As his campaign for governor seeks to translate the growing fear of crime into rising poll numbers, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), is making big promises to swiftly restore law and order in New York.
“I want to do everything I possibly can in the first 100 minutes,” Zeldin has said. “I want to have a very active first day.”
But on a single day last month, Zeldin did not even vote on three important crime bills that came before the House of Representatives.
“NOT VOTING,” the Clerk of the U.S. The House of Representatives noted next to Zeldin’s name in the official roll call for each bill on Sept. 22.
Zeldin’s campaign and his congressional office did not respond to numerous inquiries about why he did not vote, whether he was on the House floor, or what he was doing instead.
His Twitter account shows five posts on that day. The first promised, “My first action as Governor on January 1st will be to notify Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg that he is being FIRED for his refusal to enforce the law time and again.” The four subsequent tweets chastised the Democratic incumbent, Gov. Kathy Hochul. Another post—at 3:55 p.m., when his colleagues in the House were debating one of the three bills—included a video clip that shows Zeldin in front of the Lincoln Memorial, though it’s unclear when that was filmed.
The bill in question was H.R. 5768, the Violent Incident Clearance and Technological Investigative Methods (VICTIM) Act of 2022. It seeks in part to make police departments better able to investigate unsolved gun homicides and non-fatal shootings—such as the one earlier this month that left two teens wounded outside Zeldin’s Long Island house while his twin 16-year-old daughters were alone at home doing their schoolwork.
The VICTIM Act was sponsored by Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), who served with the Orlando Police Department for 27 years, working her way up from patrol officer to chief before she retired to run for Congress. She began the debate by speaking on behalf of the measure with the authority of experience.
“Mr. Speaker, real life is quite different from television or political buffoonery. Half of gun murders in the United States go unsolved. Victims are too often left with no justice and their families with little support.”
She posed a question to her fellow members of Congress.
“Who amongst us believes that murderers or violent criminals should not be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law?” she asked. “I pray, Mr. Speaker, that no one in this chamber really believes that. But, today, we will witness with our own eyes who actually wants to fund the police. I learned a long time ago, don't just listen to what they say but watch what they do.”
The primary voice in opposition was first-term Rep. Barry Moore (R-Al).
“Mr. Speaker, I am a freshman, and the whole time I have been here I have been talking about crime and the rise in crime and how the Republican Party has supported the police,” he began.
He then argued that the police do not really need more funding, just a wall.
“Down South, we use a lot of common sense sometimes to solve issues, and the biggest issue we have right now in the country is the border,” he said.
He voiced a tenet shared by a majority of Republicans in the House.
“I don't think that more money is always a solution,” he said. “Very often it is more management and local control.”
The matter came to a vote and the clerk recorded the result at 4:50 p.m.: 250 in favor and 178 opposed. The outcome would have beenthe same if Zeldin had voted, but that is not the point. Zeldin is someone who had declared his total and unwavering support for law enforcement while standing just outside the House chamber on the day a Trumpist mob stormed the Capitol.
“I’m here in the Rotunda, which right now is filled with FBI and other law enforcement, not used to being here on a night like tonight,” he said while appearing live on Fox News from a crime scene where hundreds of police officers had just been assaulted.
“This isn’t just about the President of the United States. This is about people on the left and their double standards, that you've been pointing out. Doing the right thing too, and supporting our law enforcement 365, not just when politically expedient.”
Zeldin got a chance to support law enforcement on Sept. 22, when H.R. 5768 and two other crime bills came before the House. HR 4118, The Break the Cycle of Violence Act, would provide support for violence reduction programs. Only one Republican voted in favor of the bill, which passed to applause from the Brady Campaign.
“We need strong federal gun policies combined with community-based intervention and prevention programs if we are ever going to make headway in ending the epidemic of gun homicides in America,” Kris Brown, president of the nonprofit that has advocated gun control since 1974, said in a statement that day. “Sustained funding for evidence-based violence intervention is essential to reducing gun violence. ”
The third bill was HR 6448, The Invest to Protect Act of 2022, which would assist smaller police departments with funding for body cameras and de-escalation training, as well as recruitment and retention. This measure received the most bipartisan support, with 153 Republicans not named Zeldin joining 207 Democrats in voting yes.
All three bills now await action by the Senate, which Demings will join if she is successful in her current effort to unseat incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio. At least two of the measures would unquestionably assist the police. Had Zeldin doubted that any of the legislation would assist the fight against crime, he could have expressed that with a “no” vote. A “yes” vote would have signaled his belief that this was the way to go.
He instead did nothing at all. His people will not explain why.
Zeldin must have been as horrified as any father would be when a shooting just outside his family's home sent his terrified daughters scrambling for safety from the kitchen into a bathroom. But the incident no doubt helped his feel-the-fear campaign, which has reduced incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul’s lead from 17 points to as few as four in one poll.
And a congressman who failed to vote on three major crime bills in September is out there promising to do something about crime in the first 100 minutes if enough people vote in November to make him the next governor.