When it came down to a choice between attending his son's wedding and staying in Washington to vote against health care reform Saturday, Steve King knew what he had to do.
He skipped the wedding.
Health care reform passed the House of Representatives anyway, 220-215, but King, Iowa 5th District congressman, said Monday he doesn't regret his decision.
The Republican had been battling HR3962, pushed by the Democratic majority in Congress, for months. He'd known about his son Mick's plans to wed Stephanie Bettin on Nov. 7 for months, as well. On Nov. 1, during a trip home to Kiron, Iowa, he told Mick, Steph and other family members the vote could fall on the wedding day and it might not work to do both.
"It was not a hard decision for me to decide then that I had to be in Washington, if that was the time the vote was coming up. But it was still hard, if you know what I mean," King said.
The reaction in the room?
"No one in this family asked me to reconsider. They all said, 'We know that you will do what you have to do,'" King said. "So I call it full-family support and full understanding. As I said, the best thing that I could give them would be to preserve the freedom that I was born into and be able to pass that along to any children that they will be blessed with."
King has repeatedly termed the reform effort led by Democrats as an indefensible government takeover of the private health care industry. King said it was his role to help beat back "liberal" reform, especially after leaving a meeting of Republicans last week that had "a tone of resignation in the room that a bill was going to pass." So he led two big public events to air disagreement with the bill, on Thursday and again Saturday before the vote.
King said he had support from other Republicans who offered to get him a private jet so he could attend the nuptials and vote, too. "But it didn't work logistically," he said.
So, King's wife, Marilyn, attended the wedding in St. Martin's Catholic Church in Odebolt without her husband. Mick King, 31, was the last of the couple's three sons to tie the knot.
Youngest son Jeff, 30, and wife Lindsay took their vows in August -- when Congress was in recess and the father of the groom could count on being present.
Many of Saturday's wedding guests noted the elder King's absence, Jeff said. But he said no one in the family second-guessed the decision to stay in Washington.
"I don't know there was any question on it. I know it was an awful decision to have to make," Jeff King said. "... It was harder on Dad than anyone else, I'm sure."
For the congressman, missing the wedding meant he also missed out on reading Scripture in the church he's attended since 1978. The ceremony started at 3 p.m. Eastern time, and King said he thought about asking House leadership for unanimous consent to speak out of order for a minute to note his son's wedding in the Congressional Record.
"I realized it would look like I was trying to use their wedding as a political tool, and I decided it was inappropriate to do that," he said.
He said Jeff sent him a wedding photo by phone shortly thereafter.
"We had a lot of intense debate and things to go through at that point," King said. "I wanted to call them during the reception and maybe put the phone up to the microphone and talk to everybody, but I couldn't do that. I was just too busy until right up until 1 o'clock in the morning in D.C."
The vote took place after 11 p.m.
King flew out of Washington too late to don a tuxedo and take pictures in the church but in time for him and Marilyn to meet Mick and Steph for a Sunday meal in Decatur, Neb., before the newlyweds flew out of Omaha for their honeymoon.
"It was overwhelming -- to sit down there and be with them, to talk about their life together and hear the things that they experienced, what stood out for them in the wedding, I could relive it in that fashion," King said.