Rep. Pete King is already auditioning to be the GOP mouthpiece on the need to protect the embattled National Security Agency and remain vigilant against Islamic extremism—stances that are central to his bid to succeed retiring Rep. Mike Rogers as House Intelligence Committee Chairman.
The New York Republican, who formerly led the Homeland Security Committee, says fighting terrorism has been his “obsession” since the Sept. 11, 2001, attack killed 150 of his friends, neighbors, and constituents. He says he knows how to lead the committee, from his five years of serving on it and his previous experience as a chairman dealing with closely related terrorism matters.
“I have a concern that not just the country, but the Republican Party—and not John Boehner or Eric Cantor—but some people in our party, seem to be pushing foreign policy into the background, and don’t realize what a threat that is, don’t realize what a threat Islamic terrorism is, or how we have to be constantly on our guards,” King told National Journal.
King is one of several members, including Republican Reps. Devin Nunes of California and Jeff Miller of Florida, who have entered the contest to take over the gavel of the powerful House Intelligence Committee next Congress after Rogers retires to take a national security gig on the radio.
King insists he is not trying to pit himself against his competitors.
“I have great regard for them, so I’m not running against them,” he said. “I’m running for myself. You are not going to hear me say anything negative about either of those two.”
King and the other contenders won’t have to make their cases before their peers on the Steering Committee and try to accumulate a majority of their colleagues’ votes to win the coveted leadership post. Instead, because Intelligence is a special “select” committee, the decision is up to one person only: the speaker of the House, who may or may not be John Boehner come January.
But while some contenders might decide to cozy up to Boehner & Co., and work the inside politics game, King says his strategy is to leave Boehner alone until the November elections are closer.
“All I’ve done is I’ve told Speaker Boehner I’m very much interested; I’d like to be considered,” King said. “I’ve told him I’m not going to say anything more to him until we are closer to Election Day in November, when he has to make a decision. I don’t want to be bothering him. He knows what I feel, and I assume that when it comes time to make a decision, he’ll talk to me, but I’m not going to be bothering him between now and then.”
In the meantime, King says, he plans to continue to work media channels, by remaining a regular on the Sunday show circuit and speaking out on high-profile intelligence and national security issues on Capitol Hill.
King listed the defense of the “essential” NSA, Russia’s destabilizing forces, cybersecurity issues with China, Iran’s nuclear weapons, the Benghazi attack, and the Boston Marathon bombing among some of the top areas he would focus on as head of the Intelligence Committee.
“These are all issues that we have to make known to the Congress,” he said of the Republican need to send a strong message on these matters. “On the other hand, we have to do it in a way that does not disclose secrets and does not compromise any of our assets. It takes that maneuverability of being able to learn as much as we can and then be able to translate that and transmit that without giving up any secrets, or any strategies, or any assets, or any methods that we are using to obtain that information. I believe I can do that.”
King said his strategy for making his case for the job is “just being myself, really.” He powwows with law-enforcement and intelligence agents in New York regularly in “Terror Tuesday” meetings, and he keeps in regular communication with his contacts at the intelligence agencies in Washington on ongoing investigations.
“You’ll see me quite a bit in the media asking questions. You’ll see me playing a role at committee hearings,” he said.
King cites as an example of his flair an Intelligence Committee hearing earlier this month on the Benghazi attack with former Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Morrell, where he describes himself as one of the lead questioners. King insists he does not trust the administration on Benghazi and needs to keep the pressure on to get the truth out.
“It is important to be able to get the message out as to what the Republican message would be on intelligence,” he said. “Making sure that the Republican view, hopefully the bipartisan view of the committee, is articulated on television.”