WASHINGTON — Representative Steve King of Iowa, who has a history of issuing racist remarks and demeaning insults about immigrants, seemingly joked on Tuesday about the Chinese government’s mass detention and mistreatment of Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group.
“The Uighurs, the Muslims in China — a million of them — they’re being put into camps, and they’re taking their children away, and raising them, and then they’re sterilizing the women,” Mr. King, a Republican, said at a town hall-style meeting. He went on to explain the tactics of the Chinese government’s cultural campaign against the Uighurs, telling constituents that Beijing had forced detainees to change their clothing and diet, “which includes trying to force the Muslims to eat pork.”
“That’s actually the only part of that that I agree with, is, everybody ought to eat pork,” Mr. King, a Republican, said, drawing scattered chuckles from the room. “If we have a shortage of bacon you can’t be happy.”
Mr. King’s comments, first reported by a local news website, Iowa Starting Line, were ostensibly meant to underscore the Chinese government’s mistreatment of nearly two million Uighurs as part of a larger broadside. But in his aside, Mr. King, already under siege for his history of racist remarks, drew yet another unwelcome spotlight on himself while breathing new life into a worn Islamophobic riff mocking some Muslims for abstaining from pork.
Mr. King was assailed by both the left and right this month after a town hall-style meeting in which he questioned if there would “be any population of the world left” were it not for rape and incest. He made the comment while defending his opposition to exceptions for rape and incest in anti-abortion legislation. Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-ranking House Republican, called the remarks “bizarre” and reiterated her earlier call for Mr. King to resign.
With his comment on Tuesday, Mr. King returned to familiar territory. He told Breitbart last year in a radio interview that he did not want Muslims working at meatpacking plants in his district.
“I don’t want people doing my pork that won’t eat it, let alone hope I go to hell for eating pork chops,” he said.
A week before that interview, he bemoaned on Twitter an article detailing how one of the world’s largest competitive soccer tournaments for youth players announced it would refrain from serving pork at the tournament to accommodate Muslim players.
“No takin’ bacon off our tables—ever!” he tweeted. “Sweden has capitulated to halal.”
Mr. King, who is running for a tenth term, is facing his most serious primary race challenge in years. The challenger, State Senator Randy Feenstra, has gained traction with conservatives weary of Mr. King’s penchant for making racist comments. Should Mr. King survive the primary, he is likely to face a bruising rematch against J. D. Scholten, the Democrat he beat in 2018 by about 10,000 votes.
Republicans have for years largely dodged Mr. King’s comments while seeking out his endorsement as a presidential kingmaker in the crucial Iowa caucuses, even as he promoted white nationalists and neo-Nazis on Twitter and made outlandish and racist claims, including infamously stating that undocumented immigrants have “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
But party leaders drew a line this year after he made comments to The New York Times questioning why “white supremacist” was considered an offensive phrase. House Republican leaders removed Mr. King from his committee assignments in January, and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, and Ms. Cheney suggested he should resign.