Ted Cruz may have overtaken Rand Paul as the GOP’s latest torchbearer of brash conservatism, but if you follow that lineage back far enough, past Michele Bachmann and Allen West, you’d find Peter King, a gruff New York congressman who a few years ago earned comparisons to Joseph McCarthy for holding hearings to root out “terrorists” in America’s Muslim communities. But King is an institutionalist, and in post-shutdown Washington, he’s become Cruz’s unlikely antagonist. The two members of Congress, both flirting with presidential bids, represent different paths the GOP could choose in the coming years. In an interview with National Journal, King calls the senator from Texas a “fraud” and a “false prophet.” Edited excerpts follow.
How did we get to a government shutdown?
It was basically driven by the Ted Cruz wing of the party — the people who vote against John Boehner on every key budget issue of the past two years. They’re driving the train. So I blame Cruz and the group that is with him in the House.
They bear responsibility for the shutdown?
Obviously, the initial blame goes to Republicans. Having said that, the president of the United States cannot sit on the sidelines and act as if this is somebody else’s government and say it’s all Republicans’ fault — like he’s not going to sully himself by getting involved. For the president not to engage with Republicans on this, not attempt to resolve it, is, to me, inexcusable.
How can John Boehner reassert control over his caucus?
Unfortunately, and people will get hurt in the meantime, we may need to wait until there’s a critical mass; when people in the Ted Cruz wing start getting negative reactions in their districts, when people start telling them to knock it off. Until then, it’s going to be hard to get control. Of course, when it does get resolved, they’re going to say we gave in too quickly. To me, I don’t think we should care what they think, but they are a reality within the party. John has a lot more patience than I would.
You’re a pretty conservative guy. Were you surprised to suddenly be the adult in the room?
People who knew me growing up can’t believe that I’ve suddenly become the voice of reason. It’s just something that happened. The whole time, I was going along and was only voting on those amendments [to defund Obamacare] because I was told it was part of some endgame. But on Saturday night, I realized that there was no plan. And I saw real anger on the floor. People — whether you call them the silent majority or whatever — are fed up with the Ted Cruz wing. I figured, everyone’s talking, no one’s doing anything, and I hardly ever speak in conferences. But you can only be quiet for so long. So I spoke up. And that’s how I assumed this leadership. But it’s not something I was looking for. We’ll see where it goes.
On Monday night, it looked like a moderate rebellion to the tea party was brewing, but it never materialized. Were you disappointed more members weren’t behind you?
I was disappointed but not surprised. They felt it was too risky to vote against it, since it was construed as a vote not in favor of keeping the government open but in favor of Obamacare. John Boehner — and this is totally legitimate — made very personal appeals to members to stick with him.
If you run for president in 2016, would you position yourself as a counterweight to the Cruz wing?
The American people are looking for an adult leader. Not this pandering and this appealing to the lowest common denominator. Ted Cruz spent the month of August and the beginning of September telling House members: “You defund Obamacare, and we’ll take care of it in the Senate.” That was a fraud! From day one, he had no way of getting that through the Senate. How these guys let themselves get deluded, or wanted to get deluded, is beyond me.
So if Cruz is a fraud, what’s his real game?
Putting himself out there. He’s locked in maybe 15, 20 percent of the Republican Party. I don’t think he can go beyond that, but that’s a lot of people. I mean, you’re wasting my time and I’m wasting your time talking about him. No one even cared about Ted Cruz a few months ago. But he has sold a false bill of goods. He’s a false prophet.
How many GOP votes do you think there are in the House for a clean continuing resolution to reopen the government?
This is one of those things that there’s no way you can prove whether I’m telling the truth or not, but I’d say clearly two-thirds [of the GOP caucus] would vote yes if it was a secret ballot. Maybe even three-quarters. On an open vote, I would say it’d be similar to the fiscal-cliff vote, where there’d be enough [to pass it with Democratic votes].
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When it comes to name-calling among America's upper echelon of politicians, there may be perhaps no greater spat than the one currently going on between Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Donald Trump. While receiving an award Tuesday night, she continued a months-long feud with the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. Calling him a "small, insecure moneygrubber" who probably doesn't know three things about Dodd-Frank, she said he "will NEVER be president of the United States," according to her prepared remarks."We don't know what Trump pays in taxes because he is the first presidential nominee in 40 years to refuse to disclose his tax returns. Maybe he’s just a lousy businessman who doesn’t want you to find out that he’s worth a lot less money than he claims." It follows a long-line of Warren attacks over Twitter, Facebook and in interviews that Trump is a sexist, racist, narcissistic loser. In reply, Trump has called Warren either "goofy" or "the Indian"—referring to her controversial assertion of her Native American heritage.
The House on Tuesday voted 403-12 "to pass an overhaul to the nation’s chemical safety standards for the first time in four decades. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act aims to answer years of complaints that the Environmental Protection Agency lacks the necessary authority to oversee and control the thousands of chemicals being produced and sold in the United States. It also significantly clamps down on states’ authorities, in an effort to stop a nationwide patchwork of chemical laws that industry says is difficult to deal with."
"Leaders of the Republican Party have begun internal deliberations over making fundamental changes to the way its presidential nominees are chosen, a recognition that the chaotic process that played out this year is seriously flawed and helped exacerbate tensions within the party." Among the possible changes: forbidding independent voters to cast ballots in Republican primaries, and "doubling the number of early states to eight."
Citing the unpredictable nature of this primary season and the possible leverage they could bring at the convention, John Kasich is hanging onto his 161 delegates. "Kasich sent personal letters Monday to Republican officials in the 16 states and the District of Columbia where he won delegates, requesting that they stay bound to him in accordance with party rules."
Bernie Sanders "signed a letter Tuesday morning requesting a full and complete check and recanvass of the election results in Kentucky ... where he trails Hillary Clinton by less than one-half of 1 percent of the vote. The Sanders campaign said it has asked the Kentucky secretary of state to have election officials review electronic voting machines and absentee ballots from last week's primary in each of the state's 120 counties.