After Iowa Rep. Steve King’s most recent racist comments, House Democrats stopped efforts to censure the lawmaker, claiming it may set a precedent for limiting freedom of speech. Censure has only been used six times in the last century, and is one of the most serious punishments a House member can receive.In an interview with the New York Times, King asked, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” Members of both parties expressed disapproval, and the House passed a measure introduced by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn condemning his comments.

However, the Washington Post reports that Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) wanted to censure Rep. King and sought a House vote. But instead of issuing a vote, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) decided to move the matter to the Ethics Committee.

House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), who is also the highest ranking African-American member in the House, stated, “I don’t know that it’s a good thing for us to talk about censure for things that are done outside of the business of the House of Representatives. We should be very, very careful about doing anything that constrains, or seems to constrain, speech.”

Rush, disappointed in his fellow Democrats’ responses, told the Washington Post, “If in fact, Steve King utters one more type of racist commentary, then I reserve the right bring it up out of the Ethics Committee.”

Clyburn agrees that a House censure measure on King would have passed with much bipartisan support.

While King walked back his statements, he told a conservative talk show, “What are they going to do next? After they get done telling me to resign, they’ll realize that’s not going to happen.”