ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Some top Republicans are distancing themselves from Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King because of his racially offensive comments and ties with white supremacist organizations. Now, King's hardline views on immigration have been known, but the Pittsburgh shooting brought more attention to his record. This week he lost corporate support, and the chairman of the House Republican Campaign Committee called King's comments and actions inappropriate. NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell is following this, and she's here in the studio. Hi, Kelsey.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hey there.
SHAPIRO: It's been widely known for a long time that King makes comments that many deem offensive about immigrants. He has been sharing posts from racist accounts on Twitter. That's not new. So why are Republicans denouncing him now?
SNELL: Right. Yeah. King's views are absolutely not a secret. He's very open about it. And in fact, he's met with the president particularly about his views on immigration, and he has celebrated the fact that the president is adopting some of King's own views, like ending birthright citizenship, which is something King has advocated for a long time. But what happened is that after the shooting in Pittsburgh, more and more information about recent associations he had with an Austrian group with ties to Nazis started to emerge.
He did an interview in August with Austria's Freedom Party, which was founded by a former Nazi officer, while he was on a trip visiting Holocaust sites. Now, in the interview, he discussed the decline of Western civilization and talked about immigrants replacing white Europeans. And that all came out shortly after the shooting, which caused more and more attention to it.
SHAPIRO: And as we said, there's been criticism from within his own party. There have been corporations that have distanced themselves from him. What has King's response been?
SNELL: He says his comments were being misinterpreted. He was at an event in Iowa, and he was defending himself. Here's a little bit of what he said.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
STEVE KING: It's not tolerable to accuse me to be associated with a guy that shot 11 people in Pittsburgh. I am a person who has stood with Israel from the beginning that to the length of that nation is the length of my life.
SNELL: Yeah. And he was quite defensive, and there were several questions. At one point in time, he got into it with a protester and somebody who was asking him to clarify his views. But Republican leaders are already abandoning him. As you mentioned, Steve Stivers, who is the person who's in charge of the campaign arm of House Republicans, denounced him. And there are other people who are pulling party resources.
But like you said, not the first time that this has happened and not the first time Republicans have criticized him. We've seen it happen since - gosh, I remember it happening once in 2013 when then-House Speaker Boehner had to say something about it. But he's been re-elected many times. He's been in Congress for 16 years.
SHAPIRO: Sixteen years. So eight campaigns...
SHAPIRO: ...And another election on Tuesday. Is he in danger?
SNELL: Well, he's been tweeting support from other Republicans. And, you know, these controversies, and the ones where Republican leaders are forced to respond to him, seem to happen at a time when there's a national conversation about immigration. And this is no different. But we have to remember that the voters back in his home district know who Steve King is, and they keep voting for him.
There has been a little bit of a shift, and some Democrats are showing some confidence that maybe they could pick up this seat. But that would be a reach because, like I said, this is a really conservative area, and there are more and more Republicans on the national scene who are coming around to adopting his views, as is evidenced by the president taking on the issue of birthright citizenship. So there's not a great expectation that he will lose.
SHAPIRO: So when you look at the Republican leadership, how unified are they on this issue?
SNELL: We haven't heard from the speaker of the House or other top Republican leaders. And, you know, that's really opened Republicans up to the criticism from Democrats, who say that King's views have a home within the GOP as a party. And that's something that they are going to have to combat no matter what happens with King's re-election.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell.
SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.