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GOP Rep. Peter King retiring, giving Dems new 2020 target

Peter King
Posted at 2:24 PM, Nov 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-11 14:24:40-05

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Peter King, a moderate Republican who has represented a Long Island congressional district for nearly 30 years, announced Monday he won't seek reelection, enhancing Democrats' chances to grab yet another suburban House seat as they defend their majority in 2020.

The decision comes days after voters flocked to Democratic candidates in state elections in Kentucky and Virginia, underscoring Republican vulnerability in a suburban revolt against President Donald Trump.

But in the latest indication that congressional Republicans are rallying behind Trump for now, King said he will oppose Democratic efforts to impeach Trump. King also opposed Bill Clinton's impeachment in 1998.

"In the coming weeks and during the next year I intend to vote against President Trump's impeachment and will support the President's bid for re-election," King said.

The 14-term congressman, 75, said in a Facebook post that he's retiring because he wants "flexibility to spend more time" with his children and grandchildren "after 28 years of spending 4 days a week in Washington, D.C."

King, a former chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, has cultivated a reputation for bipartisanship while maintaining a hard line on immigration and crime. He is the longest-serving Republican member of New York's congressional delegation, and has been among the most pragmatic members of his party, especially as it has veered right.

King's keen political instincts and reputation as a fighter for New York's interests gave him remarkable political resiliency; at one point, after the 2008 election that sent Barack Obama to the White House, he was the state's lone GOP member of Congress.

He won reelection in 2018 by just 6 percentage points.

He teamed up with powerful Democrats such as Chuck Schumer to win a huge Superstorm Sandy aid package after the 2012 storm, despite foot-dragging by GOP leaders. On Monday, the Senate Democratic leader took to Twitter to lavish praise on King.

"Peter King stood head & shoulders above everyone else," Schumer wrote. "He's fiercely loved America, Long Island, and his Irish heritage and left a lasting mark on all 3."

His district includes once-reliably GOP territory in southwestern Suffolk County and a portion of Nassau County, about an hour's drive east of Manhattan. It went narrowly for Trump in 2016.

In his brief stint as Homeland Security panel chair after Republican took back the House in 2010, King's focus included the threat of Muslim extremism — attracting criticism that he was unfairly lumping in innocent Muslims with hearings on the alleged radicalization of others at some U.S. mosques.

"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," tweeted Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., one of two Muslim women in Congress. Garner died after rough handling during an arrest by New York City police for selling cigarettes.

Other critics have noted that when he was a rising Nassau County politician, King was an unapologetic supporter of the Irish Republican Army and its U.S. fundraising network.

King lost the Homeland Security gavel in 2012 because of GOP term limit rules.

More recently, King was an ardent backer of legislation to finance the health care of first responders who have gotten cancer or other severe health problems in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks at the World Trade Center. He also opposed the 2017 GOP tax overhaul bill, which cut back a federal deduction for state and local taxes that was a big benefit to King's highly-taxed constituents.

Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., who heads House Democrats' election arm, said King's retirement "underlines just how serious Republicans' problems are in swing districts across this country." While her party has long targeted his district, she added, "We will compete to win it in 2020."

Many suburban districts around the country have been moving steadily toward Democrats as moderate, well-educated voters swing away from the polarizing president.

Twenty House Republicans have announced they will not seek reelection. Three other GOP lawmakers have resigned and already left Congress.

Only a handful of Republican-held districts being vacated by retirements are expected to be seriously competitive next year, but King's will certainly be among them. The GOP's once-powerful grip on Long Island has long since loosened, though King's seat has been in Republican hands for almost five decades.

Democrats retook the U.S. House majority in 2018, aided by victories in what had been GOP-held suburban seats from Virginia to California.

New York State Republican Party Chairman Nick Langworthy praised King and said, "We have every confidence we will retain this seat and continue the strong representation that Long Islanders deserve."

Relatively unknown Democrat Liuba Grechen Shirley lost to King by 6 percentage points last year despite being significantly outspent and said Monday that she's considering another run.