Lee Zeldin speaks softly and carries a big stick.
The freshman Republican congressman from New York’s First District sits in a banquette at The Fourth restaurant in Manhattan, sips a cappuccino, and says things at just above a whisper. But his words are the embodiment of peace through strength. Zeldin is a low-key tough guy.
“Nothing threatens America’s security more than the silence that’s coming out of the White House with regards to the way our enemies are testing us,” says Zeldin, 35. “America is being tested right now, President Obama is being tested. North Korea turns a key to a nuclear reactor. Russia is having a submarine off our coast of Georgia, or naval warships off the Pacific Coast. The Chinese naval fleet is just off the coast of Alaska while the president is there. Iran is threatening the United States and our allies while Congress is deliberating whether or not to approve the arms deal. We are being tested and we can’t be silent.”
Being tough doesn’t mean warmongering, Zeldin explains.
“When I say, ‘We can’t be silent,’ it doesn’t mean we want war. That’s what the Left likes to say. There is a huge range of options between silence and war. . . . Our enemies all around the world will continue to test us more and more, until the president and this country have the backbone to stand up for ourselves.”
The mild-mannered Mr. Zeldin generated headlines during the debate over Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. He didn’t just speak softly. He went totally silent.
Zeldin took to the House floor and asked his Democratic colleagues a simple question: “How do you support a deal based on verification without knowing what the verification is?” He offered to yield time and let any Democrat answer. He stood there, and soaked in their silence for ten seconds, as none of them could answer his question. A clip of this moment soon raced around the Internet.
Zeldin has not given up on derailing the ObamaNuke deal and believes Congress still can do so by maintaining sanctions against Iranian terrorist coordinators as well as the power of the purse.
“I expected silence, because you cannot support a deal based on verification without knowing what the verification is.”
Zeldin also has proven himself surprisingly effective. Few freshmen representatives get bills passed by the House, especially on anything as momentous as atomic weapons.
When House backbenchers rebelled at voting on the bizarre and constitutionally suspect disapproval mechanism that wound up empretzeling the Senate, Zeldin and Representative Peter Roskam (R., Ill.) co-led the successful effort for the House to strip Obama of the power to end sanctions on Iran and to declare him in violation of the law that requires him to deliver to Congress all the side agreements tied to the Iran deal.
Zeldin has not given up on derailing the ObamaNuke deal and believes Congress still can do so by maintaining sanctions against Iranian terrorist coordinators as well as the power of the purse — as long as Republicans can explain to the American people what they are doing.
“I still don’t accept losing as an option on this issue,” Zeldin insists. “There is too much at stake to operate under the premise that this deal is a foregone conclusion and that there is nothing we can do about it.”
Zeldin sports a blue suit and gold-and-blue rep tie as he speaks. He also wears the nation’s uniform. He served as a paratrooper in Iraq and remains a major in the U.S. Army Reserves.
“I had a brigade commander in the 82nd Airborne Division who had this slogan behind him that said, ‘Slow equals smooth. Smooth equals fast,’” Zeldin recalls. “Everything always got done around him. He never raised his voice, things always got done.”
That commander seems to have rubbed off on Zeldin.
“I love our country,” Zeldin says. “I take seriously my oath to defend the Constitution and our freedoms, and I am willing to sacrifice everything to protect our country. That really should be the standard to be a member of Congress, and it’s not.”