Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Chronicle’s latest interview: Rep. Elise Stefanik

By Mark Frost, Chronicle Editor

Elise Stefanik

Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, locked in a heated re-election race with Democrat Tedra Cobb, offered The Chronicle another chance to interview her, in-person or remotely, our choice, on Friday, Oct. 16. We chose remotely.

We then reached out to Ms. Cobb, via her press office and the cell phone number we have on file, to offer her the chance to be interviewed but heard nothing back.

Cathy DeDe, Zander Frost and I conducted the interview. Here are excerpts of our conversation with Rep. Stefanik.

Rep. Stefanik said again that she and Ms. Cobb “had three debates [scheduled], one in each media market. My opponent has dropped out of the Albany media market debate [on Spectrum cable], which is a shame…because the only debate that airs district wide or in the Albany media market she canceled. That is the biggest percentage of the electorate….She did not do well in the debate last time; she has hidden virtually the entire campaign.”

Mark: Okay, let me let me ask you about one of your signs. Who is the far left resistance?

Elise: The far left resistance are people that wake up and go to sleep in opposition to President Trump, and the resist movement is resisting any type of result that you work with the president to deliver. That is what’s fueling her campaign. The vitriol and the anti Trump sentiments are her most active volunteers and supporters. And those values are very much out of touch with the vast majority of the district who want to see results….

Mark: We had lunch with somebody today…who is a supporter of yours. But his wife voted for you two years ago but isn’t sure she’s going to vote for you now, she says, because you’re too close to Trump.

Elise: Well, look at my results I’ve delivered. It is a fact that I’m in the top five percent most bipartisan members of Congress. It is a fact that I have one of the most independent records.

Do I support the President? Yes. Did I oppose impeachment? Yes, along with Democrats who voted with Republicans in opposition to impeachment.

I’ve been focused on delivering results to this district and I’ve been able to do so because of my working relationship with the President.

Just look at Glens Falls Hospital, Mark. The $44-million of relief. That was not only through the Cares Act, but working at a very high level to rewrite the formula so they could get the funding they needed and that relates to health care workers in our region, that relates to the future health of the hospital in our region.

“I’m proud of my record and its been laser focused on constituent service results and legislative results. My opponent, there’s not a single issue where she’s independent from Nancy Pelosi…And I continue to work to deliver wins to this region.

Mark: Where have you disagreed with President Trump?

Elise: There’s a number of issues, issues related to the northern border, for example. Early on during his administration there was a shutdown and not paying our CBP [Customs and Border Protection] officers. I crossed party lines in opposition to that.

The tax bill, which for high tax states like New York, the cap on the state and local tax deduction, that means double taxation for some of my constituents. Certainly, I support the tax cut provisions of that bill, but I promised never to raise taxes. And for people that have very high property taxes, which many do in this district, I didn’t want to see them face a tax increase.

Environmental positions as well. I opposed the cuts to the EPA budget. That funding is important for the Adirondacks.

And some of the rhetoric and tweets I’ve said I’ve opposed.

But overwhelmingly, I support his record and what he’s been able to deliver. And I think the national media focuses on the hysteria day to day, instead of focusing on some of these…policy wins that previous administrations couldn’t get across the finish line, such as criminal justice reform, such as totally renegotiating NAFTA for a better agreement for manufacturers, farms.

Mark: Do you think he’s gonna win reelection?

Elise: I think the President’s going to win this district. I think he is in a strong position to win….And I think there continues to be a vast disconnect between the national media and the prognosticators and what’s happening across the region, in this district, but also…across the country.

Mark Frost: Are Facebook, Twitter and Google biased to the left?

Elise: Yes. I’ve been very disturbed by their decision to suppress the front page article of The New York Post and that— I mean, that’s the most read newspaper, no offense to The Chronicle, but the New York Post— (laughs) The New York Post is more read in the district if we follow the sales of the papers. I love the Chronicle, though.

And it’s the most read paper in New York State and one of the top five papers in the country. And to take that [story of purported transcripts of exchanges between Joe Biden’s son Hunter and foreign operatives seeking government advantages in exchange for money]…and have the Twitter spokesperson who’s a former Democratic campaign operative just make the decision to take that down and suppress it.

That’s bias….So I think what’s concerning to me is Facebook, Twitter and Google do not live by the same rules as other publishers. And we need to look at the section 230 and they need to be treated as publishers and not platforms.

Zander: What do you say to the argument that they’re private companies so they can do what they want away from government control?

Elise: I would say that there’s a serious anti-trust concern. And the fact that they have further monopolized where people get their information. I think there is a role from an anti-trust perspective.

Mark: What do you think about critical race theory?

Elise: Well, first of all, any form of racism is heinous. I have concerns about critical race theory as a part of school curriculum and training. It is very different than diversity programs; critical race theory is just not something I support. I think it furthers the divide between people who have different backgrounds. And I think we should be focused on ways that we can unite and work together as a community.

Mark: How about Black Lives Matter?

Elise: I believe that, of course, black lives matter. Every life matters. But in terms of the policy priorities of the BLM organization, their number-one policy priority is defunding the police. I don’t support defunding the police. I do think that many people who have peacefully protested also don’t support defunding the police….What I think we need to do is pursue the Justice Act, which was introduced by Tim Scott; it bans use of the chokehold. It ensures that when you have a bad actor, that information can’t be hidden…transferring from one law enforcement agency to another.

Mark: Did President Trump take COVID seriously enough? Does he now?

Elise: …I think looking back to February and March, he was taking it more seriously than even many of the people around him and Democrats who said he should not have made the decision to ban flights from China. That was the right decision to make. And I believe that that decision was critical in order for the West to have not the two million deaths, which many of the medical experts said…we could face in the country.

Are there lessons to be learned? Absolutely. I think we need to invest in our domestic production of PPE [Personal Protective Equipment], of testing capacity, not rely on China, not rely on other countries…And I also think we’ve learned that protecting the vulnerable population was the most important decision that was made poorly by the governor of the state of New York.

Cathy: What do you think is the light at the end of the tunnel?

Elise: I think a vaccine and then I think preparedness to make sure that we have better biodefense when it comes to future pandemics. I also think holding the WHO accountable for, frankly, spreading Chinese propaganda and not being forthcoming with the international community…..

But I think the vaccine — this is going to be a positive news story. This will be the fastest vaccine in our nation’s history, and it’s not because they’re cutting corners the way Democrats are trying to kind of shed fear. The best scientists in the world, the best scientists in this country and the best innovative companies have worked on this. We’ve put billions and billions of dollars of funding into this vaccination development.

Mark: How bad will it be this winter, do you think, with COVID?

Elise: I think we have to follow the data and watch the data really closely. Again, my perspective is this district. That’s what my job is. And I think it is a huge accomplishment in the north country that we have kept our COVID rate among not just only the lowest region in the state, but among the lowest in the country.

And yet we have also found a way to basically get back to work, safely ensure kids are back in school….

I don’t want to see a one size fits all approach when it comes to, you know, any potential shut down, because they’re also very negative consequences when it comes to help for those shutdowns or limiting of preventative care at hospital. People that are putting off medical appointments that are now finally able to go back in for them….

I think we need an additional COVID bill to continue to fund testing to make sure that we don’t slip when it comes to the rapid turnaround in the test results.

I think it needs to include funding for K-12 schools, state and local funding, as well as infrastructure funding as well for the MTA as well as local infrastructure programs in my district that have been hit particularly hard. Rural hospitals, rural airports is an example of that.

But my job, Cathy, is my district. I have 700,000 constituents that I represent…My priority is getting the resources to this region…..

Zander: Do you think the unemployment [payment] boost was a success for this area? Would you support something like that as we move into the winter and maybe see more lockdowns or more COVID cases?

Elise: I don’t want to see more lockdowns. I’m opposed to more lockdowns in this region. Many of our businesses have been very creative in how they are safely reopening and our kids. We have learned this past spring that our kids that need that are most in need. So, kids with disabilities, kids with special needs, kids with challenging home environments. The at-home learning only approach does not work.

And the superintendents will tell you that, because as they have done surveys of parents — I’ll take the school district of Hartford. Over 90 percent of the parents want their kids back in school.

o answer your question, though, Zander, on the unemployment, the additional $600, I think was an important economic safety net. But as we started to safely reopen, small businesses, particularly in our region and Warren County and your readership and businesses that I know love The Chronicle, they have trouble hiring back workers because the incentive was financially to stay on the pandemic unemployment assistance, rather than go back to their job. So I think we can have a more balanced approach, lowering that to the 300 or 400 dollars and ensuring that if you do get offered your job back, that you have to, you should go back and take that job….

I would support an additional round of very targeted economic stimulus payments.

Mark: Do you think the presidential candidates should release his tax returns?

Elise: Yes, I’ve said that, Mark, I called on the President to do so, I released my taxes when I ran for office, my opponent never has. And I think that is important. It’s an important step of transparency. That’s an area where I disagree with the President.

Mark: What message would you like to leave with voters?

Elise: I would like to leave is I have focused like a laser on results for this community and whether it’s casework results, $4-million for veterans. And that’s not just a number, that’s thousands of local veterans we’ve worked with to get their V.A. benefits. For the $2.8-million of Social Security benefits for our seniors.

I would also point to the grant funding that I’ve delivered that has a significant impact on the safety, the health and the economic prosperity of our community. For example, when Lake George came to me needing the wastewater treatment plant, they were only eligible for that Northern Border Regional Commission funding because I expanded the counties that were eligible in the farm bill. That was something I put in the farm bill, to make all 12 of my counties eligible for that.

Or legislative results, like the Older Americans Act, which was signed into law this year, that has an immediate result. It funds the Meals on Wheels program. It improved funding for family caregivers. Oftentimes those issues aren’t in the national media, but those are results that have an immediate impact on this district.

The other thing I would note is I am out there listening. I’ve done over 1,200 in-district community events. You’ve covered me extensively with your team of reporters and your team, and you, Mark, at events and I am outworking my opponent and that’s the type of elected official this district deserves and needs, no matter what your party affiliation is.

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