Barely two months after he was sworn in as U.S. Representative from New York’s 1st District (Suffolk County), Lee Zeldin is fast becoming a much-sought subject to interview by reporters in and outside the Empire State.
As an Army veteran who was deployed to Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division, Zeldin is regularly asked his views on the U.S. response to the Islamic State (ISIS) and on Iran sanctions.
Zeldin told us: "There was zero chance of the Syrian forces and Iraqi military destroying ISIS. In fact, it was an accomplishment just to get many soldiers to show up for work! So if they are not showing up on an easy workday, why would they bring the fight necessary to defeat ISIS?"
Army Reserve Major Zeldin believes that the U.S. and its allies "can defeat ISIS without any occupation of the country and without the large, conventional forces we have deployed in the past. We have some amazingly well-trained units — Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, Delta Force, and Marines, among others.
"We’re fighting against an unconventional threat, I realize, but ISIS can be defeated by with the use of devastating force and precision."
Zeldin, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is a vigorous backer of strong sanctions against Russia for its role in Ukraine and tougher sanctions against Iran. As he told Newsmax recently, "With the Obama administration in the middle of negotiations with Iran, many Americans, such as myself, are greatly concerned that there may be a deal cut just to cut a deal. This will mean foolish concessions to Iran, allowing them to get closer to a nuclear weapon."
Zeldin is also sought out by the press on international issues because of a unique perch he occupies: the New Yorker is the only Republican in either the House or Senate who happens to be Jewish.
He was recently asked by Laure Mandeville, Washington bureau chief for the venerable French publication Le Figaro, about his views on anti-Semitism in Europe and the talk by many French Jews of emigrating from France in the wake of recent terrorist acts by militant jihadists.
"I’m deeply concerned with the rising tide of anti-Semitism — in France, throughout Europe and around the globe," he replied. "Too many people aren’t aware that anti-Semitism exists. I was disturbed that the president wasn’t at the historic unity rally in France following the shooting that took 12 lives."
Like the young Jack Kennedy and Richard Nixon and other veterans who came to Congress in 1946 when the ink on their discharge papers was barely dry, Zeldin clearly brings a passion for national security and international issues to the Congress of the 21st century.
But this is only one component of his life. A graduate of State University of New York (cum laude) and Albany Law School, the young Zeldin grew restless in private law practice. In 2008, at age 28, he carried the Republican and New York Conservative Party banners against veteran Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop and ended up losing by a margin of 58 percent to 42 percent.
Undaunted, Zeldin roared back in 2010 and unseated liberal Democratic State Sen. Brian X. Foley. This time, in a near-turnaround of his loss for Congress, the GOP hopeful ousted the incumbent with 57 percent of the vote. In Albany, Zeldin was a spirited force behind efforts to roll back his state’s long list of taxes and fees. A key fight he helped lead was that to repeal the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s payroll tax for 80 percent of employers.
With his re-election to the state Senate a cinch in 2014, Zeldin opted instead for the more difficult race of another challenge to Rep. Bishop. He told Newsmax at the time: "Yes, it’s more difficult, but it’s got to be done if we are to have the numbers in Congress to do what has to be done. And as we say in the Army, 'no guts, no glory.'"
Again capturing the Republican and Conservative ballot lines, Zeldin ran as a hard-nosed fiscal conservative and champion of an opportunity society. This time, Zeldin emerged triumphant, unseating six-termer Bishop with 54 percent of the vote.
On the issue of a government shutdown that came up often on the campaign trail last year, Zeldin told us: "You just can’t reopen the government without any concessions on the spending side.
"In New York, 40 percent of the state budget is for Medicaid. That’s a program with costs out of control and individuals profiting from it. We could start reforming it if the federal government faces the fraud in it and identifies ways states can clean it up."
Whether the issue is overhauling entitlements or defeating ISIS, Lee Zeldin is clearly someone who at least has big ideas. Whatever their outcome, it seems a safe bet that the freshman lawmaker will pursue such ideas with the same tenacity he displayed in his journey to Congress. As he likes to say, "No guts, no glory."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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