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Unlike his counterparts Jordan and Meadows, Zeldin doesn’t reside in an uber-safe Republican district. While Trump won New York’s 1st congressional district by 12 points in 2016, Zeldin won re-election in 2018 by just 4 percentage points, and 2020 could feature another hotly contested race.

Zeldin’s loyalty to Trump, as well as his attacks on the impeachment process, has been met with much chagrin from Democrats. One House Democratic aide said Zeldin was “maybe the best instance I’ve seen of someone using emulating Trump as a pathway to relevance.”

But Zeldin, who served in the military, wasn’t a Trump acolyte from the get-go. The congressman only endorsed Trump after the former reality TV star cleared the 2016 Republican field and even in the years that followed, he was not averse to criticizing the president and those close to him.

“I voted for @POTUS last Nov. & want him & USA to succeed, but that meeting, given that email chain just released, is a big no-no,” Zeldin tweeted in July 2017 after president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., acknowledged his role in arranging a 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer in the hopes of landing dirt on then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Asked if he similarly saw anything wrong with the president’s conduct toward Ukraine, Zeldin declined to answer, telling NBC News instead that, “I, too, am concerned with corruption in Ukraine.”

Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., who represents the Long Island district next door to Zeldin’s, said he hasn’t been all that surprised that Zeldin, who sits on one of the three committees able to take part in the impeachment probe, has become one of Trump’s staunchest impeachment defenders.

“Well, I know that he feels strongly about it,” King said of Zeldin’s thoughts on the investigation. “I know that he and the president get along. I think this could be just the first time he’s really had an opportunity because he’s on one of the committees. Once you’re in it, it’s hard to go halfway.”

Meanwhile, since Zeldin’s earlier criticism of Trump Jr.’s emails, the two men have become “close,” as a source close to both Trump Jr. and Zeldin told NBC News. Trump Jr. headlined a fundraiser for Zeldin last year and is slated to headline another event for the Long Island congressman later this month.

“I know Don appreciates the fact that Lee is a fighter,” this person said, adding that what makes Zeldin “so fascinating is he’s the rare guy … who works closely with both the Freedom Caucus” and moderate Republicans.

In Zeldin’s district, which spans from working-class central Long Island to the wealthy enclave of the Hamptons, voters expressed mixed thoughts on his newfound prominence.

Rob Mauro, a 64-year-old construction manager and self-identified Republican, said that Zeldin is doing “as best he can” on a “nonsense” impeachment probe. But Mauro said he was at least a little surprised to see Zeldin featured so prominently.



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McCarthy: 'I have a hard time believing' Pelosi doesn't hate Trump

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Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was asked if he believed the impeachment inquiry was motivated by personal animus in his weekly briefing.

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Warren goes after Buttigieg, Bloomberg in change of tactics

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who rarely criticizes her opponents by name, went on the offensive Thursday night, directly challenging Pete Buttigieg and Michael Bloomberg, two of her rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination.

After her speech at the Democratic National Committee’s I Will Vote event in Boston, Warren called on Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, to let the news media into his private campaign events “so that anyone can come in and report on what’s being said” to big financial donors.

Warren had been asked about a New York Times editorial examining Buttigieg’s career at the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, but she chose to talk, instead, about his private fundraising events, referring to him as “Mayor Pete.”

“I think that voters want to know about possible conflicts of interests,” she said. “It is even more important that the candidates expose possible conflicts of interests right now, and that means, for example, that the mayor should be releasing who is on his finance committee, who are the bundlers who are raising big money for him.”

She added: “No one should be left to wonder what kind of promises are being made to the people who can pony up big bucks to be in the room.”

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In response, Buttigieg’s top spokeswoman, Lis Smith, tweeted: “If @ewarren wants to have a debate about transparency, she can start by opening up the doors to the decades of tax returns she’s hiding from her work as a corporate lawyer — often defending the types of corporate bad actors she now denounces.”

Warren also used the withdrawal from the race of Sen. Kamala Harris of California to go after Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, who entered the race last month.

Noting that neither Harris nor Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who failed to qualify, would be part of the next Democratic debate, Warren said: “There will not be a single person of color on that stage, and as I said, women have been forced out of this race at a time when billionaires can buy their way in.

“Michael Bloomberg just did a $37 million ad buy in one week in order to make himself a candidate while he skips the usual parts of democracy, like shaking hands with people and hearing directly about their concerns,” she said.

“If democracy is just going to be about billionaires buying their way in, then buckle up, because we’re going to have an America that just works better and better for billionaires and leaves everyone else behind,” she said.

Warren signaled the new tactic on Wednesday night, when she appeared on Bloomberg TV, which is owned by Bloomberg, and said: “What is broken in America is we’ve got a country that is working great for those at the top … and that is why I’m so concerned about Michael Bloomberg jumping into this race, dropping $37 million in one week on ad buys. I don’t think elections ought to be for sale.”

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Warren was at or near the top of Democratic polls earlier in the autumn, but in recent weeks she has started to fall behind former Vice President Joe Biden.

The most recent national poll by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, released last week, put Warren at 14 percent, trailing Biden, at 27.8 percent. The same poll in the first week of October had Warren leading Biden by 30 percent to 27 percent.

Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, with whom she is roughly even in recent polls, have declined to raise money at private events. Biden, unlike Buttigieg, has allowed reporters at all of his fundraising events.

Deepa Shivaram contributed.



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John Kerry endorses Joe Biden for president

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WASHINGTON — John Kerry, the former senator from Massachusetts, secretary of state and Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, threw his support behind former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential bid on Thursday.

Kerry praised Biden in a statement released by the Biden campaign, saying that “there’s never been a time more urgent for leadership at home.”

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“I believe Joe Biden is the president our country desperately needs right now, not because I’ve known Joe so long, but because I know Joe so well,” Kerry said. “I’ve never before seen the world more in need of someone who on Day One can begin the incredibly hard work of putting back together the world Donald Trump has smashed apart.”

“Joe is uniquely the person running for president who can beat Donald Trump and get to work on Day One at home and in the world with no time to waste.”

Kerry will campaign with Biden on Friday in Iowa and in New Hampshire on Sunday.

The endorsement comes as Biden has amplified his qualifications to be commander-in-chief, given his foreign policy experience. On Wednesday, his campaign released a video saying that “the world is laughing at President Trump.”

Kerry has a long history with Biden — they served together in the Obama administration and in the Senate, where both were on the Foreign Relations Committee. When Biden left the Senate to become vice president, Kerry succeeded him as the chairman of the committee.

With his deep relationships on Capitol Hill, Biden is outpacing his Democratic peers in endorsements from sitting lawmakers, too. He’s backed by 22 House representatives, five senators and three governors — more of each category, and more endorsements in total, than any other candidate in the race.



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