For Rep. Peter King, fighting terrorism is not just another policy interest. The New York Republican is a self-described fanatic, obsessed with putting an end to the terrorist threat.
“This has always superseded all issues. It comes before party or re-election” King said in an interview Monday, a day after President Barack Obama announced that the long-hunted al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan. “This is something that I am absolutely fixated on.”
In part, King said, his single-minded focus is because of the nature of the threat.
“It’s very seldom that you really get an opportunity to get involved in an issue that could determine the fate of the country,” he said.
But the issue also is personal for the life-long New Yorker whose father was a New York City police officer. He has felt the pain of his suburban district: More than 150 of his constituents lost their lives in the 2001 World Trade Center attacks. The devastating event also hits home with the Long Islander’s staff members, who lost family members.
In the New York delegation that has carried a heavy share of the nation’s burden of grief and anger over 9/11, King has been especially vocal and involved. He lobbied to become chairman of the Homeland Security Committee the last time Republicans controlled Congress and has been visible on many issues related to 9/11, from laws related to insurance against terrorist attacks to securing compensation for victims.
“Part of the great thing about Chairman King is he puts his heart and soul into this issue,” freshman Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) said. “It’s not a job, it’s a passion.”
Grimm, a former Marine and FBI agent, said bin Laden’s death is also a reminder of why it’s so important to have someone who is so focused leading the Homeland Security Committee.
“He’s someone who lives and breathes for the security of the United States. He has the experience and the level head, from the Congressional point of view,” Grimm said.
As King has become a central leader on terrorism during this Congress at the helm of the Homeland Security Committee, he has faced personal threats. In March, he beefed up his personal security after receiving threatening phone calls before a controversial committee hearing called “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response.”
King declined to go into details of the incidents, but he confirmed that he continues to have 24-hour police protection.
Despite his fixation on terrorism, King said bin Laden wasn’t on his radar when Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, left him an urgent message Sunday evening. King thought the call might be about some new terrorist plot in Yemen or an update on terrorists coming across the border.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.