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Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson Parish, waves to the crowd after giving the opening address at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference at the Pontchartrain Convention & Civic Center in Kenner , La. Friday, Jan. 18, 2019. The two-day event started Friday.

Louisiana leaders have roundly condemned comments that an Iowa congressman made this week portraying Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans as people who only sought government help, compared to Iowans who “take care of each other."

“Here’s what FEMA tells me: ‘We go to a place like New Orleans and everybody’s looking around saying, who’s gonna help me, who’s gonna help me?’” controversial U.S. Rep. Steve King said during a town hall meeting in Charter Oak, Iowa on Thursday. “They’re just always gratified when they come and see how Iowans take care of each other. It’s a point of pride that spreads across the country.”

King, a Republican who was stripped of his Congressional committee assignments in January after questioning why "white supremacist" and other racist language is deemed offensive, has faced consistent backlash over his extreme views on race and immigration. He did not explicitly mention race in the town hall exchange, but King’s district in Iowa is about 95 percent white. About 67 percent of the population of the city of New Orleans was black when Katrina hit, and black people were disproportionately impacted by the storm.

U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, the No. 2 ranking Republican in the House who also represents a suburban New Orleans district, swiftly condemned King's remarks.

"His comments about Katrina victims are absurd and offensive, and 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," said Scalise, who earlier this year helped lead the charge to remove King from his committee assignments.

U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, a New Orleans Democrat who has been a vocal critic of King in the past, called his latest remarks about Katrina unsettling and said they are consistent with his extreme views on race.

"When people show you who they are, believe them," Richmond tweeted. "Steve King is a white supremacist, and I won’t stand for it."

At the town hall, which King livestreamed on Facebook, King said he made four trips to New Orleans in the wake of the catastrophic and deadly 2005 hurricane.

He used the anecdote to explain why he’s proud that Iowa, which is currently experiencing massive flooding, has a better reputation.

Describing his conversation with the unnamed FEMA official, King said: “We go to a place like Iowa, and we go, we go see, knock on the door at, say, I’ll 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.’”

King’s office didn’t respond to The Advocate’s request for comment on the response in Louisiana. King, who has regularly voted against disaster relief money, was one of 11 House members who voted against the nearly $52 billion post-Katrina aid package a month after the storm hit in 2005.

Few people have died in the recent Iowa floods to date. More than 500 people died in New Orleans during Katrina after the levees failed and most of the city flooded. 

Louisiana Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Carter Peterson, a state senator and New Orleans native, said King’s was employing a racist dog whistle in front of a majority white audience.

“Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana leaving 1,800 dead with tens of thousands more homeless and impoverished. He has no right to comment on what our people have been through or continue to spread these falsities," she said. "His dog whistle comments today are a further display of his racist, white supremacist beliefs and call on prejudiced, hate-filled stereotypes that he has no problem displaying. There is no place for this sort of hateful rhetoric in our government and we need our leaders to show that they will not tolerate it.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who is running for re-election this year, called King's remarks "disgusting and disheartening."

"When communities are affected by disasters, we come together to help each other, not tear each other down," he said.

Edwards’ two Republican opponents in this fall’s race – U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham of rural northeast Louisiana and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone – also took King to task for the comments.

"Louisianians have faced our fair share of adversity, and I’m always amazed at how quickly we rally from across the state to help one another when disaster strikes," Abraham said. "Anyone who would say otherwise doesn’t know the real Louisiana. I wholeheartedly reject the comments that disparaged our state and her people during one of the most difficult times in Louisiana’s history. We experience hardship together, and we rebuild together because there are no more resilient people in this country than Louisianians."

Rispone cited the now nationally-recognized Cajun Navy as an example of why King’s comments are untrue.

"Rep. King’s portrayal of New Orleans and the victims of Katrina is illogical and offensive," he said. "Louisianans’ are well-known for their compassion and cooperation when confronted with disaster. Perhaps King missed President Trump’s praise of the Cajun Navy during the 2018 State of the Union.”

Trump has repeatedly praised the Cajun Navy, a loosely-organized band of Louisiana residents and boaters who voluntarily assist with rescues during natural disasters.


Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.