A very Weiner-friendly version of the fight over that 9/11 bill

King and others, after passing the 9/11 health bill in 2010. (Reid Pillifant)
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Anthony Weiner may have come out OK in the New York Times magazine's big profile of him this morning, but Rep. Peter King certainly didn't.

In the piece, Weiner's infamous outburst on the House floor in 2010 is characterized as a "berserk" moment with an "admirable" message, since he was lambasting King, who "was trying to scuttle the 9/11 health and compensation act."

There were many reasons a Democrat like Weiner would have had to get angry at a Republican like King, including the fact that much of King's party was in fact, at the time, standing in the way of that bill's passage.

But suggesting that King was trying to scuttle the bill has it backward. 



The Long Island Republican, the son of a city cop, was, for many years, one of the most public faces of the bill and its lone Republican co-sponsor, who tried to push his party's leadership to back the bill. 

"It's really unfortunate that the paper of record would put out a statement like that without talking to me," King told me this morning.

"I was involved in that from the start," King said, estimating he worked on the bill from about 2005 until it finally passed in December of 2010. "Anthony was never even that involved in it."

Weiner's screaming fit was replayed endlessly on cable television, and solidified his reputation as the ringleader of the fighting left, a characterization that "frustrated" King even at the time, and didn't quite comport with the impression of his Democratic colleagues who were working to forge a bipartisan agreement that could finally get the contentious bill through the House.

"It got back to me from several people that Democrats were really angry at Anthony that night," he said. "For one thing, he had never been involved in the issue. Peripherally involved. This was really [Jerry] Nadler and [Carolyn] Maloney on the Democratic side, I give them a lot of credit.

"When Anthony made the personal attack on me—and I don't care about personal attacks—it made it a partisan issue," said King. "I know a number of Republicans came over to me and said they were voting no, just to get back at Weiner."

In King's telling, which squares with the accounts of sources I spoke to while reporting on the bill at the time, the outburst is less an example of Weiner's going overboard in the service of a good cause and more an illustration of his penchant for personal grandstanding at the expense of delicate legislative compromises. And it hints at another problem for Weiner in any possible comeback scenario: the relative lack of actual legislation that he passed while in Congress—a fact that, if you're one of his potential rivals, dovetails nicely with the revelations about how he spent his time there.

"The irony is that he was on Energy and Commerce—this is an example of how little he involved he was in the whole issue—during the mark-up on the bill, I had a woman on my staff who was over at Energy and Commerce helping him on the bill," King said.

Weiner told me in 2011 that he was an important part of the bill's passage, particularly in "the red zone."

On the night Weiner went after him, King said he was offering criticism of both parties: Republicans for making excuses not to support the bill, and Democrats for trying to pass it by suspension, which requires an overwhelming supermajority that the bill was unlikely to get. (Without delving too far into the parliamentary arcana, Democrats were worried that if they offered it as a regular bill, Republicans would attach an amendment that contained a poisonous vote on including illegal immigrants, hence their proposal to offer it by suspension, which failed. Later, it was brought under regular rules, and without any poisonous amendments from Republicans, it passed.)

King said he doesn't have any ill will toward Weiner, who he sat with at the State of the Union in 2011 in a show of bipartisanness, but that he wanted to set the record straight.

"I don't blame Anthony for this, he did what he does best, yell and scream, that's fine," King said. "And apparently the New York Times was lazy and didn't look beyond that."

As for the possibility Weiner might enter the mayor's race?

"I don't see it happening," said King. "If he wants to come back it's going to be a longer road back than that. You can't go from what happened in 2011 to running for mayor."

I emailed Lauren Kern, who edited the piece, for a response. She told me the paper's research department was looking into it.