By TOM BRUNE
Late Thursday evening, a stunning exchange unfolded on the House floor between Republican Rep. Peter King and Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner - two New Yorkers in a fight over the 9/11 health bill they both support.
The quarrel broke out just before the House voted on the measure under rules that require a two-thirds majority for passage. With nearly all Republicans voting no and nearly all Democrats voting yes, the bill's final 255-159 tally fell about 21 votes short.
Sparking the King-Weiner fight was the Democratic leadership's decision to go that route rather than bring up the matter under regular House rules that require a simple majority for passage.
But regular rules would have allowed Republicans to add amendments to make the bill harder to pass or to force vulnerable Democrats to take politically awkward votes that could haunt them in the fall elections.
Republicans counter that Democrats could have passed the bill in a simple-majority vote, but wanted to blame the bill's defeat on Republicans.
At the core of the fight are political calculations by both sides for the Nov. 2 midterm elections that in the end killed any chance the bill could pass.
"It looks like electoral politics on both sides," said Frances Lee, a professor and expert on Congress at the University of Maryland.
Minutes before the vote, King, of Seaford, struck first.
"What we are doing tonight is a cruel hoax and a charade. Everybody knows that this bill will not get the two-thirds majority required . . ." King scolded the Democrats. "Everyone also knows this would pass with a clear majority . . . under the regular procedure of the House."
King charged that Democrats avoided a regular vote because they were "petrified" they would have to vote on an amendment on illegal immigration.
Incensed, Weiner, of Brooklyn, jumped up to respond, blasting King for blaming procedure for the GOP no votes. "You vote in favor of something if you believe it's the right thing," he shouted. "The gentleman is providing cover for his colleagues rather than doing the right thing. . . . It's a shame. A shame!"
The two shouted over each other, as King tried to interrupt. Weiner called for order, told King to sit down, and spat out: "The gentleman thinks if he gets up and yells loud enough he will intimidate people into thinking he's right. He is wrong."
The debate did not end there. Friday morning, King and Weiner stood uncomfortably next to each other for a Fox News interview, during which they quickly fell into another squabble.