The mutterings of a talkative King
By Anne Schroeder Mullins
February 25, 2009
If you ask Rep. Peter King a question that he doesn’t want to answer, he mumbles.
That’s how you know.
The fast-talking, proud son of a cop, practically the lone Republican representative from New York state, is such a regular on the cable nets that you figure he must be able to talk about anything with anyone.
But ask King if he could have an intellectual conversation with Sarah Palin, and all you hear is an almost inaudibly low voice, suddenly hushed, and he’s talking to himself.
Mumble, mumble, mumble.
“There’s a role for her ... uh ... I ... liability,” King mutters as he works his way up to a sentence.
“She has to fill in the gaps in her knowledge and get more nationwide experience.”
Palin could make a run for the Senate in two years — and so could King. With Hillary Clinton off to the State Department and Kirsten Gillibrand in her place, King sees an opening that wasn’t there before.
Even if it’s not the opening he was dreaming about.
King had his heart set on running against Caroline Kennedy, who was going to be Clinton’s Senate replacement before she wasn’t. He dreamed of running against her as a working-class guy, the son of a cop versus the daughter of a dynasty. And even in deep-blue New York, he thought he’d have a shot.
“It would start off as an even race, as crazy as it sounds,” he says, reminiscing — as you get the sense he does a lot — about the race that won’t be.
But if not Kennedy, what about Gillibrand?
“I could very well run against Kirsten Gillibrand,” King says without hesitation. “I have $1.1 [million] or $1.2 million in my House account, but I can’t be raising money for the Senate until I set up a committee, so basically I’m assessing how much money would be available if I run.”
The answer: a lot. Gillibrand is a fundraising dynamo — she once raised $125,000 in a single day, and she’s already got a fundraiser scheduled with Bill Clinton. Whatever it takes to win, she’ll probably raise. While he’s a fixture on TV, King isn’t known well outside his Long Island district. And he’d still be a Republican running up a big hill.
But King’s lofty dreams don’t stop at the Senate.
King bounds into a story about the time a House GOP leader told the National Review that he’d make an ideal vice presidential candidate. He recalls the story with the enthusiasm of a little kid, though he’s quick to say that he doesn’t care for flattery.
“So, I’m thinking, ‘Who is crazy enough to say this?’” he says in his fast-paced style.
Through a process of elimination, he figured out it was another loquacious congressman, Michigan Rep. Thaddeus G. McCotter. He says McCotter showed the article to then-President George W. Bush on Air Force One. And the next time King saw Bush, the president was calling him “the next vice president.”
McCotter explains the proposed promotion dryly: “I wanted him to be vice president because I thought he deserved to be in a position to have less authority.”
McCotter checks himself. He says that King is “very sincere, one way or the other” — a “New Yorker through and through,” with “no artifice to him.” Besides, McCotter acknowledges, the Republicans “only have three New Yorkers [in the House], so we have to be nice to them.”
New York Republicans typically stick to themselves, but one Democrat who has known King for decades is his neighboring district’s congresswoman, Carolyn McCarthy.
“You can disagree on policy, but that doesn’t mean you don’t like the person,” she says of King. “Peter has this great Irish sense of humor, he says things like” — her voice turns deep with an affected accent — “‘Yeah, you know McCaahhthy, she and I go out for a drink and she’ll stiff me with the bill.’ And I say, ‘Hey, Peter! You take me to the Dubliner, but when you want to go out, it’s to Bobby Van’s, so I don’t know who’s stiffin’ who.’”
Like him all she wants, McCarthy still won’t vote for King if he runs for the Senate. “I would be looking at the issues and not the person,” she says. “It has nothing to do with him — I like him a lot.”
For a guy who makes a lot of noise about hating the media — “I can’t stand Newsday,” he declares of his hometown paper — King spends a lot of time taking advantage of them. He remembers a day when he did between 15 and 20 interviews.
He’s in demand because he has words to say about everything — almost.
On Joe Biden: “I don’t take myself quite as seriously. I take issues seriously. I don’t try and jump in and interrupt other people. I’m not Joe Biden. I’m more Thomas Jefferson.”
On losing his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee when the GOP lost the House: “The fact that I’m not called ‘Mr. Chairman’ doesn’t mean anything.”
On life in the minority with a Democratic president: “I don’t know how it’s going to go. ... They don’t have to deal with me, they have the majority. ... I can go to the media. I don’t mean that as a threat, but I’m being realistic.”
On House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.): “I do think she’s much more liberal than President Obama says he wants to be.”
On himself: “I don’t think many people in the House would say I’ve screwed them. I don’t take cheap shots, and I don’t go after people on personal issues — except for Eliot Spitzer. ...
“We’re down 26-3 in House seats, and there’s nobody near me for almost 300 miles. Either I’m the strongest man alive or I’m toxic and ran everyone else away. I don’t know which.”
On missing his friend Vito J. Fossella, the New York Republican who left the House after his drunken-driving arrest brought news of an affair and an illegitimate child: “Somebody started a Facebook for me and now I have 1,000 friends, so it’s filled in the gap.”
On the mother of those California octuplets: “I think she was irresponsible.”
With that, King starts to mumble again. He’s asked if he’s going to keep mumbling like he did about Palin. “No!” he says. “And you can say, ‘After he recovered from his mumble, he said, ‘I’m sure Palin can hold her own and out-debate me on issues.’”
© 2009 Capitol News Company, LLC