Rep. Steve King—a man who makes news with openly racist, white supremacist, and otherwise offensive comments often enough that his own party finally stripped him of his committee assignments—dredged up an old racist complaint while speaking at a town hall in the overwhelmingly white city of Charter Oak, Iowa, Thursday night:
[H]ere’s what FEMA tells me: We go to a place like New Orleans, and everybody’s looking around saying, “Who’s going to help me? Who’s going to help me?” We go to a place like Iowa, and we go see, knock on the door at, say, I make up a name, John’s place, and say, “John, you got water in your basement, we can write you a check, we can help you.” And John will say, “Well, wait a minute, let me get my boots. It’s Joe that needs help. Let’s go down to his place and help him.”
While King, in praising Iowans for their response to the recent flooding along the Missouri River, did not say explicitly why he singled out residents of New Orleans 14 years ago, the majority-black city has long been subject to racist tropes about laziness and reliance on government handouts.
King, who in his comments boasted that he had visited New Orleans after the hurricane and participated in relief efforts, was one of a small number in Congress to oppose a bill providing federal aid to the victims, according to the Washington Post. Hurricane Katrina was the deadliest storm to hit the U.S. in nearly eight decades: According to CNN, at least 1,833 people, mainly in Louisiana, died from the storm and its floods; nearly half of those who died in Louisiana were older than 74. The government estimated the cost of damage at $125 billion.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards called King’s comments “disgusting and disheartening” on Thursday. “When communities are affected by disasters, we come together to help each other, not tear each other down,” he tweeted.
U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, who represents a suburban New Orleans district, also quickly condemned King’s statement. “His comments about Katrina victims are absurd and offensive,” he told the Advocate. “[They] are a complete contradiction to the strength and resilience the people of New Orleans demonstrated to the entire nation in the wake of the total devastation they experienced.”