Rep. Lee Zeldin faced fiery crowds in a series of public forums on Sunday as he highlighted his differences with President Donald Trump while standing behind his support for repealing and replacing Obamacare.
Zeldin, a second-term Republican from Shirley, answered written questions submitted by attendees and read by moderators. The tour of the district began Sunday afternoon in Riverhead at Suffolk County Community College, where a capacity standing-room crowd of 225 hissed at his answers and interrupted his statements.
From there, he faced a more evenly split crowd of 150 at the Portuguese American Hall in Farmingville. His friendliest crowd of 200 came at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Smithtown, at an event moderated by a conservative group promoting religious freedom.
Zeldin said he supports a more robust policy against Russia and opposes proposed cuts to Brookhaven National Laboratory and Long Island Sound environmental programs.
He highlighted differences he has with Trump and said he believes the president should release his tax returns.
One question in Smithtown asked whether Zeldin thought Trump was honest.
“It’s one thing to be a reality TV host. It’s another to be president of the United States,” Zeldin said. “I’m not saying that in a pejorative sense. The style needs to evolve to become a little bit tighter. When you say something it has huge consequences.”
In Riverhead, Zeldin faced interruptions from the crowd as he answered questions.
“I want to be able to answer your questions,” he said. “Some of these answers need more than a quick sound bite.”
During the 70-minute discussion, Republican County Comptroller John Kennedy read 19 questions submitted by the audience on topics including health care, North Korea, immigration visas and the alleged Russian influence in the presidential election.
Some attendees said that Zeldin wasn’t answering questions and didn’t allow for follow-up questions.
“We wanted a dialogue and we got a monologue,” said Amy Turner, 64, a retired teacher and attorney from Wainscott. “That was not a town hall. It was droning monologues about the appropriations process.”
Kennedy said Zeldin “did what any elected official must do, which is stand in front of constituents and answer questions.”
At the Farmingville event, moderated by LI News Radio host Jay Oliver, Zeldin found support in the audience and began by citing the areas he disagreed with Trump.
“People are so wound up in their partisan views and their hatred of Donald Trump, all they do is scream and shout and want to hear themselves talk,” said Tom Neppell, 62, of Belle Terre.