Republican Reps. Peter King and Lee Zeldin, who survived tough re-election contests Tuesday only to find themselves staring at a new political reality as members of the House minority next year, said opportunities exist to work with the new Democratic majority on tax reform, immigration and key funding bills.
In interviews Wednesday, King (R-Seaford) and Zeldin (R-Shirley) struck an optimistic tone and framed the midterm results — in which Democrats won back control of the House but lost seats in the Senate — as a chance to strike deals on issues critical to many Long Islanders.
For example, King said he would work with Democrats to repeal the $10,000 cap on federal deductions for state and local property, income and sales taxes, a measure that was passed last year as part of the GOP's sweeping $1.5 trillion federal tax overhaul. Agreements also could be reached, he said, on protecting the status of minors brought to the county illegally as children and improving health care for 9/11 first responders.
"I could be in a good position to serve as a bipartisan bridge with the majority," King said.
Zeldin said he is eager to work with Democrats on long-term extensions of the federal highway bill and the National Flood Insurance Program.
"The system requires bipartisanship," Zeldin said. "These are bills that have to get passed, regardless of which party is in charge."
Patrick Halpin, a Democrat and former Suffolk County executive, said that while Zeldin and King may have seen their legislative influence diminished, they continue to wield power for their district through close relationships with the White House.
"They are going to rely on their clout with the Trump administration to get funding for their districts," said Halpin, now a lobbyist at Mercury Public Affairs in Manhattan.
Zeldin on Tuesday defeated Democrat Perry Gershon, an East Hampton commercial real estate lender, in eastern Suffolk's 1st Congressional District by less than 19,000 votes to earn a third term.
"There was an attempt to make this race a referendum on President Trump," Zeldin said. "But the problem is that while some people in the district dislike the president, many more people support him."
King, a 25-year incumbent, faced one of the toughest battles of his political career, defeating first-time candidate Liuba Grechen Shirley of Amityville by a little more than 15,000 votes in the 2nd Congressional District, which straddles Suffolk and Nassau.
Grechen Shirley won the Suffolk portion of the district, which includes minority enclaves of Brentwood and Amityville that tend to vote Democratic, by a 4,400-vote margin. But King secured victory with a 20,000-vote advantage on the Nassau side of the district, which includes familiar GOP territory such as Massapequa and Seaford, state Board of Elections data show.
King said the results show a need for greater outreach by his office to the roughly 35 percent of his constituents who are Hispanic or African-American.
"We can't just be a country club party," said King, 74, adding that he has no immediate plans to retire or take a post in the Trump administration. "We need to overcome the image that all too often our party gives."