King clashes with Muslim congressman

A file photo of Congressman Peter King. (Feb. A file photo of Congressman Peter King. (Feb. 12, 2010) Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

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WASHINGTON - Rep. Peter King said Tuesday he plans to put the House Homeland Security Committee that he now chairs on the map - then got into a dispute with the first Muslim in Congress.

With the largely Democratic New York delegation sidelined in the new GOP-controlled House, King (R-Seaford) is now the state's senior Republican and its only committee chair, giving him a key role in representing New York interests in Washington.

King said his chief focus will be homeland security and he already has made a splash by announcing a hearing for next month on "the radicalization of the Muslim community" in the United States.

Critics charge he's vilifying all Muslims and potentially creating an anti-Islamic witch hunt. King rejects the charges, saying too many Muslim leaders fail to cooperate with authorities on homegrown terrorism.

Tuesday, King took on one critic - Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a convert to Islam - and disputed his version of a talk the two had last month.

On MSNBC on Dec. 20, Ellison said he approached King on the House floor to talk about the Muslim radicalization hearing because it might isolate Muslims in America.

Ellison said on "The Ed Show" that he told King he'd like to be involved in the proposed hearing but wanted it done "responsibly. . . . Let's talk about how we're going to make America safer, and enlist Muslim Americans to help safeguard our country and look at anybody who might get radicalized." Ellison said King replied, "We'll see."

Ellison didn't respond to queries Tuesday.

Asked about Ellison's comments, King offered his own version. When Ellison approached him, King said he thought he was about to have an argument. Instead, King said Ellison made an offer: "He said, 'This is serious, I agree with you on it, and I'd like to work with you on it.' "

King said he responded by saying, " 'If you want, you can testify. You can have a panel of your own. And it's not going to be a setup. We're not going to be taking shots at you.' "

King said he kept the talk private to avoid compromising Ellison, but told staff to include him in the hearing because it could be "a turning point." But King said, "The next thing I know, he's gratuitously taking shots at me."

King said he hasn't spoken to Ellison since. The offer stands, King said, but there's "been a breach of trust here."

Tuesday, King won one and lost one under new GOP House rules. He can serve as chairman for six years, and won't be term-limited earlier despite being chairman for 15 months in 2005-06. But he failed to consolidate oversight of the Department of Homeland Security under his committee. More than 100 committees and subcommittees now claim oversight of DHS.

King shrugged off the failure: "If we go out there and assert ourselves, and we hold major hearings, as far as the world is concerned, we are in charge of homeland security."

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