‘Lasting damage’: Pete King on the Republicans' shutdown problem

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Pete King. ()
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"We're really living in parallel universes here," Rep. Peter King told me in a brief phone conversation from Washington this afternoon.

King, a longtime, periodically rebellious Republican congressman from Long Island, has been a loud, somewhat lonely voice for moderation over the last few weeks, railing against Senator Ted Cruz and the House Republicans who have instigated a shutdown of the federal government, which went into effect this morning after Democrats rebuffed Republican demands to delay the president's health care law.

The divide in the party was "between the guys who stand up and say, everywhere they go, people say you have to shut down the government, and crying on the street about Obamacare, and then other people from districts more like mine, where people are looking for pragmatic results," King said.

King said he was around his district all summer, and, even among the right-of-center Republicans, "nobody was talking about defunding Obamacare."

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"I have a lot of interaction with people, and I'll tell you, nobody mentioned this to me all summer," he said. "These other guys come back saying it's all they heard about. Maybe we're living in different worlds, but I never heard a word about it.

"I mean, if I asked somebody, 'Do you support Obamacare?' They'd say, 'No.' Then I say, 'Do you want me to shut down the government over it?' They'd look at me like, 'Have a drink or something.'"

"Here's the irony: We come back in September, the issue people were talking to me about was Syria," he added. But when he got to the Republican's first conference meeting, there was "five seconds of discussion of Syria ... and then they went into the whole thing about de-funding."

The issue polls exceedingly poorly for Republicans, who are hoping that opposition to the federal health care law, and with more than year before the midterms, will blunt some of the electoral impact.

King said it would still be an issue.

"There's definitely going to be, at the very least, a subliminal lasting damage," he said. "People are going to know in the back of their heads that the Republicans had acted irresponsibly. So that's going to be there. Now, how much of a burning issue it is, there's so many issues that come between now and election day, it will probably be overcome by something else.

"But I do think the danger is that just subliminally it'll be out there, you know, that we're the party of shutting down the government," he continued. "It doesn't have to be a raging issue by next year, but it's definitely going to be there, and in close races that can make the difference."

Two Republicans from New York State, Reps. Richard Hanna and Chris Gibson, voted against the delay when it came to the floor over the weekend.

King predicted to reporters that more than 100 Republicans would support a continuing resolution to fund the government without the health care delay, if House Speaker John Boehner (who King supports, as a rule) were to bring the Senate bill to the floor.