The South Fork’s congressman, U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin, cast an emphatic “nay” vote on Wednesday evening, December 18, in the historic action by the House of Representatives to impeach President Donald J. Trump.
Mr. Zeldin has been strident in his opposition to the impeachment proceedings from the first day of closed-door depositions, of which he had a rare view, as a member of one of the House committees permitted to observe the testimony.
In comments from the House floor on Wednesday, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi called a “temple of Democracy,” Mr. Zeldin leveled strong criticisms at the process the Democratic leadership in the House have applied, their motivations for the inquiry, and at the presumed outcome of the vote that took place later.
“This impeachment is an embarrassment for Democrats,” he said during his three-minute statement. “On the substance, the [Democrats] claim their case is uncontested, relying on presumptions, hearsay and 3 percent of the story, trying to connect dots that aren’t actually connected. But Democrats want the public to ignore the other 97 percent of the story. See, it doesn’t work like that.”
Mr. Zeldin has been one of the more vocal and visible Republican members of the House since the proceedings began in October.
As a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs — where the impeachment inquiry began, with interviews of government officials in a secure basement room of the Capitol building — Mr. Zeldin was one of only a handful of Republicans who sat in on the first interviews that detailed the content and context of the phone call between Mr. Trump and Ukrainian President Volodomir Zelensky that set off the investigation of the U.S. president.
Mr. Zeldin was immediately a fervent critic of the Democrats’ actions and was a frequent guest on Fox News and other television networks, casting political shade at his colleagues.
In his comments on Wednesday, he anchored the case he has made throughout and argued that the context of the conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky was one that should have been had to ferret out corruption — not a president using security aid for leverage to further his political aspirations.
“The Democrats believe … [Joe] Biden should be immune from scrutiny,” he said of the investigation that Mr. Trump asked Mr. Zelensky to conduct, or announce, into the work that the former vice president’s son did for a Ukranian energy company. “Never again should that conflict of interest ever happen, and our governments should be working together to get to the bottom of this.”
He also on Wednesday skewered his political colleagues for the way they handled the impeachment, accusing Representative Adam Schiff, who led the Foreign Affairs Committee hearings, of orchestrating the whistleblower complaint and coaching witnesses through their depositions.
“This impeachment is ripping our country in half,” he said Wednesday. “It’s fatally flawed on the process, the substance, the intentions and the consequences. It’s a total Schiff show.”
Over the last three years, Mr. Zeldin has been a firm supporter of the president, though he has directed some criticisms of Mr. Trump’s choice of words or policies on a few occasions. He voted against the president’s marquee legislative achievement, the tax code overhaul, because it rescinded the tax exemptions for state and local taxes, a caveat that hit most Long Islanders especially hard.
Mr. Zeldin has said that he believes his support of the president will help his chances of winning a fourth term in next fall’s election, rather than hurt.
His would-be opponents are banking he is wrong.
Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Mr. Zeldin in next year’s election, said on Tuesday, December 17, that, were she in his seat for the vote, she would have supported impeachment — for both obstruction of Congress and abuse of power — and she blasted Mr. Zeldin for his steadfast support of Mr. Trump.
“He has spent months focused exclusively on a partisan defense of this president that flies in the face of proven facts, while he neglects the needs and concerns of our district,” Ms. Fleming, who is from Bridgehampton, said in a statement released by her campaign on Tuesday afternoon.
“Whether one agrees or disagrees with impeaching the president, the facts clearly show that his conduct was improper and a gross abuse of power, and that his refusal to cooperate with the legal process violated the rule of law which ensures the proper functioning of our democracy. If Lee Zeldin will not acknowledge this, it is a clear indictment of his judgment.”
Perry Gershon, who lost to Mr. Zeldin in the 2018 election and is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge him again in 2020, likewise said he saw Mr. Trump’s impeachment as the proper course and slighted Mr. Zeldin for his support.
“It’s clear from the congressional hearings that Donald Trump abused the power of his office and obstructed justice,” Mr. Gershon said on Monday evening. “Our representative, Lee Zeldin, should put his loyalty to the president aside and stand up for both his constituents and the Constitution … His efforts to muddy the waters and confuse the process are distressing, while he has ignored the issues that affect us on Long Island.”