Despite serving in a Republican-controlled Senate, independent U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine said he and other moderates hold the power to influence legislation when Republicans look across the aisle for extra votes.

King discussed his role in the Senate, the ISIS threat to the United States, ballooning college costs and his opposition to exporting natural gas in a wide-ranging interview Tuesday with the editorial board of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

Republican senators “need six or eight votes out of the caucus. … That puts those of us (moderates) in a very strong position.” King said, referring to the 60 votes Republicans would need to break a filibuster blocking or delaying action on a bill. Republicans hold 54 seats in the Senate.

The political maneuvering usually happens with the most high-profile and provocative legislation, such as immigration and the recent Keystone pipeline vote.

King likened his current situation to the way Democrats, when they held the majority, would discuss how to win the vote of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to protect legislation from filibuster.

“I want Republicans to say, ‘What do we need to do to get Angus?’ ” he said. That effort to “hopefully be a swing vote” is one reason he decided to stay with the Democratic caucus.


“I may be in a more effective position as a legislator in the minority,” he said. “It’s good to be a little unpredictable.”

That moderate stance, along with his work since being elected, has already paid off, King said. Last month, he was one of five members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who traveled to the Middle East to discuss the training of Syrian rebels by American troops, despite not holding seniority on the committee.

“I’m building a reputation among senior members (of Congress) as someone who’s paying attention,” he said, noting that he does his homework and is diligent in attending committee hearings. King also sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Budget Committee, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Committee on Rules and Administration.

While Mainers mostly write to King about topics of the day, such as the Keystone pipeline or immigration, King said his visits to businesses back home are dominated by workforce concerns.

“Every business I go to starts with ‘I can’t find workers.’ That’s the number one issue,” King said. The reasons are varied, from difficulty finding workers with the right education and training, to an inability to find workers with “soft skills,” such as knowing how to dress, answer the phone or show up on time.



King said one looming battle in Washington will be over the budget, particularly since automatic, across-the-board cuts known as sequestration would trim about $90 billion a year, including $53 billion from the defense budget.

The impact on Maine would be immediate, he warned.

“That’s fewer ships at BIW,” he said of Bath Iron Works. “That’s about as real as it gets in Maine.” The cuts would also likely affect the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery.

King also said he’s been tracking the ongoing question of whether the Maine Army National Guard’s 133rd Engineering Battalion in Maine will be relocated to Pennsylvania. He met Monday with Brig. Gen. James Campbell, adjutant general for the Maine Guard.

Last spring, a plan surfaced by high-level guard officials to trade the 133rd to Pennsylvania in exchange for an infantry battalion as part of a larger U.S. military restructuring. But former Maine Guard leaders came out against the move while Gov. Paul LePage and Campbell insisted no final decision would be made for years and any decisions would be made by Congress.

King said Tuesday that there was no pressure from Washington for the move, but “they feel this is necessary to prepare for future cuts.”


While he wouldn’t commit to taking a position in the matter, King admitted to leaning away from wanting to move the battalion.

“I would hate to see it go away, but I’m not prepared to take a ‘no, never’ position,” King said. “I’m still in the information-gathering stage.”


King is strongly in favor of President Barack Obama’s request that Congress authorize military operations against the Islamic State militant group, also known as ISIS, which controls large amounts of territory in Syria and Iraq.

“I’ve been agitating since last summer that this should happen,” he said. “I’m glad it’s happening. I think it’s a debate we should have.”

He criticized Congress for “abdicating that responsibility” of voting to authorize war.


“I think under the surface, Congress doesn’t want to make this decision. We’ll see. I think the next month is going to be fascinating.”

King has long supported fighting ISIS with a regional coalition for ground war action and air support from the United States. The U.S. has been conducting airstrikes against ISIS since August.

U.S. commanders have made clear they’re likely to ask Obama to authorize American troops to take part in operations, although not as front-line combat troops.

Continued action is needed because ISIS threatens to attack on American soil, and continues to recruit foreigners – 20,000 at last count, he said.

“It’s like advanced terrorism training,” he said of their recruiting outside members. “Clearly they’re preoccupied trying to hold on to what they’ve got, but want to hit us here if they can.”



King sounded a more cautious note on how the U.S. should respond to the war in eastern Ukraine, which has already killed more than 5,600 people and displaced more than a million.

Ukraine and its allies say Russia is supporting separatists with money, equipment and troops, which the Kremlin denies. Russia says Ukraine is waging war on its own citizens.

“The wise guy consensus seems to be ‘arm the Ukrainians.’ I’m not so sure,” King said. “I’m a voice of caution on the arming of the Ukrainians.”

King said he was thinking “three moves ahead” in the conflict, envisioning an escalating scenario in which the U.S. sends some military support, but the Ukrainians continue to take losses.


King is still undecided whether he’ll attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech before a joint session of Congress on March 3, just two weeks before Israel’s election.


“I don’t want to be disrespectful to Israel,” but it feels like Congress is being used as a “prop,” he said.

In a breach of Washington protocol, Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio invited Netanyahu to speak without consulting White House officials, and the prime minister’s decision to accept the invitation has drawn fire as well.

“I think the invitation was inappropriate, and his acceptance was inappropriate,” King said. Many Mainers have written his office urging him not to attend, he said.

“If he came after the election, OK. It’s the proximity to the election that bothers me,” he said. The showdown over whether or not to attend also threatens what has traditionally been bipartisan Congressional support for Israel, he said.

If the Republicans all attend and Democrats stay away, he said “the Republicans will say, ‘See, you can’t trust the Democrats.'”


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