In a fresh blow to embattled Iowa Rep. Steve King, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy refused to take a position on his primary race and denied that he indicated to the nine-term congressman that he could get his committee assignments back. 

King, who represents one of the most productive agricultural House districts in the country, was one of the more senior Republicans on the House Agriculture and Judiciary committees until early 2019, when GOP leaders stripped him of the panel assignments after he asked a New York Times reporter why white supremacy was considered offensive. King also lost his Small Business committee assignment.

Earlier this week in Iowa, King said at a debate that McCarthy had agreed to “advocate to the (Republican) Steering Committee to put all of my committees back, all of my seniority,” the Sioux City (Iowa) Journal reported. “When Congress comes back into session, when the steering committee can (inaudible) together, I have Kevin McCarthy’s word that will be my time for exoneration.”

McCarthy was asked about that statement Friday at his weekly news conference and replied, “Congressman King’s comments can never be exonerated. Committee assignments are decided by the steering committee, and he’ll have the opportunity to make the case. Talking to the steering committee I think he would get the same answer as before.”

McCarthy was later asked whether he would support King’s reelection. “I’ve not taken a position on his race, no.” Asked why not, McCarthy replied, “the people have the determination to decide who they vote for.” 

When a reporter then pointed out that McCarthy typically supports incumbent GOP House members, McCarthy said, “The constituents have a decision to make, and they can make their own decision.”

King faces a formidable opponent in the June 2 GOP primary in state Sen. Randy Feenstra, an Iowa State Bank business manager and professor at Dordt University in Sioux Center. A Feenstra-commissioned poll found that King’s lead in the race had narrowed from 53%-22% in January to 39%-36% last week. A memo posted by the Feenstra campaign notes that "King’s lead is less than the margin of error" while 10% of voters remain undecided and another 9% plan to vote for another primary candidate.

"The only thing worse than Steve King costing our farmers their voice on the Ag committee was lying to them and saying they had been restored," Feenstra spokesman Matt Leopold said Friday after McCarthy's news conference. "Now, more than ever, our farmers need an effective conservative leader in Congress, not desperate political deception."

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King had a history of racially insensitive comments before The New York Times incident and was known as one of the most outspoken congressional critics of immigration. 

The winter of the primary will face Democrat J.D. Scholten, who lost to King 50.4% to 47% in 2018. 

Iowa's 4th District accounted for nearly $16 billion in agricultural production in 2017, second only to Nebraska's 3rd District, which had $16.6 billion but is much larger geographically, according to the latest USDA census. 

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