An interview with Representative Lee Zeldin of New York’s First Congressional District grew heated on Thursday when the congressman was asked to clarify his position with respect to the 2020 presidential election.
Mr. Zeldin, who is mulling a challenge to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo next year, was interviewed by Ryan Lizza and Tara Palmeri on Politico Live. One of former President Trump’s most staunch supporters, he voted on Jan. 6 to overturn the certification of electoral votes in Arizona and Pennsylvania, hours after the armed insurrection of the United States Capitol, an act of domestic terrorism intended to overturn the certification that was underway.
Those votes followed months of Mr. Zeldin’s insistence that the election was illegitimate because state officials had changed election rules to enable voting during the coronavirus pandemic. In December, he supported a Supreme Court challenge to the certified election results from four states won by President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, which the court quickly denied. Mr. Zeldin also defended the former president throughout his 2019 impeachment in the House of Representatives and subsequent acquittal in the Senate.
Mr. Lizza, Politico’s chief Washington correspondent, asked the congressman if he would state unequivocally that Mr. Biden had won the election. “Yeah, Joe Biden is the president of the United States,” Mr. Zeldin replied.
He continued, but was quickly cut off. “Is, or won?” Mr. Lizza asked. “I ask it very intentionally, that he won the presidential election.”
“Yes, and I went on to continue an answer,” Mr. Zeldin said. “If you would like to give my answer for me, you can go ahead and do that. But I thought I was going to be here to answer my own questions.”
“You just said he is the president,” said Mr. Lizza, “and I was asking, did he win?”
“Okay, you’re asking me now for a third time,” Mr. Zeldin answered, “and I’ve said yes twice. So I don’t know how many more times you want me to say yes and what your agenda is, but really, it’s a bit ridiculous to be asking me a third time. But please, go ahead and ask me again.”
When Ms. Palmeri suggested that Mr. Lizza was simply seeking clarity, Mr. Zeldin said that he had now been asked the question a fourth time. “You could go for a fifth time next, too,” he said.
“Is every time I speak a question?” Ms. Palmeri asked. “We could keep going.”
“Sure, let’s do it a sixth time,” the congressman said.
Mr. Lizza sought to move to another topic. He asked Mr. Zeldin how he had voted last month when House Republicans decided, by secret ballot, whether or not to remove Representative Liz Cheney from her post as the party’s conference chairwoman. Ms. Cheney had voted in January to impeach Mr. Trump in the one-term president’s second impeachment.
“Are you going to ask me once or five times?” Mr. Zeldin snapped. “What’s the plan here?” Just once, was the answer. “Oh, just once,” the congressman repeated. “I believe that there should be a change of leadership with regards to the conference chair,” he said. Mr. Zeldin was one of 62 Republicans who voted to remove Ms. Cheney from her post, with 145 voting for her to remain.
A Republican has not won a statewide election in New York since 2002, when Gov. George E. Pataki, who had defeated Governor Cuomo’s father, Mario Cuomo, in 1994, was elected to a third term.