By Stephen J. Kotz
Congressman Zeldin, this was your first inauguration as a member of Congress. Can you share with us some of your impressions?
It was an honor to attend President [Donald] Trump’s inauguration and witness firsthand the peaceful transition of power from just a few rows away. That platform was filled with many of the Republican and Democratic leaders of our nation. The conservative and liberal forces of causes that we debated so strongly during this most recent election came together for that important moment and it was truly a privilege to be part of this ceremony. The sounds of the crowds and views into the distance were a perspective I have never before seen in person.
What is it like to witness the orderly transfer of power that somehow seems to happen seamlessly every four to eight years in this country?
As President George Washington once said “The peaceful transition of power is what will separate this country from every other country in the world,” and Friday was no exception. We live in the greatest nation in the world and the handoff of power from the Obama administration to Trump administration is a very important reminder of that exceptionalism.
Did you make it to any of the inaugural balls?
I attended the Freedom Ball and New York State Society Gala.
What do you think of the decision of some members of Congress to boycott the inauguration?
Very disappointing. They did not have to celebrate in order to participate and they absolutely should have been there.
Unlike many past presidents who have sought to mend fences with their inaugural addresses, President Trump took a pretty hard line on how he views current American political culture as well as this country’s relations with the rest of the world. What did you think of his speech?
President Trump’s speech was his first words after taking the oath of office and he was very consistent regarding issues that he prioritized throughout the campaign. I would encourage him to work with anyone, wherever and whenever common ground can be found to move our country forward.
Mr. Trump has already signed a number of executive orders, rolling back many of President Obama’s policies. With a solid majority in the House and a small majority in the Senate, the Republicans are in strong position to move forward on their agenda. What are some of the first big steps you expect to see Congress take in the coming months?
Top priorities in the months ahead include the repeal and replacement of Obamacare. There should be a stable transition to a new reality that will work better and make healthcare costs affordable, relieving taxpayers of the financial burdens under this failed policy, and give patients more choices, while still continuing to cover Americans with pre-existing conditions and allowing children to stay on their parent’s policy.
Some other components include allowing the purchase of coverage across state lines, expanding opportunities for pooling, expanding choice with additional options for patient centered-health care, making coverage portable, preserving employer sponsored health insurance, protecting and preserving Medicare, and strengthening Medicare Advantage, amongst other needed reforms. House Republicans have a plan to stabilize skyrocketing premiums and increase competition in the marketplace.
Other top priorities include securing our border, strengthening our foreign policy, simplifying our tax code, and improving our nation’s infrastructure.
It looks like President Trump is going to make good on one of his campaign promises: Renegotiating trade deals. Do you have any concerns that such unilateral action will spur a trade war?
My concerns rest with continuing the current trajectory of failed trade policy. Working together, we must continue to insist on advancing trade agreements that strengthen the middle class, place America first, and deliver more opportunities to hardworking American families. We must ensure that any trade deals entered into by the United States are in the absolute best interest of the American economy, American companies, and the American worker. Through better trade deals, we can keep the U.S. competitive in the global marketplace and boost “Made in America” products, which will help grow our economy, and keep our money and good paying jobs here.
The president is off to a rocky start with the media, to put it mildly. Despite criticizing the American intelligence community for its handling of reports that Russia had meddled in the election, this weekend he blamed the controversy on the media’s coverage. Later, he came across as petty when he had his press secretary insist that it was the largest crowd to ever attend any inauguration, when that was obviously not the case. Do you think this is a wise path? Does this behavior concern you as a member of Congress?
My concerns as a member of Congress and as a proud American citizen are deep and there is a ton of blame to go around as to how we got to this moment in our country’s history. It’s time to find common ground wherever we can to pursue solutions that help our nation prosper.
Speaking of crowds, there were huge demonstrations by women in Washington and other major cities across the United States on Saturday. What is your message to women who believe Mr. Trump does not represent their best interests?
2017 presents new opportunities to improve our community, state and nation. To move our country forward, unity amongst the American people is the most critical necessity. Ideological differences will always exist, but the pursuit of common ground must be the highest priority.