On Nov. 1, the eve of the midterm elections, Peter King was at his home on Long Island when his cell phone lit up with an unknown number.
“Congressman King, this is John Brennan,” said the White House’s deputy national security adviser, who Mr. King had been pummeling in the press for the better part of two years–repeatedly calling for Mr. Brennan to be fired, and, in February, denouncing him as an incompetent “egomaniac.”
The two hadn’t spoken in 14 months. But with Republicans on the verge of retaking the House, and Mr. King set to reclaim the gavel of the Homeland Security Committee, it was an opportune time to bury the hatchet.
“Whatever personal issues we had, we resolved,” said Mr. King. “We agreed there’s some policy differences, but we will definitely work together and not let any personal things get in the way.”
Earlier this year, Mr. King had passed on rumored runs for the governor’s mansion and the Senate, gambling that he might regain the Homeland Security post and prod the administration toward his own more hawkish positions.
On Nov. 2, the gamble paid off, and the next day Mr. King was awakened from a post-election nap by President Obama himself, calling to offer his congratulations.
But, notwithstanding the post-election niceties and the requisite paeans to bipartisanship, Mr. King has a backlog of security-related gripes with the administration and with the Democrats who have led the Homeland Security Committee since he handed over the gavel in 2006.
To Mr. King, the committee has strayed too far into natural disasters and diversity and immigration issues, and hasn’t focused squarely enough on New York and national security. He has a more targeted, aggressive and controversial vision for the next two years, one that looks to both capitalize quickly on issues in the news and also raise the kinds of broader questions about religion and security that strike some as truth-telling and others as bigotry.
“I look at [the committee] as a legislative counterterrorism strike force,” Mr. King told The Observer in a recent interview. “Go in, identify the problem and try to get it to the House floor as quickly as we can.”
Mr. King was reclining in a high-backed leather chair in his Washington office, a few hours after the Republicans’ first caucus meeting. New members were buzzing around the Capitol grounds, returning Republicans were just beginning to assert their nascent power in the lame-duck session, and incoming committee chairs like Mr. King were already contemplating the next Congress, and how best to litigate their many grievances with Mr. Obama.
Mr. King recited a litany of issues he thinks have been mishandled or ignored, and which he plans to promptly address: port security, air cargo, terror trials, Guantánamo detainees and ensuring New York, as a top target, gets a commensurate share of federal money.
In the two years since Mr. Obama took office, Mr. King has very publicly challenged the administration on, among other things, the closing of Guantánamo (“It would be craven surrender to left-wing groups and uninformed, self-righteous world opinion”); waterboarding (President Bush “should get a medal”); the Christmas Day bombing (“the system did not work”); and the so-called ground zero mosque (“President Obama is wrong”).
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