. Steve King of Iowa, it would be inexplicable if he didn’t introduce an amendment to block the Treasury Department from putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. That he did so was as predictable as April Showers.

What was also very predictable was that he’d shirk taking ownership of his racist motivation. I don’t quite understand why Rep. King is so willing to be a voice for the most reactionary white supremacists in the country but always claims that he’s not a racist and that it’s his critics who are the racists.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) proposed an amendment to a spending bill that would [prohibit] the use of funds to redesign any Federal Reserve note or coin. He said that the amendment was not intended as a slight to Tubman, but a symbol of his “conservative” commitment to preserving history.

“It’s not about Harriet Tubman, it’s about keeping the picture on the $20,” King told Politico. “Y’know? Why would you want to change that? I am a conservative, I like to keep what we have.”

The Iowa Republican went on to say that it was “racist” and “sexist” to suggest that a woman or person of color be included on U.S. currency. For King, the proposal to replace former president Andrew Jackson, a slaveowner, with an abolitionist and feminist icon was “liberal activism.”

“This is a divisive proposal on the part of the president, and mine’s unifying,” he told Politico. “It says just don’t change anything.”

I find that spin quite interesting. There’s some kind of truth buried in it. For people like Steve King, perpetuating injustice is preferable to changing anything because changing things means that he doesn’t get to keep what he has.

And it’s not divisive to keep things the way they are even if some people are extremely dissatisfied with the status quo. It’s unifying to oppose any reforms to how we do things.

And the real sexism or racism is perpetrated by women and people of color who insist on changing things, because they’re the ones who think in terms of gender and race, unlike Rep. King who can’t see any sexism or racism even when it originates between his own ears.

In the end, Rep. King got slapped down (and not for the first time) by his own Republican leadership. The House Rules committee won’t allow his amendment.

His November opponent summed the situation up quite well.

Kim Weaver of Sheldon, King’s Democratic opponent in Iowa’s 4th District race for the House this fall, criticized the seven-term lawmaker’s proposal.

“Iowans have four representatives in the United States House of Representatives, and unfortunately one of them seems to maintain a laser focus on where his next headline-grabbing piece of stunt legislation will come from,” Weaver said. “What will this amendment do for residents of Iowa’s 4th District? Nothing. How will it make the lives of his constituents better? It won’t. And what chance does this meaningless and mean-spirited gesture have of actually passing? Just like most measures introduced by Steve King, none.”

I don’t know if Steve King is the worst person in the House of Representatives, but he’s doing his best to claim that honor.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at