A higher profile Rep. Peter King says he's staying put

Congressman Peter King, listening to a reporter during Congressman Peter King, listening to a reporter during the Joint New York-Puerto RIco Delegation Breakfast event at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. (Aug. 29, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

Rep. Peter King seems to be everywhere these days.

A photograph of him snapping a photograph of Beyoncé during Monday's presidential inauguration made Tuesday's front page of the New York Post.

King (R-Seaford) got prime TV airtime when President Barack Obama shook his hand at the inauguration, only to double back and thank King for his help -- which King took as a reference to his work in getting a Sandy relief bill through a reluctant House of Representatives.

King likely attracted his largest national audience -- and a few more fans, including a few Democrats -- earlier this month when he lambasted the Republican House leadership for initially not allowing a vote on Sandy aid to make it to the floor.

King took the unusual step of criticizing his own party -- going so far as to suggest that New Yorkers stop contributing to the GOP.

In an interview Wednesday, King acknowledged his anger. He said he's spent 20 years in Washington being made to feel like a "second-class citizen in the Republican caucus," because he's a New Yorker.

King had to fight his party over homeland security funding for New York City, Long Island and Westchester County. For three years he fought for the $2.7 billion Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act for first responders to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks who became ill.

King said he was blindsided by the delay in the Sandy-aid vote. He'd planned to act as a manager -- not a street fighter -- in helping shepherd what should have been routine post-natural-disaster relief measures through the House.

To that end, King said, he'd agreed to be low-key in the days leading up to an expected House vote. When the measure was pulled unexpectedly on the night of Jan. 1 -- after a bruising battle over a compromise to avoid the "fiscal cliff" -- King found himself on the House floor, pounding a podium in anger and in disbelief.

His outburst was planned. "I thought I had to do something that night that would be dramatic, so people would focus," he said.

King wasn't finished yet. As he went back to his apartment, he talked on the phone with Chris Christie, New Jersey's Republican governor, and "he and I were commiserating with each other and encouraging each others' worst instincts" about what to do next.

By morning, King had decided how to strike back. "That's when I came up with going on every cable show that I could be on between 9 o'clock and 10:30, and saying that people should not contribute to the Republican Party because I know these guys are always coming to New York and that's how I had to get their attention."

It worked. And the $51 billion in Sandy aid did pass after more fighting -- this time for enough Republican votes -- a few weeks later.

So what comes now?

For one, the fight over storm aid has pushed King and Christie closer together, and they plan to discuss a variety of strategic issues.

Among them, "We have to find a way to check the Republican Party from having this mean-spirited regional bias," King said.

"When you've got a guy like Christie who is effective and conservative and able to articulate our Republican principles and he's getting screwed by. . . [the] national Republican Party, what does that mean for the party? How out of touch are we?" King asked.

What about King's future?

He once was offered a job as ambassador to Ireland, which he turned down. So he doesn't expect the same invitation this time around.

"Ambassadors have to be nice," he said, with a laugh. "I couldn't do that and I couldn't be in Europe hearing people say bad things about the United States."

He said he intends to stay in Congress, running in a newly redrawn district that stretches into Suffolk County and includes significantly more Democrats, for as long as he can.

"If I lose, I lose," he said. "But this is where I want to be."

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