Since the riot at the Capitol Building last Wednesday, critics have leveled harsh criticism of U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin and other Republicans who have still not condemned President Donald Trump’s role in sparking the riots and parroted false claims made about the 2020 election just hours after Mr. Trump’s supporters used those claims as justification for storming the seat of the nation’s government — killing a Capitol Police officer and leaving four rioters dead — hoping to halt the certification of the president’s defeat at the polls.
Mr. Zeldin was among the 139 Republican members of the House of Representatives who voted in favor of objections to the acceptance of the Electoral College ballots from Arizona and Pennsylvania after the mob of rioters had been driven out of the Capitol Building and lawmakers were allowed to return to their duties. In a five minute speech during the debate, the fourth-term congressman referenced essentially the full catalog of claims that Mr. Trump has repeatedly said should be the basis for millions of votes being summarily thrown out. A fact check of his speech published by The Express News Group this week, reveals that nearly all of the points have been proven to be either entirely untrue, greatly exaggerated or inconsequential, even in sum total, to the results in any one state or the election as a whole.
On the East End, critics from the Democratic Party placed the blame for the riot at Mr. Trump’s feet and said that Mr. Zeldin’s speech, in particular, and the stance of the other Republican senators and representatives in the wake of the violence amounted to simply continuing to feed the misdirected anger.
The Suffolk County Democratic Party and its chapters in Southampton and East Hampton Towns have called on Mr. Zeldin, who was sworn in for his fourth term last week, to resign for promoting false claims about the election for political gain.
“Mr. Zeldin knows better — he has taken the oath of office more than once: as a solider as a lawyer and as a member of congress — and he’s disgraced himself and he’s disgraced the oath, and for what, for political gain,” East Hampton Democratic Party Chairwoman Cate Rogers said of Mr. Zeldin, who was a captain in the U.S. Army and is now a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve.
“The East Hampton Democratic Party will ask for his resignation because,” she said, “the East Hampton Democratic Party stands with the Constitution of the United States of America — which I can’t even believe I have to say.”
Mr. Zeldin, not surprisingly, said he has no intentions of doing so and hit back at his critics on Tuesday.
“We love our country too much and see through their transparent tactics too well to not wake up today more determined than ever to stand together in this cause,” reads a Tweet on his account page. “I’ve been the target of their ire in the past and especially now as they call on me to resign my office. My answer is simple: NOT … A … CHANCE!”
Even those who have not called directly for his resignation, said that his stance on the election objections in the wake of the riot was irresponsible.
“That was a deeply angry mob that attacked the Capitol yesterday,” former U.S. Representative Tim Bishop, a Southampton resident who served six terms in Congress before losing to Mr. Zeldin in 2014, said on Thursday. “Their anger was rooted in a lie that was repeated over and over and over by a president who says he won in a landslide, and that the election was stolen from him by some evil cabal — and, based on that lie, this irrational passion manifested itself in the attack on the Capitol.
“The people who voted to sustain the objection to the Pennsylvania vote gave credence to that lie,” he continued, “and how they could do that after seeing the real world implications of fomenting that kind of passion rooted in a lie is inexplicable to me. I just don’t understand it.”
Republican and Democratic members of Congress alike have blamed the riots on the president, who had encouraged his supporters to come to Washington, D.C., on January 6 for weeks with the stated goal of forcing members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election in his favor. Mr. Trump, his attorney Rudy Giuliani, and members of the House Republican caucus addressed the crowd with decidedly bellicose language before the riots broke out.
Mr. Zeldin has been vastly more tempered in his defense of the president’s claims since Election Day than the president or some of his Republican colleagues in the House, who have repeatedly cast their objections as resisting an attempted coup d’etat, called supporters “warriors” and displays “strength” and asked their constituents to “fight” to overturn the election results. In an interview with The Express News Group in December, Mr. Zeldin said that what he claims were “irregularities” surrounding the election should be investigated more thoroughly, but he made no faint references to violence, uprising or even the call for mass protests.
But he has still not offered any direct response to the president’s statements in the lead-up to the assault on the Capitol — the first surge of which began just minutes after the president concluded his remarks to the crowd — though on Monday he tiptoed closer to doing so.
“Some of the rhetoric used by speakers Wednesday morning was over the top given the situation,” Mr. Zeldin said in a written response to a question from the Express News Group. “Unfortunately, not everyone heeded calls to remain peaceful, which is unacceptable. The president was correct to condemn the violence, saying that those who stormed the Capitol do not represent our country, and pledging that there will be a peaceful transition of power.”
In his initial statement, while rioters were still inside the Capitol building, the president had referred to the mob as “great patriots,” told them “we love you” and said the events should have been expected after his own “sacred landslide victory” had been taken from him, even as he told them to go home peacefully and “remember this day.” Only after it became known that a police officer and one rioter had been killed in the violence, and Republican Party leaders began to denounce his actions, did the president issue statements condemning the riot itself and, for the first time, saying that he would leave office on January 20.
Mr. Zeldin, who was fierce in his condemnation of riots around the country and his support for police officers following protests over police-related racial injustice this past summer, issued several statements in recent days denouncing the actions of the rioters who stormed into the building and were seen on videos beating several police officers and screaming anti-police obscenities.
“This should never be the scene at the US Capitol,” he said in a statement released by his office on Wednesday. “This is not the America we all love. We can debate and we can disagree, even on a January 6th following a Presidential election. We can all passionately love our country, but in our republic we elect people to represent us to voice our objections in the House and Senate on this day.”
Just moments before the rioters broke into the Capitol building and congress members and senators were rushed out of their respective chambers to safety, Mr. Zeldin had Tweeted that he was preparing to give a speech. He finally got to give his speech late that night as the House debated the objections to the Arizona and Pennsylvania ballots. Planned objections to more state’s ballots had been dropped by their supporters after the violence.
“My Constitutional oath is sacred and I have a duty to speak out about confirmed, evidence-filled issues with the administration of the 2020 presidential election in certain battleground states,” Mr. Zeldin said during the debate —despite almost all of the claims he made having been proven false or wholly inconsequential to the election results.
In December, Mr. Zeldin’s office sent an email to an unknown number of constituents asking whether they thought member of congress should “object and debate 2020 Presidential election issues that have been raised in a variety of battleground states?” An inquiry by the Express News Group about how many people the questionnaire was sent to, who received it and what the responses were, was not answered.
But on Wednesday, he leaned on his constituents’ sentiments as the justification for his pushing forward with his speech following the violence earlier in the day.
“Many of my constituents have been outraged and [are] demanding that I voice their objections here today,” he said. “This debate is necessary because … rogue election officials circumvented state election laws. They made massive changes to how their state’s election would be run.”
Mr. Zeldin, in a written statement on Thursday, defended his support of the objections to the Electoral College count on Wednesday night, while his predecessor said that Mr. Zeldin and his colleagues participated in the “perpetuation of a lie” that had led directly to the rioting and looting in the Capitol Building earlier in the day.
“I was on the House floor yesterday with eyes wide open about the reality of where the votes were in the House chamber, but this debate was necessary and my constitutional duty, because rogue election officials, secretaries of state, and courts circumvented state election laws,” the statement read. “They made massive changes to how their state’s election would be run. This is bigger than the 2020 presidential election. This is about ensuring we have an honest and open debate about how we can ensure the sanctity of our elections process and our republic.”
Judges dismissed numerous lawsuits filed by Mr. Trump and his supporters that claimed elections officials had acted outside their authority. Mr. Zeldin again applied the term “rogue” to the judges — many of whom were Republicans, some even appointed by Mr. Trump himself.
In a Sunday night tweet, Mr. Zeldin made no reference to Mr. Trump’s role in Wednesday’s assault on the U.S. Capitol, instead criticizing “Democrats and many in the media” — while, at the same time, lamenting people “thirsty to rack up political points and settle political scores right now.”
Citing protests in 2020 in various cities, he said his critics were “suddenly riding atop the highest horse in the land, many even comparing Wednesday’s violence to 9/11 and the Holocaust.”
He also repeated a point he made on the House floor, calling it a “double standard” that Democrats have, in the past, objected to election results, while “trying to define a Republican objection on January 6th, 2021, as treason and sedition.”
Many of those would-be political foes saw his complaints as hypocrisy in the face of the political theater of his delicate ballet around the facts of the election and the president’s role in sparking the riot.
“His actions and his team’s actions basically incited a military attack on the Capitol that was stoked by the show that he and his cronies were putting on inside,” said Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, who had sought the Democratic nomination to challenge Mr. Zeldin last year. “Lee is a lawyer. The argument that he made even after blood was shed, even after the windows of the Capitol were broken and threats made to all of his colleagues, he stood on the House floor and continued to make false claims that had already been rejected across the United States by Republican officials, by more than 60 judges, by the Republican attorney general.
“He knew those claims had no merit,” she added, “but he went ahead and put on his show. It was a show.”