By Gordon Woodworth, Chronicle News Editor
The Chronicle conducted a wide-ranging phone interview on April 17 with Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik as she reached the 100-day mark of her second two-year term. What we learned included:
- She said she’ll definitely run for a third term in 2018. She noted: “We won every county in a district which is traditionally a swing district, and we won by over 30 points.”
- She faulted President Trump’s thwarted immigration order. She said in part: “I think his immigration executive order was not only rushed process-wise, but it wasn’t the appropriate policy.”
- She said Speaker of the House Paul Ryan “is doing an excellent job….He is in a very challenging position, but he wants to address challenges our country is facing.”
- Asked her favorite Trump administration Cabinet member so far, she said, “I am enthusiastic about Linda McMahon, who is head of the Small Business Administration….I am also particularly excited about Nikki Haley…And I have already developed a good working relationship with Secretary Mattis, the new Secretary of Defense.”
- Asked about critics who say she should hold town meetings across the district, Rep. Stefanik said, “I had more than 500 public events in my first term and I’m continuing that….I am hosting a town hall” on May 8, televised from Plattsburgh.
Here is more material from The Chronicle interview.
Stefanik: I’ll run for re-election in 2018; touts support
Asked by The Chronicle if she’ll run for a third term in 2018, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik said she definitely will.
Asked if she’s confident she’ll win, she said, “I am focused on doing the best job I can right now. We’re just over 100 days into this Congress. I’m very proud of my record of getting things done and being a leader and making sure this district has a seat at the table, whether it’s on my committees in a leadership position, whether it’s being appointed to the Intelligence Committee, or being co-chair of the Tuesday Group, which is the common-sense, more centrist caucus within the Republican Party.
“I also am proud of the widespread support this past election cycle. We won every county in a district which is traditionally a swing district, and we won by over 30 points. That’s a testament to our hard work, but also to our willingness to reach across the aisle, and keeping my promises and running on the results I have been able to deliver.”
Mistakes Trump has made? Immigration order
Q: What mistakes, if any, has President Donald Trump made?
“That’s a good question,” she replied. “I think his immigration executive order was not only rushed process-wise, but it wasn’t the appropriate policy.
“I think there are opportunities to strengthen our visa vetting system but that should be done with Congress. I have the same criticism of President Obama, the fact that he circumvented Congress. [President Trump] ought to work with Congress on issues like that.”
Asked to grade President Trump on a scale of 1 to 10, Rep. Stefanik said, “That’s not my job to grade or play quarterback. My job is to find opportunities where we can work together, and when we disagree, I will continue to say so.”
Q: Do you think President Trump is doing a good job?
A: I think any new administration is going to take a while to settle. He certainly ran on changing the way Washington operates, and I think he’s delivered on that. But I think he has also learned in the last 100 days that you have to work with Congress. There are opportunities where we can work together and there are areas where I disagree.
I think on issues like economic growth and tax reform, infrastructure investment, I want to work with this administration. And in areas where I disagree, like the budget, I will continue to say so. My #1 priority, regardless of who the president is, is doing the best job I can being an effective member of Congress for our district.
Ryan doing ‘excellent job’
We asked: What grade would you give Speaker Paul Ryan? “I think Speaker Ryan is doing an excellent job,” she said.
“I have tremendous respect for Speaker Ryan. He is in a very challenging position, but he wants to address challenges our country is facing.
“We need to do better at growing our economy. We need to do better at growing economic opportunity, particularly for the middle class and rural parts of this country that feel left behind…We need to be investing in military readiness. I am working closely with Speaker Ryan on those issues and I have full confidence in his leadership capabilities.
Favorite Cabinet member so far: Linda McMahon at SBA
Asked which member of President Donald Trump’s cabinet she is most enthusiastic about, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik said, “I am enthusiastic about Linda McMahon, who is head of the Small Business Administration. She is specifically focused on supporting women entrepreneurs.”
Ms. McMahon, who has run unsuccessfully for U.S. Senator from Connecticut, the wife of World Wrestling Federation CEO Vince McMahon.
“I am also particularly excited about Nikki Haley’s already courageous leadership as ambassador to the United Nations. She’s done a tremendous job, particularly in highlighting the humanitarian crisis happening in Syria.
“And I have already developed a good working relationship with Secretary [Jim] Mattis, the new Secretary of Defense, who understands that we have serious military readiness issues, especially given the challenges we face around the world today.”
‘I’ve done 500 events’
Chronicle News Editor Gordon Woodworth said to Congresswoman Stefanik, “The perception is that you don’t want to face some of the thoughts that some of the people in your district have toward what’s going on in Washington now and toward President Trump.”
Rep. Stefanik replied, “Gordon, I am hosting a town hall. I am hosting Coffee with your Congresswoman. I have invited many of these protesters for small group meetings. I’ve had tele-town halls where I’ve reached tens of thousands of constituents across the district.
“I had more than 500 public events in my first term and I’m continuing that. Today I happen to be in Lewis County, but I’m doing a roundtable on Pell Grants, I’m doing a roundtable with dairy farmers, we’re meeting as many requests as possible, and my staff is when I’m not able to attend…
“What’s important to me is to actually get individual feedback on how policies will impact families in this district.
“I have hosted over 50 meetings in the Glens Falls, Plattsburgh and Watertown offices to have small group discussions. Many of these discussions are with individuals who have very private and personal stories that they want to share, and it allows me to get the feedback in that type of environment.
“Whether it’s a high school student talking about bullying he is facing, or a parent and a middle-school special education student who wouldn’t stand up at a town hall but wants to have that face-to-face opportunity. I’m meeting constituents in all sorts of ways.
Televised Town Hall May 8
Congresswoman Elise Stefanik will hold a televised town hall on Monday, May 8, in Plattsburgh at the Mountain Lake PBS studios. “The details are being finalized and will be announced soon,” said Tom Flanagin from Rep. Stefanik’s office. “It will be live streamed online and then broadcast soon after by Mountain Lake PBS.”
Ms. Stefanik told The Chronicle, “I continue to set the standard for accessibility in the district, and having this town hall, co-hosted by a PBS station, is an opportunity for not only those who want to attend, but for those who want to stream in online and those who want to watch on TV.”
She said the television studio holds “about 100, but Mountain Lake PBS will be handling the RSVPs and the attendance. There’s an overflow room…I’m hopeful that it will be a respectful and productive discussion.”
Stefanik in Afghanistan one day before bombing
We asked Congresswoman Elise Stefanik about her recent trip to Afghanistan, if she approved of the recent bombing of ISIS tunnels there.
“The decision to drop the MOAB [Massive Ordnance Air Blast] bomb was made by General Nicholson, who is the commanding general for our operations in Afghanistan,” said Rep. Stefanik.
MOAB is also referred to colloquially as the “Mother Of All Bombs.”
“The current role of the U.S. military in Afghanistan is to train and advice and assist the Afghan security forces. Again, this is a fight that the Afghans are going to have to succeed at, with the help of the U.S. military.
“These are issues we are going to continue to discuss on the House Armed Services Committee, but I defer to General Nicholson and his decision, which was a tactical one. Given the intelligence that ISIS was utilizing caves in the eastern Nangarhar province in Afghanistan, I defer to his judgment on this.
“I had the opportunity to visit with General Nicholson the day before the actual operation took place. He is well-respected within the military.
“I think it’s important to note that Afghanistan is the country that has more than 20 terrorist groups currently active and trying to find safe haven there. We need to make sure that is not the case in the future, and there’s not safe havens for terrorists that could conduct strife around the world.”
Rep. Stefanik said the Congressional delegation had left Afghanistan the day before the bombing.
“We were either in [United Arab Emirates] or Kuwait,” she said. “But it was pretty surreal to see the news, having been there just a day before. And we were actually in Jalalabad, which is called TAAC-East. That stands for Train Advise Assist Command. And that is the headquarters for the region in the province where the bombing took place.”
Other parts of interview
Q: What is your biggest accomplishment so far this term?
A: We’ve already introduced numerous pieces of legislation that will improve the lives of hard-working families in the district. I have introduced the Family Farm Relief Act which will help our dairy farmers. I’ve also introduced the Year-Round Pell legislation that has significant bipartisan support.
“And what I’m very proud of is there are four bills that will benefit military families, which is incredibly important given the prominence of Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division and the Kesselring Navy Nuclear site….
“I am hopeful that these bills will pass in this Congress, and I’m hopeful that some of these provisions will be included in the National Defense Authorization Act.
Q: What has Congress accomplished in the first 100 days?
A: We’ve been able to address some of the regulatory challenges that were put in place in the last 90 days of the Obama Administration. I believe in the separate but equal…co-equal branches of government, and I think it’s important for many of those regulatory issues to come before Congress, so we are reasserting our Congressional authority.
In addition, we passed legislation to improve our health-care system. So while there was a lot of coverage of the broad American Health Care Act, there was not as much coverage about really important bills that actually passed out of the committee I serve on, the Education and Work Force Committee.
One is the Small Business Health Fairness Act of 2017, which allows small businesses to pool together to purchase their healthcare coverage so they can get lower prices, which is great because so much of our economy is based on small businesses.
Q: Has the new Congress so far been a success or a failure?
A: We have much more work to do. Obviously there has been a change of administration, and Congress needs to continue asserting its role. I think we have a lot more work to do ahead of us….
Q: What about Syria? Was President Trump right to bomb them in retaliation for the nerve gas attack?
A: Bashar Assad is an evil dictator who has hundreds of thousands of Syrians’ blood on his hands. I have been concerned, as I have stated many times on the House Armed Services Committee on the lack of strategy of the Obama administration, I think in this particular instance where we were targeting the air force that was utilized for the saran gas attack, I think it was a balanced, proportional response and you’re seeing bipartisan support, whether it’s Senator Schumer or others on the House Armed Services Committee.
Q: What do you think the U.S. should do about North Korea?
A: That is one of the toughest challenges that we are going to face. I did have an opportunity to, on the Intelligence Committee, to go to South Korea and it’s going to be a significant challenge. But I think continuing to work with allies in the region and pressuring China to step up their pressure on the regime, that’s going to be really important. I also think increased sanctions will continue to be discussed. The Kim Jong Un regime is…it’s almost hard to believe that a regime can exist like that in the 21st century. The average North Korean doesn’t have access to the Internet, to information outside of this very closed society.
Q: How would you have voted on the legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare?
A: That legislation was not finalized, but I had a seat at the table and I think this district deserves no less than a seat at the table. As we know, when the Affordable Care Act was passed, there were provisions made at the last minute and I wanted to make sure I was aware of every single provision and have an opportunity to assess how it would impact the district.
I had concerns when the essential health benefits were stripped from the legislation. I fought for additional funding, $15-billion, to be added for maternity care and for preventative and addiction care. But the legislation was not finalized and while there may be criticism, what I think is more important and a commitment I made when I ran for Congress is, I will have an understanding of what any final legislative package is before I vote for it.
I’ve talked about what my priorities are when it comes to Obamacare replacement. First of all, it’s important to note that I am actually on Obamacare. That was a pledge I made when I was running. I have seen the impact, and I will feel the impact first-hand.
This needs to be a multi-year process. Given the fact that we are in a state that has expanded Medicaid, which not all states have, we need to make sure there is a process and the rug is not pulled out from under anyone.
I also have been a strong proponent of absolutely continuing coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. That is something that was in the initial version and that is something that absolutely has to be in any replacement. I’m also in support of fixing. I wrote the biggest fix to the Affordable Care Act in my first term, and it was passed into law and signed by the president.
Q: What was that?
A: It was the repeal of the Auto-Enrollment mandate. It was something I talked a lot about in my first term and when I was campaigning last year.
Q:Is it acceptable to you if some people who have health insurance now don’t have it under the replacement for Obamacare?
A: We need to improve access and make it more affordable. My concern, and what I’m hearing from my constituents in the district, is prices are continuing to increase, whether it’s on the exchange or in the private insurance market. We need to find a replacement that will lower health-care costs, continue to provide access and high quality. So yes, my ultimate goal is to have more people insured and I think the way to do that is with lower costs and having a model that allows patients to make the decision as to what the best healthcare plan is for them.
Q:Is the issue dead now, given the deadlock in Congress?
A: No, I think we’re going to have to fix parts of the Affordable Care Act. A third of the counties in this country only have one insurer on the exchange. That’s a failure. This law is collapsing onto itself. I think that there’s an opportunity, either incrementally or in a large package, to find a comprehensive replacement.
Q:Have you met Jared Kushner or Ivanka Trump?
A: I have met with Ivanka Trump.
Q: Did you talk issues and policy?
A: I had an opportunity to meet with her during the campaign, speaking about women’s empowerment issues and women’s economic issues, child care and tax credit issues. That falls under the jurisdiction of the Education and Work Force committee, so we’ll be able to work together on those proposals, and I think it’s an opportunity to get bipartisan support.
Q: Is it getting to be less fun being a member of Congress?
A: It is a privilege to have this job and you don’t run for this job because it’s fun, although it should be fun to do because you are meeting so many people.
You run for this job because you want to make a difference in your community, and I know that I am doing that, whether it’s for veterans or the veteran’s spouses that I hear from, with VA cases we are able to close, or seniors who we help to make sure they get their Social Security payments, or students, even younger students, who say they look at me as a role model and they are thinking about getting involved in public service. That’s really inspiring to me.
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