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Rice, Zeldin seek issues they can address together in new Congress

Democrat Kathleen Rice, left, and Republican Lee Zeldin

Democrat Kathleen Rice, left, and Republican Lee Zeldin are the newly elected representatives to Congress from Long Island. Credit: James Escher

WASHINGTON -- Republican Lee Zeldin and Democrat Kathleen Rice, the newly elected representatives to Congress from Long Island, met here during new-member orientation Thursday to talk about local issues they can work on together beginning next year.

Despite the partisan gridlock that paralyzed Washington for much of the past six years, Rice and Zeldin said in interviews they are hopeful that the new Congress they'll join on Jan. 3 will be more productive.

Among the priorities they discussed were federal funding for local transportation infrastructure projects and the care of military veterans, they said.

"We met informally during a break," Zeldin said. "We spoke for several minutes about the desire to be able to work together on issues that are important to Long Island and New York."

Rice said, "We're both pretty moderate. I think we will be able to do something in terms of infrastructure."

Still, they'll face starkly different political landscapes for the next two years.

Zeldin, who will represent Long Island's East End, will join 41 other GOP freshmen as part of the Republican majority in the U.S. House -- where the majority rules -- putting him in a position to pass legislation.

Currently a New York State senator from Shirley, Zeldin said, "I will do everything in my power to pursue that progress as a member of the majority."

Rice, the Nassau County district attorney, is one of 17 Democratic freshmen who will be part of the minority, which will have little power during her first term. Rice, of Garden City, said she will take up where retiring Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) left off, with gun safety measures that face rejection under GOP rule.

The election of Zeldin and Rice represents the biggest change in the Long Island congressional delegation in more than a decade, bringing in two new faces and shifting the partisan makeup to a more even split between Democrats and Republicans. The delegation also includes Democrats Steve Israel and Gregory Meeks and Republican Peter King.

With the change comes a loss in seniority: Zeldin takes over from six-term Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and Rice succeeds McCarthy, who served nine terms since being elected in 1996.

Beginning next year, differences between Zeldin and Rice are expected to emerge as Republicans move forward with legislation that deeply divides the political parties, such as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and changes to how Medicare works for future beneficiaries.

Rice may face a steeper learning curve than Zeldin, as she moves from being a prosecutor to a legislator.

Zeldin, who is in his second term in the State Senate, said he has learned a lot in Albany, including how to leverage his freshman status with party leaders because they want him to win re-election after his first term.

For example, he said, at the request of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Zeldin Thursday seconded McCarthy's nomination to serve again as House majority leader -- an honor.

Zeldin also voted Thursday in the only contested GOP leadership race, for Republican Policy Committee chairman: He said he voted for fellow New Yorker, Rep. Tom Reed of Corning. Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.) won.

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