King, running point on New York storm aid, says Boehner ‘wants to make it work’

King, left, at a meeting hosted by Cuomo. ()
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As Gov. Andrew Cuomo put it at a press conference today, Rep. Peter King is now "very important" to New Yorkers hoping for a robust federal package to cover the state's losses during Hurricane Sandy.

Cuomo huddled with members of the state's congressional delegation earlier this week, as part of the strategic planning to recover as much of the state's estimated $40 billion in storm-related losses as possible from the federal government.

On the Senate side, the state is counting on Chuck Schumer, a member of the majority leadership, to deliver.

In the Republican-controlled House, New York is counting on King.

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As the only Republican member who survived the mid-decade purge of the G.O.P. delegation, King, who was first elected in 1992, has about two decades more seniority than Michael Grimm, the only other Republican who represents a downstate district.

King and Cuomo have been speaking one or two times each day, with King relaying information from House Speaker John Boehner, including the fact that there's no urgent need for the governor to trek to the Capitol.

"A lot of people are saying he should come to Washington," King told me in a phone interview this afternoon, referring to Cuomo. "I speak to Boehner, and Boehner says, 'You know there's no need.' Because Boehner's not much for ceremony either. And Boehner just said, you know, 'Wait till the numbers come in from the White House. Things should be fine.'"

King is a longtime friend of Boehner, who was elected two years before King and shared many of his frustrations with House Speaker Newt Gingrich during the 1990s.

King has proven himself a loyal ally in Boehner's dealings with the more outspoken Tea Party members in his caucus, which is where the most vigorous opposition to substantial supplemental funding for New York would most likely originate.

"I think that the speaker wants to make this work," King said. "I'm sure the administration does."

King said his role right now was "basically, I speak to Boehner and go back to the governor," and that a broader lobbying effort would wait until the White House releases its funding recommendation.

"Right now it's mainly in the speaker's hands," he said. "We are talking to other people, a few people, quietly. But not making the full-court press until we see what numbers the administration is going to come up with. And then we'll go from there."

Part of the trouble is that members from other regions have a hard time sympathizing with New Yorkers' plight.

"There's always an certain anti-New York bias you have to contend with," he said. "People have a hard time accepting that New York ever needs money. They all come to New York to raise money so they think we're all filled with money. So we have to overcome that."

King came up against it in 2010, when he helped convince Republicans to pass the 9/11 health care bill, a fight that he thinks was even more difficult than arguing for a post-Sandy supplemental.

"9/11 health care, unless you had a guy around the corner from you dying of a disease, it was hard to realize how bad it is," he said. "This is very easy for people to see."

King said the request should be separate from the fiscal cliff negotiations, since it's a supplemental request, but said "obviously it's going to factor in to some people's minds."

He hoped that having the combined New York and New Jersey delegations, along with "heavy hitters" like Cuomo, Chris Christie and Michael Bloomberg, would help with its passage.

I asked King if he thought the supplemental could help counteract the idea, arguably reinforced by voting patterns in this year's election, that the Republicans had become an anti-urban party.

"I don't want to be going on the record about that," he said. "What I'm trying to do is minimize any type of, anything that's going to divide people in Congress. So I don't want to say Republicans have anything to prove. All of us want to do the right thing in both parties."