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How Anthony D’Esposito went from cop to GOP congressman in a Biden district

‘Keep the windows down,’ New York Republican says

Rep. Anthony D'Esposito leaves a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the Capitol on Sept. 19.
Rep. Anthony D'Esposito leaves a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the Capitol on Sept. 19. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Anthony D’Esposito likes to tell a story about one of his first days on patrol as a young cop. He remembers sitting inside his car and blasting the air conditioning, when a man knocked on the window.

“Keep the windows down,” he recalls the man saying. “That’s the only way you can hear, smell and really see the streets.”

The New York Republican compares that to his strategy in politics right now, as he serves in a Long Island district that went for Joe Biden by double digits in 2020. As many of his colleagues in the House are quick to target abortion, for example, D’Esposito says that “the Republican Party of Nassau County and the Republican parties across this country are different Republican parties.”

D’Esposito is even more adamant about putting distance between himself and someone closer to home, saying fellow Long Island Rep. George Santos has “found a way to piss off … everybody” with his many lies.

But the job of coming across as a sensible, solutions-first moderate Republican has grown harder since D’Esposito sat down for this interview before the August break. Since then, a handful of far-right hard-liners have snatched the House’s agenda from Speaker Kevin McCarthy, leaving representatives like D’Esposito in an increasingly awkward position as the federal government grinds toward a shutdown.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Q: You were a cop before you got into politics. Was that good preparation — as tough as a town hall can be, it’s not as bad as responding to a dispute?

A: I don’t say it too loud in front of my parents, because they paid for it. But being part of law enforcement, and specifically being in the NYPD working in the communities that I did and investigating the crimes that I did, was far and away the greatest education. 

I think more people in law enforcement should be in government. You have to listen, you have to understand your surroundings, you have to be willing to work hard, and you also have to be willing to work with anybody. 

I think back, and I sat in a car with three other men or women, different religions, different economic backgrounds, certainly different political ideologies. We grew up in very different places, but my life depended on them, and their lives depended on me.

Q: Right now everyone’s focused on what the right wing of your party has been able to get, in terms of votes or concessions. Can moderates like you do the same on some of your big priorities, like the SALT deduction?

A: Yeah, I think we can and we have. We’ve utilized this slim majority. Especially the New York delegation, we have a great relationship with leadership — they understand that many of us run in tough districts. 

You know, I was a councilman in the town of Hempstead, and it’s actually the largest town in the nation. I think I may have lost a few constituents becoming a member of Congress from my last job. So I always worked in a bipartisan fashion. 

We need to work not only with members of our conference, but across the aisle. We’re part of the bipartisan SALT caucus, and we’ve had conversations that perhaps our first time at bat, we’re not going to hit a grand-slam home run, but let’s start hitting base hits to ease the pain for people back home.

Q; Your district backed Joe Biden by double digits in 2020. So what do you need from McCarthy to be able to convince voters to split their tickets next year, especially if you don’t have progress on SALT?

A: Many people feel the Democrats in New York have gone too far to the left. They’ve seen the implementation of cashless bail. They’ve seen the state legislature really try to change suburban communities into what we see in the five boroughs. I mean, many of our families moved out of the five boroughs onto Long Island because they wanted a better quality of life. 

Voters see someone like me as a person with common sense. And then from leadership, we need them to have a really good understanding of what our districts are about. And I think they’re doing that. 

Speaker McCarthy has already visited my district twice, Leader Scalise has visited my district twice, Whip Emmer has been to my district, and they understand that Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 80,000. 

My district is very diverse. We have a corridor that is a majority-minority community. We also have one of the largest Jewish populations in the country and the Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre. The relationship that the United States has with Israel is very important in my district, and I think that’s one of the reasons the speaker recently named me to the parliamentary working group between the Knesset and the House of Representatives. He also has very limited appointments to the national Holocaust Museum, and he gave me one of those.

When it comes to legislation, we have been very clear in where we stand. [Members from] New York have been very strong allies of organized labor. When certain amendments were about to come to the floor that had a devastating effect for organized labor, we said we couldn’t support it. And listen, when it comes to the abortion issue, we have always said it’s a state issue.

Q: But are you worried that if the GOP continues to focus on cultural issues, you’ll get labeled as just another Republican?

A: Am I concerned? Yeah, obviously, the Democrats have already committed tens of millions of dollars just to New York to win the seats back. We’ll see what happens with redistricting, but I am confident that our conference from New York is going to maintain our seats and hopefully pick up one or two more. 

The issues do concern me, and when I go home, I take every opportunity to talk about it. I want to talk to my neighbors and let them understand that the Republican Party of Nassau County and the Republican parties across this country are different Republican parties. 

We have colleagues who come from different parts of this country, and voters sent them here to represent them, and they are doing just that. And I have voters who sent me here, and I’m going to represent their interests. Being accessible, being in the community, being the first guy off that floor on a Thursday or Friday and back to Reagan to get to JFK so that I can be at those Boy Scout events and the fire department parades and the ribbon cuttings for chamber of commerces — that’s the stuff that’s going to make the difference.

Q: George Santos has become a sort of antihero to a subset on the right. Their logic is that if liberals dislike him, he must be good. What do you make of that?

A: They don’t realize that everyone doesn’t like him. I think George Santos is a complete fraud. Perhaps I would have been able to find some sympathy if there was an apology, but instead he’s doubled down and uses it to gain Twitter followers and make outlandish comments and have stupid parties on Capitol Hill. 

People at home are upset. If you think about Long Island and you think about the different groups that he has found a way to piss off — I mean, it’s everybody, whether it’s first responders, he lied about 9/11 and pissed them off, whether it’s Jewish people, he pissed them off, whether it’s local business owners, he pissed them off, whether it’s local colleges, he pissed them off. He’s found a way to literally make everybody angry. The quicker that George Santos is no longer part of this institution, the better.

Quick hits

Last book you read? “Vigilance” by Ray Kelly, [the former New York City police commissioner].

In politics, can the ends justify the means? Yes. 

Something your friends know about you that your constituents don’t? I’m shyer around my friends than I am in public.

Your least popular opinion? Probably that I’m a Mets fan.

Your closest friends on the Hill? That would have to be a lot of the freshmen from New York. And I honestly had a good opportunity to meet some of the Democrats on a CODEL we did to Israel a few months ago with Speaker McCarthy. I hit it off with guys like Jared Moskowitz [from Florida] and Rob Menendez from Jersey.

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