By Cara Chapman: October 17, 2020
PLATTSBURGH — North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik has to be able to work with any type of personality to deliver results to her district. That includes the brash, nontraditional president of the United States, Donald Trump.
“That’s what I’ve done,” she told The Press-Republican editorial board during a recent interview.
“I know I have a very strong working relationship with the president and have been able to specifically deliver those results to our region, so I view it as a strength.”
‘VERY STRONG RESPONSE’
Stefanik, 36, said 2020 has been an unprecedented year as both a candidate and elected official, and that the presidentcontracting COVID-19 shows that the novel coronavirus “really impacts everyone.”
On whether Trump was, perhaps, a victim of his own recklessness — he has rarely been seen abiding by the public health guideline of wearing a mask — she said the White House had taken many more precautions against the virus than Capitol Hill, criticizing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for not implementing a comprehensive testing strategy.
“I am not in the vulnerable category because of my age, but if you think about the average age of members of Congress, it’s many, many elderly folks who have significant health challenges.”
Asked if she honestly believed that, with all of the power and influence at his disposal, Trump had done everything possible since earlier this year to stop the spread of COVID-19, Stefanik said, “Absolutely, in terms of the legislation.”
She pointed to how the country has tested more than 100 million people, the president’s use of the Defense Production Act to generate personal protective equipment and testing materials and theCARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act, which was the largest economic rescue package in the nation’s history.
“I think that, in terms of the legislative and whole of government approach, that it has been a very strong response.”
Stefanik said the CARES Act and two other federal relief bills passed with strong bipartisan support, and that the next bill “should focus on the bipartisan areas of agreement.”
Those include direct aid to K-12 school districts, a second round of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, more funding for community health centers and hospitals, and targeted state and local aid.
Stefanik supportsaid for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, noting connections to North Country jobs, and theState and Municipal Assistance for Recovery and Transition (SMART) Fund, whichwould provide $500 billion of direct aid to states and municipalities regardless of size.
Any aid that goes to New York state should be targeted COVID-19 relief and should not be viewed as a bailout, she continued, noting the state’s fiscal challenges prior to the pandemic.
“We were impacted more than any other state. We have gotten more federal support, already, in New York state than any other state in the country,” she added, notingthat state had already received $9 billion in aid.
When asked how she would still deliver legislation and funding for the North Country if she remained a minority member of the House and both the Senate and White House flipped after the election, Stefanik pointed to her record.
She said she penned the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s auto-enrollment mandate and access to year-round Pell Grants during the Obama administration, and has worked with Trump on a number of issues.
“I’m the only candidate in this race that actually has worked with presidents in both parties, whether it’s my own party or the party across the aisle, to get things done and deliver results.”
On what she feels makes her more qualified to represent the North Country than her challenger, former St. Lawrence County Legislator and Canton Democrat Tedra Cobb, Stefanik first focused on differences between their records and positions.
Stefanik said, unlike Cobb, she herself has never voted to raise taxes. She also pointed toCobb’s past support of a system like Medicare-for-all.
Stefanik said she does not support Medicare-for-all because she does not want it to be taken away from seniors, does not want to see the cancellation of private health insurance and most of her office’s casework-related calls deal with theU.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which offers a form of single-payer health care.
Shewants to see increased choices, and pointed to reform solutions she has put forward such as requiring insurers to cover two primary visits each year, preventative care what would lead to long-term savings.
Stefanik supports the Lower Costs, More Cures Act in order to lower prescription drug costs.
Stefanik co-chairs the House’s Northern Border Caucus and was “proud to deliver” the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and Northern Border Regional Commission infrastructure funding
Shesaid work to reopen the border was ongoing, noting the challenges of those cross-border conversations.
“Even though the U.S., we want to safely reopen the border, you have to get the Canadians to go along with it.”
Though the JUSTICE (Just and Unifying Solutions To Invigorate Communities Everywhere) Act —policingreform legislation Stefanik supported earlier this year — has sputtered out in the Senate, the congresswoman noted many of the bill’s “bipartisan provisions” that she feels the federal government should be able to get done.
Those include banning the use of chokeholds, increasing investments in training and ensuring that the records of police officers who transfer from one department to another can be shared.
Stefanik said the district should be proud of proactive outreach to African-American leaders, and noted law enforcement leaders’ focus on hearing from the community.
Asked if Trump was doing enough to deal with racism, she noted investment in historically Black colleges and universities and criminal justice reform under his administration.
“I think those are tremendous achievements that help all Americans but specifically help kind of bridge the racial divide that we are seeing.”
At the first presidential debate, Trump, when asked by moderator Chris Wallace to condemn white supremacists and militia groups, ended up telling the Proud Boys — self-described “western chauvinists” designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center — to “stand back and stand by.”
“My take was he needed to fix that immediately and clarify that … and he needed to condemn any form of racism,” Stefanik said, adding she was not familiar with the Proud Boys.
On her environmental record, Stefanik noted passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, making Land and Water Conservation Fund funding permanent and her work this term to designate federal funding for the acid rain monitoring program in Ray Brook.
She said she has introduced legislation that would level the playing field for renewables through tax incentives, adding that she does not support the Green New Deal, which she said threatens agriculture.
TOUGH ON RUSSIA
Stefanik contended that the Cobb campaign’s focus on her “silence” following a New York Times report that Russians had paid Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. troops was “a disgraceful smear” of Stefanik, military commanders and the intelligence community.
She said force protection was her number one priority, and that Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command who oversees troops in Afghanistan, has said he had not seen evidence of such a program.
However, NBC News reported, he said it was not a closed issue.
Stefanik said she has “one of the toughest records in Congress” on combating Russia, noting her position as the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee’s Subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities.
“We pass significant language and funding to combat Russia whether it’s combating the disinformation, whether it’s the European Deterrence Initiative, shoring up our counter-Russia efforts with our Eastern European allies and (Cobb) has nothing to say when it comes to countering Russia.”
SERVE IN NEW WAYS
Though she will not be North Country congresswoman forever, Stefanik said she is “trying to put 110 percent every single day into doing this job” and does not have plans.
“I’m not someone who maps out, you know, here are the next … five, 10, 15 years, because my life has been unpredictable to date.”
Asked how she would continue to serve the North Country if she is not re-elected, Stefanik said she believes she would remain involved in the region’s small business issues and continue to develop the relationships she has made.
“We love living in Schuylerville,” she said.
“We’re really excited about continuing and hopefully growing a family here, so I would continue to serve in new ways, just like people serve in all sorts of ways.”
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