House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.) wants to change how funds are divvied up. Rather than the usual congressional recipe of giving everyone a little bit, he wants to “go where the risk is.”
“Homeland security involves whether we live or die,” King said in an interview for the POLITICO video series “A Decade of Fighting Terrorism.” “We’re facing an existential threat from al Qaeda, and we can’t afford to be spreading money all over the country. It should go to the areas that are the main targets. … That would be New York; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; Chicago; Port of Houston.”
King, who was chairman of the first permanent House Homeland Security Committee, a position to which he has returned now that the GOP is back in the majority, added that funding decisions “should be risk-based, and right now there are 64 different cities that get Homeland Security funding.”
“Now, theoretically, anybody could be attacked. But in a time when budgets are being cut and the money is just not there, we have to focus on the areas that are the prime targets, and we can’t afford to waste the money,” he said.
“I don’t know when the last time Montana was attacked or North Dakota or South Dakota — all great people out there. I love the people that come from there, but the fact is it’s New York that’s suffered the thousands and thousands of casualties; I’m thinking of that.”
King said he is “really” worried about the push from within his own party to cut homeland security spending.
“Listen, you could always find some waste,” he said. “You can always find money that’s not being spent properly. Fine, go after that. But to have the across-the-board cuts, I think, are dangerous. … In New York, we have 5 million people a day on the subways. … We have a thousand entrances and exits on the subways, and yet the funding for transit security is being cut at a time when al Qaeda has made it clear that they want to attack mass transit.”
Here are the chairman’s thoughts on other subjects:
How is your relationship with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano?
She and I have a good relationship. In fact, we’re having dinner tonight. We’ll see who picks up the tab.
What did you learn about President Barack Obama in his decision making on the bin Laden raid?
That’s he’s strong and he’s tough, that he has … ice water in his veins. He made the decision, he made it coolly. In a Forrest Gump moment, I happened to be at the White House the next night. The president had scheduled … a dinner for chairmen and their spouses at the White House the night after the raid; it was scheduled weeks before. So we were among the first people to actually see the president. He was cool and calm about it, not taking any victory laps. When I congratulated him, he said, “Yes, but there’s still a long way to go.”
With the administration’s successes in the war on terrorism, is it possible now that the threat from within U.S. borders is the greater threat?
Yes, I think the threat from within is greater. … It’s greater than the threat coming from outside because … it’s very difficult for al Qaeda to come from the outside.
Who do you think the new FBI director should be?
I think it should be Commissioner Ray Kelly of the NYPD. … Commissioner Kelly has experience with the NYPD, which has over 50,000 members. Also, he worked [in the] federal government — he was head of Customs. He knows how it operates. He has set up the best counterterrorism force in the country.
Do you think that Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) would be a good New York mayor?
No. Anthony Weiner is good at what he does, and that’s going on comedy shows, fighting with me and being loud and — I was going to say “obnoxious,” but that would be a terrible thing to say about the guy I sat next to during the State of the Union. Anthony is good at what he does: He is good on the street corners.
You came up in old-school New York politics, where you could disagree on policy and then have a beer. That seems less common now.
It really does. My favorite book [growing up] was “The Last Hurrah,” [a novel about a big-city mayor]. I grew up in a Queens Democratic neighborhood where Tammany Hall ran things. Then I was in Nassau County, part of a Nassau Republican organization. We had thousands of committeemen. You worked your way up. I’m proud to be a politician. I dealt with real people from the time I’ve been in my 20s. I’ve had sanitation workers knocking on my door looking for a raise. I mean, people yelling about potholes.
When I came home from Congress the first few years, I was still a district leader in New York, and I’d be talking about all these great issues down here. … We’d have some park foreman sitting on my stoop, complaining he didn’t get a raise the week before. So … you deal with real people, and also you understand that there’s very few good guys and bad guys. You have real people on both sides, and I have no problem at all going out and having a few drinks with a Democrat. But on both sides, it bothers me, the intensity.
You’re one of the most influential House moderates. That’s a little bit of an endangered species.
You know, I don’t consider myself a moderate. I consider myself a blue-collar conservative. On issues like foreign policy and spending, I consider myself very conservative and law and order — very conservative. But … I also realize the party has to be a large party, has to expand, and so, yeah, I think that sometimes the fact that the Northeast has lost so many members of Congress, we’ve lost influence, and there’s a bit of cultural difference.
I got in trouble once with Joe Scarborough for things I said about the part of the country he came from [Florida]. My wife is from Georgia, so I’m not going to get into those fights again. But I think that we need some street-corner New York smarts.
You’re a good boxer — good enough, certainly, to school POLITICO’s Patrick Gavin. I understand you might be working on some boxing legislation.
I worked with John McCain to set up a National Boxing Commission. I’ve found boxers over the years to be among the most decent, friendly people — not at all violent, believe it or not. But they get taken advantage of by promoters, and so many boxers who have made millions of dollars for other people end up broke. We want to correct that. There’s this point you hit where you get hurt and you can’t afford to fight anymore, and yet you have different boxing commissions allow guys to fight and get hurt. John McCain and I want to set up national boxing standards.
Are you BlackBerry, iPhone, iPad?
I have barely learned how to use a telephone. I now have a BlackBerry. I am computer illiterate. I rely on my great intellect and reading POLITICO.