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Newsday - An LI Battler Takes On Terror

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This was supposed to be the week Rep. Peter King spent talking with family and friends about whether to bow to his party's wishes and run for the U.S. Senate.

The Seaford Republican has been talking, all right - with CNN, Fox, CBS, ABC, NBC, MSNBC and pretty much anyone in America with a television, keeping the Obama administration on the run over its terrorism policies and its handling of the Christmas Day bombing attempt of a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines passenger jet.

Members of the administration have said this week that the airline security system failed. President Barack Obama said there were deficiencies in the system that would be fixed and the overall system strengthened.

"The system did not work," King told "Face the Nation" Sunday morning, in a pointed rebuke to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's televised assurances offered minutes earlier that the system had worked.

The following day, Napolitano conceded that the airline security system had in fact failed, allowing a Nigerian man with explosive materials sewn into his underwear to board the plane.

Speaking his mind

Not afraid to speak his mind, King the night before called CNN, asking why the president hadn't yet appeared on TV to reassure the public. By the time Barack Obama emerged from his Hawaiian vacation Monday to pledge a full investigation in how Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, managed to walk onto the plane even though he was on a terror watch list, he was playing catch-up with King's critique.

King said he isn't just tossing the partisan football and strongly supports Obama's approach in Afghanistan and Yemen. But as former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and now its ranking Republican, King has found a home on media speed dials as the most vocal, quotable advocate for the "war on terror."

That phrase, so often on the lips of former President George W. Bush, expresses a philosophy toward Islamic terrorism rejected by Obama, who commonly opts for the word "extremists." And as the president, one year into his term, has had to defer his campaign promise to shut down Guantánamo, King has forcefully argued to keep it open.

'A state of war'

"He is not afraid to call this what it is: . . . a state of war," said Jeffrey Addicott, founder and director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, and a supporter of King's stance. "He certainly has essentially been the sole voice out there that is following the premise to its logical conclusion . . . that we're at war, let's use the war toolbox."

Tuesday morning, King was on the "Today" show to urge that the bombing suspect be tried by a military tribunal - a position opposed by the Democratic chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.). Later, King revived his call for religious profiling of air travelers, telling Newsday, "it's common-sense screening.

"If you're looking for the IRA, you go to Irish bars and Catholic churches; if you're looking for the Mafia, you go to Little Italy; if you're looking for the Ku Klux Klan, you don't go to Harlem," he said.

As for that Senate race: Weary King watchers note he has floated the idea of a run before - against Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1999, against Charles Schumer in 2003, and again last year, when Caroline Kennedy was the lead contender for Clinton's seat. But this week, he rated his enthusiasm for a race against Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand as a "2.5" on a scale of 1 to 10.

"It's extremely difficult because Peter is enormously popular here on Long Island, but will that popularity translate to the $20 million he would need as a Republican to run a statewide campaign?" asked GOP consultant Desmond Ryan, who is skeptical about the party's promises of support.

If all the TV jousting has pleased Republican leaders, pollsters say it has had little effect on King's standing with voters outside his home turf.

Still, last weekend, stopping at the Melville Costco, King found himself swarmed by supporters urging him to run. He's put off his decision by another week.

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