WASHINGTON — Long Island’s Republican congressmen on Tuesday stood by Donald Trump as their presidential nominee, but they said they hope he learns to become more focused on issues and a better communicator as a candidate.
Reps. Peter King of Seaford and Lee Zeldin of Shirley said Trump should not have raised questions about Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose Army captain son died in Iraq, but that they still back his candidacy.
They answered questions about their support amid growing criticism of Trump for prolonging the dispute with the Khans by several leading congressional Republicans.
“Donald Trump is wrong,” King said in a telephone interview from his office in Massapequa. “As far as I’m concerned, any family who loses a son or daughter in combat is entitled to say what they want. They’re entitled to respect.”
Zeldin defended Trump for making clear that he thought the Khans’ son was a hero.
But Zeldin also acknowledged that Trump created controversy by asking why the captain’s mother did not speak at the time her husband addressed the Democratic convention.
“He would have been better off not even raising that question at all, considering the way it has been used against him,” Zeldin said in a phone interview as he moved about his district. “I wouldn’t have done it.”
King and Zeldin also rejected President Barack Obama’s call Tuesday for Republicans to withdraw endorsements for Trump because he’s “unfit” to be president.
Zeldin said that by being “in the tank” for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and other Democrats, Obama has lost all “credibility to be playing referee as to who is fit to be the next president.”
King said he will be at Trump’s Long Island fundraiser on Thursday. Zeldin said he will miss it because he has a speaking engagement at the Rotary Club of Seatuck Cove in Manorville.
“I’m still supporting him,” King said of Trump. But he added, “Some things have to be resolved.”
King complained that Trump is “playing into the hands” of Democrats by distracting from his attacks on Clinton with his tweets and statements.
Trump committed that kind of unforced error during the primaries when he blamed former President George W. Bush for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, prompting King to say that Trump was “not fit to be president — morally or intellectually.”
“He has to focus on the issues,” said King, who endorsed Trump as his party’s nominee after he clinched the nomination. Those issues, King said, include the war against terrorism, rebuilding the military and supporting the police.
“One would hope that if Mr. Trump is elected in November that all of the many lessons learned in his experience as a candidate are reflected upon and result in him being a better communicator,” Zeldin said.