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Rep. Peter King won't seek reelection in 2020

On Monday, Rep. Peter King, the longtime Republican congressman from Seaford, announced he is retiring from the U.S. House of Representatives and will not seek reelection next year.  (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

Rep. Peter King announced Monday that he will retire next year at the end of his 14th term as the Republican congressman from Seaford, surprising colleagues and ending his nearly three decades as a persistent and powerful voice for Long Island and New York.

King, 75, said he told President Donald Trump about his decision in a 10-minute call on Sunday morning in which he assured the president he would vote against impeachment but also insisted he would not reconsider his determination to leave Congress.

“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 in a Facebook post early Monday morning.

King said in a phone interview that he’s stepping down for purely personal reasons. The tipping point, he said, was the unexpected decision by his daughter Erin King Sweeney to move her family to North Carolina, where her husband is starting a new job.

“Now my main thing is to go home and hang out with my grandchildren,” King said. “I realized I can’t do that now. Even simple things like going down there for Thanksgiving, I don’t know: Is the government going to shut down November 21? Are the impeachment hearings going to carry over into the next week? And for Christmas, are they going to be over by then?”

King said he will continue to speak out on important issues. “I'll miss the real arena, where you can get results,” he said. “I'll be in the arena, but I'm going to be sort of in the bleachers rather than the box seats.”

King’s announcement puts his seat in play next year as he joins an exodus of nearly two dozen other Republicans from the House as the party faces an uphill battle to regain the majority in what promises to be a bruising campaign in 2020.

During his long tenure, King served as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, where he pushed tough and much-criticized anti-terrorism measures, and as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, where he defended Trump from allegations he colluded with Russia in the 2016 election.

King, who for years sparred in the ring as a boxer, also cultivated a reputation for often blunt and controversial statements.

King called former House Speaker Newt Gingrich “road kill” before he resigned, asserted that 85 percent of U.S. mosques had “extremist leadership” and, when President Barack Obama wore a tan suit, said, “There’s no way, I don’t think, any of us can excuse what the president did yesterday.”

Still, King won praise from both sides of the aisle.

“He’s going to be sorely missed,” said Al D’Amato, the former U.S. senator from New York and mentor and friend to King. “He was a strong Republican, but he also put the country first and he was bipartisan, unlike what you see today.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who teamed up with the congressman on New York issues, also said in a tweet he will miss King.

“Peter King stood head & shoulders above everyone else. He’s been principled & never let others push him away from his principles. He’s fiercely loved America, Long Island, and his Irish heritage and left a lasting mark on all 3,” Schumer wrote.

As the longest serving New York Republican now in Congress, King made Long Island and New York his top priorities.

King joined New York Democrats in demanding federal counterterrorism money after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, urged New York donors to stop funding Republicans who opposed disaster aid after superstorm Sandy, and battled to create health and compensation programs for first responders and lower Manhattan residents ailing from the toxic aftermath of the attacks. 

King was among the dwindling number of northeastern Republicans who formed a moderate core in an increasingly conservative party. But he also held strong views on abortion, immigration and terrorism, and stirred controversy with caustic remarks. 

King sponsored bills to make English the official U.S. language, to build a wall on the Southern border and for strong counterterrorism measures. 

In 2011, he convened contentious hearings on Muslim radicalization and what he called the failure of the Muslim community to help anti-terrorist efforts, igniting anger that resurfaced Monday when Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) pronounced “good riddance.”

“Peter King is an Islamophobe who held McCarthyite hearings targeting American Muslims, said ‘there are too many mosques in this country’ and blamed Eric Garner for his own death at the hands of police,” Omar tweeted.

King responded, “I stand by everything I did and everything I said at the time of the hearings.”

The Irish-American King, who faced criticism for backing the IRA, also spoke proudly about his work with President Bill Clinton to achieve the Good Friday Agreement signed on April 10, 1998, which ended to bloody battles in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

King, the son of a New York City police officer and who earned a law degree from Notre Dame, began his political career in 1977 as a Hempstead Town councilman.

He joined the House in 1993 after narrowly defeating Democrat Steve Orlins. In the last election, King won by the narrowest margin since then, defeating Liuba Grechen Shirley by just 6 percentage points.

King said he had filed in February for another campaign, had $1 million in cash and felt confident he would win.

King said he opposes the impeachment of Trump and points out he was one of just four House Republicans to vote against all four articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton in 1998. Charges against Trump and Clinton, he said, do not rise to an impeachable offense.

King said he told Trump he would “support him any way he wants,” reinforcing his strong backing for Trump despite his early 2016 misgivings. But he said he is not interested in a post in a second Trump administration.

The White House did not respond to a request for a comment on King’s retirement.

Trump tried to persuade him to stay on the job, King said.

“First, he was surprised. He asked me if I could reconsider,” King said. “I gave the reasons why, and he said, ‘Well, you've done a good job.’ ”

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