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King Tapped for Homeland

The House Republican Steering Committee selected Rep. Peter King (R) to be the next chairman of the Homeland Security Committee Wednesday evening, handing the gavel to a media-savvy New Yorker at a time when the panel’s turf is under heavy scrutiny.

The Steering choice is still subject to ratification by the full Republican Conference, but it is highly doubtful that the larger GOP group wouldn’t approve the choice.

Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) announced the choice after an hours-long Steering Committee gathering, during which GOP Reps. Don Young (Alaska), Curt Weldon (Pa.), John Linder (Ga.), Dan Lungren (Calif.) all made pitches for the gavel.

“After hours of deliberation and many good candidates … we came to a decision,” Hastert said Wednesday night.

In accepting the post, King thanked the Steering Committee profusely and promised to do his best to defend the country from terrorism and deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the same resolute way the country recovered after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“I want to pledge that as someone who came from New York … I will show that same commitment to rebuilding the Gulf states,” King said.

Republican aides said that the choice of the New Yorker just days after the fourth anniversary of 9/11 would be important symbolically. The fact that King is a moderate with good relationships across the aisle is also considered helpful, given the nature of the post.

GOP leaders also believe the Homeland job is likely to be more high-profile than it has been in the past, and King has always aggressively courted the media.

The contest for the Homeland post has been under way since June, when then-Chairman Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) was named by President Bush to serve as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The race was relatively quiet through the summer, as Cox was not confirmed by the Senate to his new post until July. Soon after, Congress left for the August recess.

But in the last weeks before Steering met to make its choice, the race became more heated. King was the target of an opposition research campaign, as unidentified operatives on K Street and on the Hill circulated evidence designed to back up allegations of past disloyalty to the party and support for the Irish Republican Army.

After King, Weldon was the most energetic campaigner, though Republican leaders have expressed frustration in the past with the Pennsylvanian’s tendency to freelance and to pick controversial fights with the intelligence community.

Young, meanwhile, was hurt by his already having chaired two consecutive full committees. Young was also a vehement opponent of the Homeland panel’s creation in the first place.

Linder emphasized his experience and, more importantly, his long political service to the party as a fundraiser and past chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Lungren, meanwhile, was something of a late mover in the contest, drawing on his previous experience as California’s attorney general.

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