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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Amid Trump drama, Rep. Peter King plans to exit stage right

Rep. Peter King announced Monday that he will

Rep. Peter King announced Monday that he will not seek reelection in 2020. Credit: Charles Eckert

The timing of Rep. Peter King's announcement that he will retire from Congress next year means people will read motives and meaning into it that may or may not exist.

The national topic of the moment is impeachment and its possible impact on the 2020 White House race. 

Locally, the question is whether the GOP will retain his seat.

The political world sees everything in these immediate terms.

There was always the chance that King (R-Seaford) would lose next November while down-ticket from President Donald Trump, to whom he has been loyal enough.

Or maybe King would have staved off another Democratic challenge.

Now we will never know.

At least 18 other Republicans are forgoing reelection to Congress in 2020 at a glum moment when they occupy the House minority. Less than a quarter of the state's current congressional delegation is Republican.

King, 75, was not among Trump's initial supporters. He has dissented from time to time on presidential stances. He's kept to the national party's right-of-center program but not always, it seemed, with the same ideological zeal as Rep. Lee Zeldin, 39, his fellow GOP Long Islander.

King is widely known through the very news coverage he chases while condemning.

Although far from nonpartisan, King for most of his 14 terms kept up a mutually practical relationship with the state's Democrats. He comes out of the Nassau Republicans, who like the old-line New York City Democrats were known in prior decades for putting their expedience and pragmatism above ideology.

It was rarely forgotten in the political world, for example, that King broke from the GOP leadership under House Speaker Newt Gingrich during President Bill Clinton's impeachment all those years ago. 

And it was no surprise that Chuck Schumer, the Senate's Democratic minority leader, on Monday called King "principled" and said he “stood head & shoulders above everyone else," to the inevitable revulsion of anti-Trumpers on social media.

To those who know him, King's citing of family considerations on Monday carries way more credibility than it would have coming from other politicians.

“The prime reason for my decision was that after 28 years of spending 4 days a week in Washington, D.C., it is time to end the weekly commute and be home in Seaford,” King wrote plausibly enough In a Facebook post early Monday.

Only two months ago, his daughter Erin King Sweeney, the GOP majority leader of the Hempstead Town board, announced she was moving to North Carolina where her husband's job was relocated.

But before he leaves, King is expected to soak up plenty of the spotlight as partisan tumult at the Capitol escalates.

Unconstrained by the next election, he's as free as ever to use that exposure and votes in Congress as he wishes. He won't be ignored as he winds down his electoral career.

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