Live From Capitol Hill With Diamond and Silk

Oh, and also Iowa Rep. Steve King.
June 12, 2019
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(Photo illustration by Hannah Yoest; photo by Andrew Egger/Laserportraits.tumblr.com)

Rep. Steve King has not been a busy man of late. Earlier this year, the Iowa congressman was stripped of all committee assignments after he wondered aloud in an interview with the New York Times how talk of “white nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization” became offensive in America. Since then, he has had little to do but talk to constituents, attend caucus meetings, and try unsuccessfully to work his way aboard Air Force One.

You’ll be happy to hear, however, that King has been putting his free time to good use. On Wednesday, he took to the lawn of the U.S. Capitol to announce his latest bill with great fanfare: that is to say, in the company of President Trump’s most notable YouTube superfans, Diamond and Silk, whose lengthy, free-associative webcam diatribes and Fox News appearances go out to an audience of millions.

The “Diamond and Silk Act,” as King is calling it, seeks to kill two red-meat birds with one stone: It would cut off all federal funding to so-called “sanctuary cities”—cities that decline to fully cooperate with federal immigration enforcement—and use the freed-up dough to fund “federal programs that provide badly needed assistance for America’s homeless and for our nation’s veterans.” It’s the perfect vehicle for a little #MAGA posturing: What kind of freedom-loving, red-blooded American wants to keep sending money to lib cities while our great troops live in squalor on the streets? It stands absolutely no chance of passing.

Thus it was a bizarre little scene that played out for the rollout Wednesday, as King, Diamond and Silk made their appearances to sell the thing to a handful of reporters who had shown up, let’s be honest, to take in the spectacle. On their way to the podium, the e-celebs stopped to take pictures with some lucky fans who happened to be visiting the Capitol, while King hobnobbed with their family members off to one side: “Where are y’all from?—You act like you’re from Iowa!—And that’s a compliment!”

The press conference itself started calmly enough. King praised the YouTubers for their concern about America’s borders and America’s vets—“they were even stronger on [sanctuary cities] than I was”—and going through the broad strokes of their bill. Then the Q&A started.

It’s difficult to describe the scene that followed, with dorky congressional reporters trying to ask a boring, straitlaced questions about King or his bill, and Diamond and Silk responding by raging against presidential candidate Joe Biden, freshmen congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, and plastic straw bans. The reporters—who, in fairness, are used to trying to drag more information out of tight-lipped officials, not fight against a slurry of non sequiturs from fast-talking orators—were more or less at a loss. There was no gotcha question Diamond and Silk couldn’t bluster their way through:

REPORTER: What did you think of Congressman King retweeting white supremacists?

DIAMOND: Well, what is the definition of a white supremacist? What is your definition of that?

SILK: You don’t know, do you?

DIAMOND: So if you don’t know what a white supremacist is, why would you talk that? Why would you ask me that question?

SILK: You don’t even know.

REPORTER: Well, uh…

DIAMOND: See, I’m tired of you all playing the race card—

SILK: Uh-huh.

DIAMOND: You play the gender card—

SILK: Uh-huh.

DIAMOND: You play the sex card. It’s time to start working for Americans. And stop calling everybody a racist.

Going into the conference, the primary question I had was: What’s the point of all this nonsense? It was obvious why Diamond and Silk were there: This sort of confrontation with the Fake News Media is their brand’s bread and butter. And it was clear why the reporters were there: This sort of bizarre scene is low-hanging fruit. But what did King get out of the whole mess? After all, he’d been laying low for months, eschewing nearly all media comments. Even for him, wasn’t the whole thing a little … embarrassing?

As the Q&A dragged on, though, the answer presented itself. Perhaps more than any other sitting U.S. congressman, Steve King nurses a seething hatred for the media. To hear him tell it, his career implosion over the past year hasn’t been a result of him making racist statement after racist statement: It’s been the work of shadowy left-wing media forces twisting his words to make him sound like a bigot. At the same time, though, King is cursed with a mild-mannered disposition: When he punches back at reporters’ questions, he merely sounds aggrieved. But the opportunity to deputize Diamond and Silk to do that work for him, however—well, that was an opportunity too good to pass up. Watching them tear through each reporter in succession, King was plainly enjoying himself.

REPORTER: Congressman, you’re in the minority, you’ve been stripped of your committee assignments. What makes you think that even your Republican colleagues would entertain this?

DIAMOND: Can I answer that?

KING: Sure!

DIAMOND: It shouldn’t be about Congressman Steve King. This is about the American people that’s out here living on the streets. We’ve got Americans living in tents, okay? We have homeless people. We have our veterans on the streets. So don’t make this about Steve King. This is about the American people that’s living on the streets, and we’ve got other Americans that’s tired of looking at it. That’s why we need this to end, and we need Congress to act. So I don’t care whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, because this affects everybody. And those same Congressmen and women who are up there advocating for illegal aliens—if they were really concerned about illegal aliens, then why don’t they drop them off in their communities, behind their picket fences? So this ain’t about no Steve King, this is about our homeless, our veterans and Americans.

REPORTER: …Could the Congressman answer the question?

KING: I think that they’ve answered it adequately. I’m satisfied with their response.

It was the sort of revenge he’s rarely had in the twilight of his career. Diamond and Silk, over to you.

Andrew Egger

Andrew Egger is a senior writer at The Bulwark.