One week after a violent mob of President Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, forcing lawmakers to flee for safety, Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) maintained his support for the outgoing president after witnessing firsthand a moment he said he would “never forget.”
Mr. Zeldin, an ardent supporter of President Trump since his presidential campaign first began in 2015, had been scheduled to speak on the House floor as an Arizona objector as Congress formally certified President-elect Joe Biden’s victory last Wednesday when a scene of chaos unfolded unlike anything in modern American history.
On Tuesday, House Democrats formally called on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office. The vice president, however, said that he did not believe “such a course of action is in the best interest of our nation or consistent with our Constitution.” Republicans were unanimous in objecting to the resolution, the New York Times reported, and an impeachment vote was expected to follow Wednesday. Several Republicans as of Tuesday night publicly backed the impeachment, including Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 House Republican.
Over the past week, Mr. Zeldin released several statements and an op-ed related to last Wednesday’s failed insurrection, none of which leveled any criticism against President Trump or his attempt to remain in power after losing November’s election. The crowd that overran U.S. Capitol police had originated at the “March to Save America” rally, where President Trump spoke and repeated claims of “a rigged election” and urged his supporters to march to the Capitol in protest of the Electoral College count, which Mr. Biden won with 306 Electoral College votes. Five people reportedly died as a direct result of the assault on the Capitol.
In a statement last Thursday, Mr. Zeldin, who won a fourth term to the 1st Congressional District in November, said he would recommit to a pursuit of unity.
“Moving forward, there will be continued debate and there will be disagreement, but out of that must be a healthy, guarded and even thriving republic,” he said. “Right now, I am not going to dwell on any doubt, but to recommit to working towards a vigorous defense of Lady Liberty at all costs, and the pursuit of unity whenever possible.”
However, earlier this week, the congressman was back on Twitter, pointing blame at Democrats and the media, comparing the insurrection to protests across the country against police brutality in cities like Seattle, New York and Chicago and arguing that while the “violence was terrible, some people need to take a deep breadth and look in the mirror.”
“Those who committed acts of violence in the Capitol must be held accountable, but Dems and media eager to use Wed to settle political sores would only be dividing our country more,” he tweeted.
A request to Mr. Zeldin’s office for an interview this week was not returned.
A group of about 75 protesters gathered outside Mr. Zeldin’s Patchogue office Monday afternoon, calling on the congressman to resign. Mr. Zeldin, in a tweet Wednesday afternoon, said there’s “not a chance” he would resign.
Shoshana Hershkowitz of South Setauket, a leader of the group Suffolk Progressives, helped organize the rally.
Ms. Hershkowitz said she had already been frustrated by Mr. Zeldin’s recent actions, including when he signed onto a lawsuit filed by the Texas attorney general that sought to invalidate election results in the battleground states that President Trump lost. But it was a tweet from Jan. 2 that stirred more anger in Ms. Hershkowitz, in which Mr. Zeldin defended the president’s false allegations of widespread voter fraud and said the claims to the contrary were a lie.
“That lie may be easy to rattle off, but it’s still a massive, destructive lie that will haunt them on Jan 6th & far into the future,” the congressman tweeted.
Ms. Hershkowitz viewed that as inciting the violence that erupted on Jan. 6.
“I was really just kind of hoping it was a paper tiger and, as it turns out, it wasn’t,” she said. “After all of that, to see him go back into the chambers after people are dead and stand by this false assertion, it was just too much.”
The Suffolk Progressives began a petition seeking the expulsion of Mr. Zeldin “for his act of sedition.”
“Congressman Zeldin has proven himself to be unfit to serve as our representative with his actions,” the petition, which surpassed 2,000 signatures Tuesday, reads.
“We also want him to understand that his words matter,” Ms. Hershkowitz said. “Because he has a history of consorting with right-wing groups and several of those groups were at the Capitol on Wednesday.”
Prior to the violence last Wednesday, Mr. Zeldin tweeted: “To all my fellow Americans on the left, in the center & on the right, it’s time for us to have one big family talk in the Capitol & beyond.”
Within two hours, lawmakers were being shuttled to a secure location in the Capitol as the mob broke into the building.
Mr. Zeldin condemned the violence as the chaos unfolded.
“There must be ZERO tolerance for violence in any form!” he said in a statement shortly after 4 p.m. last Wednesday.
Once order was restored and Congress got back to work on counting the Electoral College votes, Mr. Zeldin maintained his objection to the Arizona election. In his 4 1/2 minute speech on the House floor, the congressman stuck to his prepared remarks and made no mention of the violence that had just occurred. Instead, he talked about mail-in voting, ballot observation and voter ID requirements that he said his constituents are “outraged” over. He also made no mention of the pandemic that has claimed more than 370,000 American lives and was the reason behind many of the state’s changes, including expanded mail-in voting and extended voter registration deadlines. The courts in those states have shot down any challenges brought in lawsuits by the Trump campaign.
Mr. Zeldin mentioned how Democrats have objected during the same process in prior elections. While true, in each of those elections, the losing candidate had conceded the race and did not push the vice president to overrule the will of the voters as President Trump did, fueling the flames of a “rigged election” and sparking the violent mob.
He also raised familiar grievances of Democrats pushing the “Trump-Russian collusion conspiracies and investigations” and impeachment.
Kathryn Casey Quigley, the Southold Town Democratic chair, issued a statement last week calling for elected officials at all levels to make a statement to the public “that serves to help move us forward, locally and nationally.”
“Many local people support what happened yesterday, or at least support the lies and misinformation that fomented the event. Every voice is needed in this crucial moment in our nation’s history.”
County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, said in a statement Friday that the election was not rigged or stolen.
“It is critical that elected officials, particularly those in Donald Trump’s Republican Party, stand up and tell that truth to their constituents. This is a moment of truth for our democracy.”