Last month I made my first visit to Capitol Hill since Dec. 28, 2020, the day I had cast my final vote on the floor of Congress before my retirement from the House of Representatives. Actually, the absence from Congress seemed even longer, because Covid restrictions had severely reduced the days I spent in Washington for most of 2020.
Driving down to Washington with Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman and GOP Chairman Joe Cairo to meet with members of New York’s congressional delegation, I couldn’t help thinking of Thomas Wolfe’s caution that “You Can’t Go Home Again.” Not that Washington was ever my home, but I had spent three to four days a week there for most months of the 28 years I was in Congress.
During those almost three decades there were highs and lows, victories and occasional defeats, but never a moment of regret about being there. It was the experience of a lifetime. Now I wondered how it would be coming back.
After the almost five-hour drive, we checked in at the Hay-Adams Hotel, across from the White House, in mid-afternoon. Our first stop on Capitol Hill would be US Rep. Anthony D’Esposito’s office in the Longworth Building. D’Esposito is my congressman, and represents many of the South Shore Nassau County communities I had represented. Driving up Independence Avenue to Capitol Hill, my first view of the massive Capitol dome brought back good memories and a sense of reassurance.
D’Esposito graciously welcomed us to his fifth-floor office. Over sandwiches and coffee he discussed his first weeks in Congress, including the turbulent five days, and 15 ballots, which finally resulted in Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s election as speaker of the House. As a former chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, I was particularly interested in D’Esposito’s appointment to that committee and his designation as chairman of its subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, which is so vital to New York and Long Island. Learning that Long Island Congressmen Andrew Garbarino and Nick LaLota would also be on the Homeland Security Committee gave me further reassurance that our security interests would be protected.
Walking through the underground tunnels to the Capitol with D’Esposito, Blakeman and Cairo, I began to feel I was back. Capitol Police officers recognized me and said hello, as did clerical staff manning the information booth. I ran into old Republican friends like Mario Diaz-Balart, from Florida, and Democrats like Jim McGovern, from Massachusetts, a committed progressive if there ever was one. After their initial shock at seeing a face from the past, it was soon like old times.
Garbarino then joined us for a meeting with House Majority Leader Steve Scalise in the Louisiana congressman’s conference room. I always had a great regard for Steve. He had been on the edge of death in 2017 from severe gunshot wounds suffered in an assassination attempt by a gunman who was shot dead by Capitol Police. After multiple surgeries and extensive rehab, Scalise is almost fully recovered, and is fighting as hard as ever. I was especially thankful that he was a strong ally of mine in passing 9/11 health care legislation.
Giving us a lot of his time, Scalise readily acknowledged that Republicans wouldn’t be the majority party without the seats we won in New York last November, especially on Long Island and in Rockland County. He emphasized that our congressional agenda would focus on hardworking middle-income families and support for the police.
Voting on the House floor began at 6:30. As a former House member, I retain floor privileges, but it felt surreal to enter the House chamber again. Within seconds, though, I felt as if I had never been away. After their initial surprise, former colleagues couldn’t have been more welcoming. When the voting concluded, D’Esposito was given the honor of serving as speaker for the proceedings that followed. He looked like the real deal in the speaker’s chair!
Later that evening, we were joined for dinner at Mastro’s Steakhouse by Representatives Nicole Maleotakis, from Staten Island, and Nick Langworthy, from Erie County. As in all of our meetings that day, Bruce Blakeman and I stressed the importance of restoring the income tax deduction for state and local taxes and retaining local control of zoning to preserve our suburban communities.
After a few drinks back at the hotel as we reviewed the events of the day, we called it a night. Beginning the drive back to Long Island the next morning, I took another look at the glorious Capitol dome shining in the morning sun. The trip had been bittersweet, but I was truly glad to be back. G-d bless America!
Peter King’s column appears biweekly in the LI Herald Newspapers.