Editorials

Editorial: Maskless and in a crowd is a bad look for Zeldin

Few observers of American and New York politics could question the statement that 1st District Congressman Lee Zeldin is an ardent supporter of President Trump and all things Trump related. He and the president have quite a bromance going.

The congressman’s press releases and some of his tweets show that he forcefully defends and supports the president at nearly every turn, with few exceptions. It is hard to find any criticism at all of the president’s conduct from Mr. Zeldin. 

With all that’s been said and written about Mr. Trump in just the past few months — there are far too many controversies to list in one editorial — it would seem that Mr. Zeldin could have found something to criticize, even mildly, without compromising his position as a strong supporter of the president’s policies.

So we have to ask: Is there nothing Mr. Zeldin could find in Mr. Trump’s words or deeds that runs counter to the country’s best interests or demeans the office of the presidency? Nothing at all?

Let’s focus just on this spring. The administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has been extraordinarily inept. Four months after the first cases appeared, we are now seeing surges in nearly two dozen of our 50 states. Florida has emerged as a COVID-19 hotspot.

The president, the nation’s leader, mocks mask wearers, thinks social distancing is a waste of time and tells his followers that there’d be fewer cases if less virus testing was conducted. As many have pointed out, a pregnant woman who doesn’t take a pregnancy test is still pregnant.

The president’s childish name-calling of critics, his bizarre pre-dawn tweets and the extraordinary allegations in former national security adviser John Bolton’s book — which all but calls Mr. Trump a puppet of Vladimir Putin and completely inept and unfit — should cause even strong supporters of the White House to at least pause and think it through. We have not seen that from Mr. Zeldin.

As excerpts of the book were being published last week, the administration canned Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District in Manhattan and the prosecutor who sent Mr. Trump’s longtime fixer, Michael Cohen — who arranged to pay off a porn star to cover up an affair with Trump — to prison.

Mr. Zeldin is our representative in Congress — the third and independent branch in our federal system — and we would expect him to at least say something when the president’s actions are not in our, or the country’s, best interests or when they reek of a cover up. His silence speaks volumes.

Which brings us to Saturday in Tulsa, Okla., and the arena that holds some 20,000 seats, where only 6,200 were occupied for the president’s first rally in months. Flying round-trip with the president on Air Force One, and sitting nearby in that arena, was Mr. Zeldin. 

Video shows that, in the arena’s lower-level seats, there was little social distancing and very few masks. The president’s two-hour speech was a master class in personal grievances, with nothing said about the pandemic that has so far claimed 120,000 lives and sent millions of Americans to the unemployment lines. In Florida, with record numbers of cases, the average age of an infected person is just 26.

In an email, Mr. Zeldin’s campaign said the congressman went to Tulsa at the president’s request to show support for his reelection. The spokesman said the congressman practiced social distancing and wore a mask into the arena before the main event, but removed it after being seated with a group that had tested negative for the virus. During this national health emergency, appearing in Tulsa maskless and shoulder-to-shoulder was a very bad look for our congressman.

The spokesman said Mr. Zeldin’s “strong, direct relationship with the president has helped to secure key victories for Long Island.” Among the most significant are helping to secure the $2 billion electron ion collider project for Brookhaven National Lab, which was no small thing.

We face multiple crises in this country, the pandemic being among the most urgent. Mr. Zeldin’s complicity with a president who has badly botched the federal response to the pandemic — and has consistently mocked widely accepted safety measures — is not in the best interests of the country or the 1st District.