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WASHINGTON — It has been five months since Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, lost his committee assignments over his support for white supremacy, and on Wednesday he took a step toward rehabilitation.

He gave a news conference on the Capitol grounds — with two real, live, actual black people!

Not African Americans, mind you. "You ain't gotta call me African American 'cause I ain't never been to Africa," explained Lynnette Hardaway. "You can call me black."

Hardaway and her sister, Rochelle Richardson, form the "Diamond and Silk" YouTube sensation, a duo whose outrageous conservative commentary has won them frequent airtime on Fox News and promotion from President Trump.

King had recruited Diamond and Silk ostensibly to help launch a new piece of legislation, the so-called Diamond and Silk Act — designed to shift funds from sanctuary cities to homeless veterans — but really King needed them to inoculate him from the whole racism thing.

"You've been stripped of your committee assignments. What makes you think Republican colleagues will even entertain this?" asked the first questioner.

Before King could speak, Diamond broke in. "Can I answer this?"

"Sure," a delighted King replied.

She launched into an angry diatribe about members of Congress living in mansions, concluding: "So this ain't about no Steve King. This is about our homeless, our veterans and Americans."

King had nothing to add. "I think they've answered it adequately."

So, if this isn't about King, why is he giving a news conference?

Diamond's answer included an extensive complaint about attempts to phase out plastic drinking straws.

When a third reporter asked Diamond and Silk what they thought of King retweeting white supremacists, the entertainers erupted:

"What is the definition of white supremacist?"

"You don't know, do you?"

"Why would you talk that?"

"I'm tired of you all playing the race card."

"Stop calling everybody a racist."

King, a slight man, stood hidden behind the sisters, while they angrily quarreled with the notion that white supremacists are white supremacists.

It was perhaps the most brazen attempt by a white man to shield himself from racial criticism since Trump told a sea of white faces at a campaign rally to "look at my African American over here." (Diamond vouched for Trump, too, saying he's "not a racist — he's a realist.")

The women, arguably the white nationalists' favorite black people, are perhaps not the best character references on such matters. Fox News recently had to retract their on-air claim that Speaker Nancy Pelosi is "a nonfunctioning alcoholic and she slurs her words" (this was based on a doctored video). Diamond and Silk previously called Hillary Clinton a "slave master," said she was responsible for Russia acquiring nuclear weapons (which happened 70 years ago) and falsely stated under oath that they hadn't been paid by the Trump campaign.

But King is not in a position to be picky. The statement to The New York Times that cost him his committee assignments ("White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?") was just one of his many incendiary remarks over the years. So low is his standing that the White House wouldn't let him fly on Air Force One this week to his home state of Iowa. (He attended Trump's event anyway.) His website sidesteps his loss of committee assignments, saying he "has" served on three.

When reporters inevitably peppered him at Wednesday's event about his white-nationalism flirtations, King protested that he was "misquoted" by the Times and in similar remarks in the Congressional Record.

"That's my final word on the topic," he proposed.

No dice.

A reporter invited him to explain what he actually meant about "Western civilization."

"I said that's my final word on that topic," he repeated.

Would he ever get back on his committees?

"Let's just stick on topic here today."

Why was he barred from Air Force One?

"I can't hear you," he replied.

But everybody within a quarter mile could hear the shouts of Diamond and Silk. They attacked Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar (Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.). They attacked Joe Biden for remarks in 1993 that "echo the sentiments of bigotry and racism."

They went wherever their thoughts took them. They proffered their views on homeless encampments ("looks like a full toilet, you've got to be stepping across sugar honey iced tea") and on sanctuary cities ("It isn't legal to aid and [abet] illegal aliens").

Of course, they also demanded that King be given back his committee assignments, asking, "You're going to make this man act like he's racist?"

He does that well enough without assistance.

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Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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