At a time when most congressional Republicans are trying to distance themselves from Donald Trump, one is behaving like a cheap clone of his party’s presidential candidate, complete with mind-numbing outrageous charges and incendiary rhetoric.
Rep. Lee Zeldin, the lone Jewish Republican in the 114th Congress, has called Barack Obama a “racist,” sounded like a Trump birther clone questioning the president’s heritage and loyalty and accused him of having “no idea what he is doing.”
Zeldin, a freshman representing New York’s first district at the eastern end of Long Island, likes to imitate his idol, Trump, by phrasing an accusation as if he’s not the one who actually made the charge.
He said the return of $400 million in frozen funds to Iran was a “cash ransom to the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism,” virtually accusing the president of treason by suggesting he “is playing for the other team.”
The charge of dual loyalty is particularly offensive coming from a Jewish congressman.
Speaker Paul Ryan called Trump’s attack on the Mexican heritage of Indiana-born Judge Gonzalo Curiel “the textbook definition of racist,” but Zeldin defended the mogul, telling CNN not Trump but “the president of the United States is a racist with his policies and his rhetoric.”
Trump, like many on the Right, has trouble accepting an African-American or a woman as the president of his white man’s Christian country. Sounds like Zeldin does, too.
Huffington Post has said Zeldin has “shown a willingness to engage in some of the basest forms of politics.”
As the GOP’s lone Jew in Congress Zeldin is often expected to give a hechsher or approval to his colleagues’ positions on Israel. He is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, but the New York Post reported he “skipped out” on two thirds of the meetings in his first year that focused on Islamic State and the Syrian crisis despite all “his tough talk” on those issues.
Zeldin told The Jerusalem Post that Trump would be a more reliable friend of Israel than Hillary Clinton despite saying he’d be neutral in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and that neither side really wants peace. He also flip-flops on where in Israel the US embassy should be located, and has said Israel and other countries should reimburse Washington for past foreign aid.
More alarming, 50 leading Republican former national security officials have said Trump would be an unreliable ally to America’s foreign friends like Israel and is unqualified to be commander in chief.
The GOP approach to the Jewish community is based on being super-hawks on the three I’s – Israel, Iran and ISIS – and hoping we’re stupid enough to overlook their generally dismal records on domestic and social issues that are at least if not more important.
It doesn’t work, and as new evidence listen to the far-right Israeli politician and settlement leader Dani Dayan, who just became Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s consul general in New York. “Any American president is good for Israel,” he told The New York Times.
After former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani returned from Israel recently saying Netanyahu prefers Trump, the prime minister’s office quickly announced he is not taking sides this year.
When Netanyahu criticized Trump’s planned Muslim ban last December, the reality TV performer was offended and canceled a planned trip to Israel.
Hating Muslims has been a cornerstone of Trump’s campaign and no doubt some Jews, especially on the Right, may share that sentiment, but the overwhelming Jewish reaction has been rejection, perhaps because they understand that for hate-mongers like Trump “we could be next.”
Zeldin, 36, an Iraq war veteran, has predicted Trump would “annihilate” Clinton in his Long Island district, which went Democrat in the past two elections.
His opponent is Anna Throne-Holst, a former Southampton town supervisor. Unlike the incumbent, she supports the Iran nuclear agreement, the two-state solution and is receiving contributions from the J Street PAC.
Zeldin has strong support from anti-abortion and gun groups. The NRA gave him its A rating and National Right to Life scores him 100 percent. Planned Parenthood, NARAL, ACLU and the Friends Committee on National Legislation all give him zero ratings.
He opposes same-sex marriage and is sponsoring legislation that would sanction discrimination based on “a religious belief or moral conviction” opposed to same sex marriage. GOP vice presidential candidate Mike Pence signed a similar law as governor of Indiana.
Zeldin has met at least twice with the right-wing group Oath Keepers, which The New York Daily News said dabbles in “fringe conspiracy theories,” claims the Sandy Hook school massacre was a hoax and called President Obama a “Muslim/Extremist.” Its founder has said war hero Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) is “a traitor who should be hung by the neck until dead.”
Zeldin initially justified the meetings by saying he’s available to all constituents, but after numerous protests said he doesn’t agree with “100%” of the group’s message.
He also defended majority whip Steve Scalise’s (R-Louisiana) meeting with white supremacists linked to former KKK grand dragon David Duke, saying it wouldn’t harm “Republican progress towards reaching minorities and the Jewish community.” Three months later Scalise For Congress sent Zeldin a $2,000 campaign contribution.
In Trumpian tradition, Zeldin excoriated the media for bringing up the “not a big deal” incident and attacked Obama for having “82 meetings with Al Sharpton.”
Zeldin has tied his wagon to Donald Trump in a district that went Democrat in three of the past four elections.
Non-partisan election experts rate Zeldin’s race a toss-up.