Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) isn’t your typical House Republican.
As House GOP leaders spent Monday trying to coax a recalcitrant conference to support a revamped assault on President Obama’s signature health-care law, King was doing just the opposite.
“I don’t want to be the facilitator of a disastrous process and plan,” King told reporters Monday afternoon. Hours later, he was one of just 12 Republicans to vote against the latest incarnation of a GOP stopgap spending plan that was doomed to failure from the outset and marched the federal government toward its first shutdown in nearly two decades.
In a GOP conference defined by its unwillingness to put political consequences before principle or pragmatism before purity, King sticks out like a sore thumb. He has shown little tolerance on a number of issues for the unbending strain of conservatism in his party.
King ‘s outspoken criticism is often directed at his own party. He’s openly feuded with emerging tea party stars like Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), whom he called “a fraud,” and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whom he once accused of spreading a “grab bag of misinformation” on government surveillance.
In the fight against “Obamacare” the House GOP has picked in the budget debate, he appears to be running out of patience. King said he raised his objections to the latest House plan to delay the individual mandate for a year and strip health-care subsidies for lawmakers. (The plan was swiftly rejected by the Senate late Monday.) During a closed-door meeting with his GOP colleagues in the afternoon, King said he and other colleagues lamented that “we’re throwing red meat to the public and using our staff to get us out of the trouble we got ourselves into.”
Predicting that he might get as many as 20 other Republicans to join him, King, for a time, appeared to be on the verge of a small coup to the left of the position House GOP leadership had staked out. But in the end, he was joined in opposition during a key procedural vote by only five other Republicans, four of whom are from the most conservative tier of the House. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) was the only other northeastern moderate. Any hope of passing a “clean” continuing resolution that King saw as a possibility was quickly shattered.
A veteran of the House with two decades of service under his belt, King, who has even floated the prospect of a 2016 White House bid — represents a swing district on Long Island that gave nearly 52 percent of its vote to President Obama in the 2012 election. Best-known for his hawkish foreign policy views and outspokenness, King is a polarizing figure who has clashed with those to his political left and right in his career.
Earlier this year, he slammed conservative Republicans for voting against a bill to provide aid for victims of Superstorm Sandy. He emerged as a chief defender of government surveillance during the debate that consumed Congress in the wake of disclosures about the government’s collection of telephone records. And as many of his GOP colleagues resisted calls to support a military strike against Syria, King said he favored an assault.
But King is no Obama administration apologist. He criticized the president’s handling of the situation in Syria. He’s no favorite of the left, either. King has drawn criticism from Democrats and others over the years for his comments about the radicalization of Muslims.
That King is viewed as a moderate and that his willingness to compromise makes him stick out is more a testament to the current GOP conference than anything else. In another Congress, King might well be viewed as one of the more conservative Republicans.
But in this House, he is not. Not even close. And perhaps no one is more aware of that than he is.
“One of the problems is not that there’s not more people in the middle, but there’s very few districts in the middle,” King said in a recent interview on MSNBC. He added, “There’s virtually no northeastern Republicans left. There’s only a handful of us literally. And so it’s harder to find compromise because of that.”