Thursday, September 24, 2020

Elise Stefanik – The Chronicle interview

2-term Congresswoman interviewed by
Chronicle editor Mark Frost, 2/12/18

Q: Why are you opposed to health care for everybody?
A: I want to make health care affordable and accessible for everyone. I think the cost of health care continues to rise.

I think we need to work on lowering costs for health care and I’ve been very supportive of fixes of the Affordable Care Act.

I authored the biggest fix, the repeal of auto enrollment, which benefits individuals. Let’s say you have a spouse and you’re on their health care. The Affordable Care Act would have required you, without any knowledge of you being aware of, automatically enrolling in whatever your employer’s health care was, which would have triggered a tax penalty on you because you are double enrolled. We repealed that.

Photo provided.

We repealed the medical device tax to help lower costs. We passed associated health care plans to allow small businesses to pool together, work through their local chambers to increase their purchasing power when it comes to purchasing health care insurance.

I am for affordable, high-quality health care. It should be more accessible. It’s just philosophically, I don’t think it should be a government-run program.

Q: Medicare works. What’s wrong with making Medicare the mechanism by which health insurance is provided to everybody?
A: Sure, so we deal with Medicare cases frequently in our office. It is an important program for our seniors, but there are significant examples of waste, fraud and abuse. We need to fix aspects of that program. I am also concerned about how much of a tax increase that would be. Vermont has entered into a Medicare-for-all single-payer system and it has huge fiscal challenges for the state. That’s one of the reasons why I think a Republican governor was elected in the State of Vermont.

So I don’t support a $1-trillion-plus tax hike on the American people to have a government-run health care program.

Q: It seems like anything the Republicans propose, though, is going to result in less coverage, fewer people being covered…
A: We just passed the biggest extension to CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program. We just passed the extension for the Community Health Centers program, which I led that effort. That’s extremely important to our region. It provides health care to 95,000 individuals in my district. You all know how important it is with Hudson Headwaters but there are other community health centers in other parts of my district as well. So Republicans are for better health care, more affordable health care, better quality health care.

And remember, Mark, I have experienced what it’s like on the Affordable Care Act. I have never paid more out of pocket for worse coverage. Every family has had a health crisis, but what I as an individual experienced paying, it’s not working and most constituents in my district are concerned about high deductibles and I didn’t even have a high deductible the way some people have $10,000 deductibles. So I think this needs to be a bipartisan solution when dealing with one-sixth of the economy. And I have proven results. Repeal auto enrollment. Community health centers. Associated health plans. Repeal of some of these onerous taxes. Getting rid of the independent payment advisory bureau.

Q: How about the deficit? Republicans used to be concerned about the deficit. Now, they are blowing the deficit out.
A: I’m concerned about the deficit. I was concerned about the deficit in the tax bill, which I voted no on, although I’m not going to be…I disagree with Governor Cuomo who is attacking all aspects of the tax bill. There was a lot in the tax bill that I support. I was just concerned about the state and local tax and we can get more into my other concerns with the tax reform process.

When it comes to this last budget agreement, it wasn’t perfect. I think, broadly, it spent too much, but it was a compromise. House Republicans passed a budget that balances within 10 years. We passed it in October. The reality is the Senate is not going to pass that. In order to get anything out of the Senate, it is going to have to be bipartisan because of the 60-vote rule, and I do think there were some smart investments made on the domestic side, to opioid and the heroin epidemic, increasing grant opportunities, increasing NIH funding, which is important for medical research…so it was a compromise. It was not perfect, but I supported the compromise and I don’t support government shutdowns.

Q: But gridlock is baked into the system now, isn’t it? You talk about bipartisanship, but in the tax cut you didn’t have any bipartisanship there. Is that just a thing of the past?
A: It’s not a thing of the past. I have one of the most bipartisan records in Congress. The Lugar Center does an assessment of every member and their record. I’ve been in the top 10 percent consistently since my first year. I’ve delivered many bipartisan results, but four I want to highlight were ideas where I introduced legislation and have been able to see them through to the finish line, which is tough in a gridlocked environment.

The first is the pre-clearance agreement, two military spouses bills, one having to do with professional licensing, getting coverage up to $500 transferring from one state to the next. The second is allowing spouses more flexibility for when they transfer, giving them a six-month window for whatever their job situation or educational situation is. And the fourth is year-round Pell grants. So I’ve been able to cut through the gridlock, but I think the budget process needs to be reformed and there is a commission in the bipartisan budget agreement we just passed that requires us to come up with solutions. It’s bicameral. It’s not just the House. The Senate has a piece of this, too.

Q: What’s the pre-clearance?
A: Pre-clearance is an issue we’ve been working with the North Country Chamber [of Commerce] on as well as Betty Little, for a long time. It’s been a three-year process. If you are on an Amtrak train, say, traveling from Montreal to Penn Station or Saratoga or you’re stopping off in our district, pre-clearing those passenger similar to the Nexus card, where you are pre-cleared crossing the border so there’s not an hour-long wait at the border. So it’s a pro-tourism bill. The other part of the bill allows our smaller border crossings to physically locate, with the Canadians, and share those resources because we are more of a partner along this border than on the southern border.

Q: And speaking of that, where are you on NAFTA?
A: I think that’s one of the biggest issues this year that we will have to tackle. I’ve been very forthcoming on the importance of the US-Canadian partnership. I’ve been critical of the President’s rhetoric towards trade agreements. I think that we can improve NAFTA, but we should not throw NAFTA out. That would have a devastating impact not only on the U.S. economy as a whole, but specifically on my district.

In Clinton County, 20 percent of the workforce work for a border-related or trade-related company. So these are U.S. citizens who are going to work every day for good-paying jobs, many of which are manufacturing, and are reliant on that partnership.

I have led delegations with Betty Little, and I think Dan Stec came on one. I’ve done a couple of delegations to Montreal, I’ve been to Canadian businesses located in the U.S. to try to highlight this issue.

We’re working with the administration and other northern border caucus members to ensure that this White House understands the negative impact.

That’s not to say there’s not improvements that could be made. I think aspects can be modernized, bringing it into the 21st century, updating the digital rules of the road, which when NAFTA was originally implemented, the internet wasn’t a part of the global economy so it wasn’t relevant. That needs to be updated. I think we can increase our level playing field when it comes to our exports, specifically our wines. Right now, if you buy a wine on the U.S. side, there’s a tariff bringing it across the border to the Canadian side, not vice versa. We need to make that fair for the U.S. growers. And the dairy continues to be an issue. We need to work on expanding exports for New York dairy.

Q: The Trans-Pacific Partnership. What do you think about that?
A: Well, this President is opposed to TPP. I think there needed to be improvements in TPP. I believe that we need to have an economic strategy in the Asia Pacific to counter China. China is seeking economic dominance in the region. They are trying to beat the U.S. to these partnerships.
So, if TPP is off the table, which it is with this President, I think we should be entering into bi-laterals with our various allies in the Asia Pacific.

Q: Is the White House in disarray?
A: Well, it certainly seems to function differently from when I was in the White House. I was deeply concerned at the news from last week, particularly because in my experience, there should be no tolerance for domestic violence.

Setting that aside, in my experience the role of staff secretary is one of the most important jobs in the White House. You deal with every piece of paper that is brought to the Oval Office. You oversee the correspondent’s office. You oversee the staffing process so any statement that goes out from the administration goes through the staff secretary’s process.

It may function differently in this White House, I don’t know, but that’s how I was used to it working.

And I was concerned that the staff secretary had an interim clearance and was working with classified information when he wasn’t cleared by the FBI.

I have gone through the FBI clearance process when I was a young staffer. I had to work in the Chief of Staff’s office. So I was concerned about the judgment in terms of the clearance process and allowing individuals who were not fully cleared to utilize and have access to classified information, and I don’t think they handled it well.

Q: Had you met Rob Porter?
A: I have not. I don’t know if I’ve met him just in circles, broadly, before I was doing this job, but I have never met with him. His dad was actually a professor of mine at Harvard, though, and his younger brother was in my class.

Q: Is Donald Trump taking the Republican Party down the tubes?
A: No. He, as we see in this district, if you compare Trump’s support, it was more than Romney’s support in 2012 and obviously more than the Republican candidate in 2008. I think Republicans want to see him succeed. I think the majority of voters don’t like the distractions day to day and support his policies. I certainly don’t like his rhetoric and the distracting tweets. I said he should tweet less, but I do think Republicans and independents want to see the President succeed.

Q: Are the Republicans going to lose control of the House?
A: No.

Q: They’re not?
A: Nope.

Q: Why are you so confident?
A: I think we have…it’s interesting. Look at my race as a microcosm. You have a very crowded Democratic field.

Democrats do not have a message except what they are opposed to. In order to be an effective elected official, you have to put forth ideas and you have to forge those relationships and coalitions to get co-sponsors on your bills and get them to the finish line.

I have demonstrated in three years that I have the ability to do that and I’ve delivered results for this district. I’m part of the solution in Washington, not part of the gridlock and part of the problem. And I think that our election outcomes are a testament to that.

I think Democrats struggle nationally with what their message is. Whoever controls the next two years in Congress is going to have to work with the President.

And similar to my first two years with President Obama, I worked with him on issues that I agreed with, and would say when I disagreed. I am fearful that Democrats will be unable to work with the administration on behalf of their districts.

I also think when you look at the Class of 2014, which I was a part of, many of us represent swing districts. We’ve run in tough elections in 2014 and 2016. That was a tough election just because there was a lot of uncertainty. No one predicted the outcome of 2016, in the primary or in the general election. So we are used to running tough campaigns and it’s going to be a matter of having our message and turning out our voters. I’m focused on continuing to deliver results and outwork my opponents.

Q: Lots of acts of protest in front of your office here. Is there no obligation to meet with those people?
A: I have met with many of those protesters before. They are welcome to protest. That is their freedom to do that. And they are welcome to disagree. Most individuals I have met with either in small groups or I’ve met at public events. They have attended some of my Coffees with Your Congresswoman. My staff has met with many of them as well. They disagree on certain issues but I always think there’s opportunity to agree on certain things.

Q: What do you think about the Russians? Did they try to change the outcome of the last election?
A: They tried to meddle in our election. They’ve done that in other elections, in Eastern Europe for example.

Q: To what degree were they effective in doing that, do you think?
A: I think they were effective in sowing discord in our electoral process. I think they were effective in causing people to question democratic elections in a democracy. I think they were effective in their utilization of an influence campaign with their bots on social media and their fake Facebook accounts. We had the technology companies in for an open hearing, so I can talk about it, for the House Intelligence Committee, and the fact that there are tens of millions of Facebook accounts where they can’t account for who the person is behind them is a big problem. The fact that Russia invested in digital ads and that has now only been disclosed to the public? That’s a big problem. We need to update our Federal Election Commission rules so that you have to list who’s funding these ads, just like we have to do for television or radio ads.

Q: Is [Robert] Mueller running a credible investigation?
A: Yes.

Q: Would you object if the president tried to fire him?
A: Absolutely. I have explicitly and repeatedly supported the Mueller investigation.

Q: Is the FBI credible? Is the CIA credible? Is there a “Deep State?”
A: I’m concerned about the FISA abuse. I believe if you look at the application process to the FISA court to listen to Carter Page — this was in the Republican memo that was released — that the information wasn’t as forthcoming as it should have been. I think we need to reform that process, and the evidence you need to present before the FISC. That doesn’t mean that I’m attacking the FBI as an institution. I think they are a credible agency, and I don’t support some of the statements that have been made attacking the FBI as a whole. But that doesn’t mean we can’t fix some of the policies we have put in place and how they are implemented.

The FBI is a large organization. I think there were individuals, as we’re seeing text messages, that some of those communications were inappropriate. Those individuals need to be handled as individuals and not with the agency. I am concerned about the morale right now at the FBI. I’m also concerned with their unwillingness to give the House Intelligence Committee full access to the files.

Q: What cabinet secretary is doing the best job?
A: I think [Defense] Secretary Mattis is exceptional. I think he has respect from the military since he, in the capacity as commanding general, had that respect. I think he also knows how to work with Congress. I think [United Nations Ambassador] Nikki Haley has done a great job. She’s actually been independent from the administration, and that’s a hard line to walk when you’re a cabinet secretary. It’s very different when you’re a member of Congress and you aren’t working for the administration. That’s not our job. Those two I would highlight.

The other person I would say is Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. He came up to Schuylerville, and we had an opportunity to do a town hall with farmers locally and I think he did a great job.

Q: Is the President coarsening the conversation in America? Is he dividing America?
A: I think America was very divided before President Trump won. I think that we’re seeing increased engagement after this past election cycle on both sides. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I think people should be engaged in the political process.

I think as an elected official, one of the most important things that you can do is lead by example and not use that coarse rhetoric or not play to the lowest common denominator. As I look at some of rhetoric coming out of Washington, I’m very proud of my record in being positive, being willing to forge compromises and being respectful with those I disagree with.

I do think that the tweets aren’t helpful.

Stefanik: I support ban on ‘bumpstocks’

Chronicle editor Mark Frost interviewed Elise Stefanik on Feb. 12, prior to the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people, but he had asked her view on gun control in light of mass shootings at schools and elsewhere.

“I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” Rep. Stefanik began, but she said she supports banning “bumpstocks” by which semi-automatic weapons can be made to fire nearly as fast as automatic weapons.

Rep. Stefanik noted that automatic weapons are illegal.

The New York Times, in a story updated on Oct. 5, said that a fully automatic weapon can fire 98 shots in seven seconds and that the shooter in Las Vegas with a bumpstock was heard to fire 90 shots in 10 seconds.

It said the Orlando shooter was heard to fire 24 shots in nine seconds.

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