It took a quarter of a century, but Rep. Pete King, a Long Island Republican, is finally retiring. King built a durable following among the Fox News coterie thanks in part to his unflinching efforts to demonize Muslims, racial justice activists, critics of torture, and victims of police violence.
King’s legacy of division makes it all the more inexplicable that Sen. Chuck Schumer — a fellow New Yorker who's well versed in King’s abuses — would spend Monday morning praising King as standing “head and shoulders above everyone else.”
“He’s been principled and never let others push him away from his principles,” Schumer added. Given that King’s principles included slandering almost any community that didn’t look like him, it’s reasonable to ask what the leader of the Senate Democrats was thinking when he decided to celebrate King’s extremism.
Let’s take a look at a few of the “principles” King held so dearly.
To most Americans, King is best known as the representative who saw Muslim threats around every corner. In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, he became a staunch advocate for expanding the national security and surveillance state into the unaccountable behemoth we know today.
King has urged police to focus on Muslim communities for potential terrorist activity. He whined that there were too many mosques in the country. And he didn’t stop there. In 2011, he led a series of hugely wasteful, McCarthy-esque trials popularly known as the "radicalization hearings." Those congressional sideshows became fountains of anti-Muslim disinformation, where King made the risible claim that “80% of the mosques in this country are controlled by radical imams.”
The hearings never produced an iota of evidence to support King’s claims.
There is nothing praiseworthy in King’s tireless effort to establish himself as the United States’ leading anti-Muslim fearmonger. Schumer should explain what, precisely, he found to admire in any of King’s hatred.
Not content with only marginalizing American Muslims, King has also shown contempt for those protesting police brutality. After a New York police officer killed Eric Garner with a prohibited chokehold in 2014, King took to the media to blame not the officer but Garner’s obesity. His statement was so outrageous that even fellow Republicans criticized it.
And it wasn’t just the Garner case. Just last year, King questioned the patriotism of NFL players who chose to kneel for the national anthem, comparing their kneeling to a Nazi salute. In a tweet criticizing the New York Jets, King claimed systemic police violence was a "false narrative" created by liberal elites to sow racial distrust between communities of color and white Americans.
None of this is new information to Schumer, whose own tenure in politics overlaps every single one of King’s racist and anti-Muslim outbursts. Such divisive, hateful rhetoric runs in opposition to the culture of inclusivity and tolerance that Democrats aim to strengthen.
King’s tenure in Congress was not a noble one. His repeated attempts to strip health care from millions of Americans should not be celebrated as “sticking to principles.” It should be viewed as it is — a nakedly partisan act against the wishes of King’s own voters. Not that you’d know: King’s social media profiles censored criticism of his votes to kill Obamacare.
There is always the possibility Schumer was merely being civil. After all, politicians tend to speak well of their departing colleagues no matter how odious their records. But this is a perfect example of how the veneer of political civility minimizes the true damage caused by extremists like King. It is certainly not a courtesy King ever extended to the communities he terrorized with bogus hearings and incendiary attacks.
It is tragic that a politician whose career focused so completely on sowing distrust and enmity between fellow Americans can still be described as a fairly “moderate” Republican. By enabling King’s antics, Republicans allowed their party to swing to its current extremes. Democrats, and especially Democratic leaders like Schumer, should have no part in legitimizing this Republican march into madness.
The only silver lining of King’s tenure is that a Democrat could win his Long Island seat and begin the long process of repairing the damage King wrought. Schumer can start by apologizing to those communities revictimized by his thoughtless praise of King’s poisonous legacy.
Max Burns is a Democratic strategist, political commentator, and former director of communications for Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, an international nonprofit organization.