The brief, bloodless revolution of Peter King
As of Tuesday night, Rep. Peter King had lost, embarrassingly.
After Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of downstate New York, including big swaths of his Long Island district, King, the dean of New York's Republican delegation, was tapped as the point-man for the state's $60.4-billion Hurricane Sandy aid request in the House.
King had received some modest assurances along the way that House Speaker John Boehner would be supportive of the package, despite the party's overall resistance to federal spending, and on Tuesday afternoon, he got the best news yet: the House leadership, with the strong backing of Majority Leader Eric Cantor, would bring the package to the floor.
But after a contentious vote on President Obama's fiscal cliff deal late Tuesday night, Boehner promptly and surprisingly adjourned the lower chamber, disregarding the promise to the region's Republicans that the leadership would bring the relief package up for a vote.
Area members flocked to the House floor to denounce the decision; King was incensed.
"Everybody played by the rules, except tonight, when the rug was pulled out from under us!" King said on the floor. "Absolutely inexcusable! Absolutely indefensible! We have a moral obligation to hold this vote!"
The next day he toured the media to continue his offensive.
"These Republicans have no problem finding New York when they’re out raising millions of dollars,” King said in a morning appearance on Fox News. “They’re in New York all the time filling their pockets with money from New Yorkers. I’m saying right now, anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to congressional Republicans is out of their minds. Because what they did last night was put a knife in the back of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans. It was an absolute disgrace."
This got people's attention: King isn't just a Republican, but has long been considered an ally of Boehner.
On the other hand, he's somewhat independent, if not exactly moderate. He's pro-union and pro-gun control, and sided with Bill Clinton and Charlie Rangel when each of them came under attack from the rest of his party.
He also happens to have built his career as a party guy who periodically turns on his leaders.
He hadn't railed against House leadership like this for a while, at least since his nemesis Newt Gingrich had left the building, and had steadfastly supported Boehner as the speaker battled a recalcitrant Tea Party faction in his own caucus.
Now he was calling Boehner "dismissive, cavalier and indifferent."
By mid-morning all the cable channels wanted a piece of the intra-party battle (including, apparently, the Weather Channel) and, interview by interview, King ratcheted up the pressure on Boehner, who subsequently announced he'd hold an afternoon meeting with the region's Republicans.
In the meantime, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie—who has battled King in the past—backed King up, raising the temperature even more.
When King arrived for the meeting with Boehner, he was amused by all the the press waiting there, according to Jason Horowitz's lively account of King's day in the Washington Post.
King is the Queens-born son of a cop, and Boehner the Ohio-bred son of a bartender, and the meeting went about how one might expect to settle a dispute between old friends at the local Legion hall.
Boehner broke the ice by calling King an "asshole," according to Horowitz, and by the end, the two had an agreement to prioritize the bills in the next Congress, including an emergency Friday vote to replenish the federal flood insurance program. (Staten Island congressman Michael Grimm, a former F.B.I. agent who also attended the meeting, said he lagged behind to seal the deal with a man-to-man handshake.)
After the meeting, King celebrated with his fellow Republicans.
"What's done is done," he said of Boehner's earlier decision, adding, "That was a lifetime ago." He and Grimm both pledged to support Boehner in the next day's leadership vote, after previously saying they might not.
By Thursday morning, King had turned his fire away from Boehner and toward the Republican hard-liners who still oppose the aid, appearing on CNN's "Starting Point" to say that Rep. Darrell Issa was "one thousand percent wrong" to allege the bill was filled with pork.