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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.