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Rep. Stefanik Touts Breaks With GOP In Town Hall Forum

Lucas Willard
Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York's 21st District speaking in South Glens Falls on April 5, 2018

Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of New York’s 21st District held a town hall meeting Thursday in northern Saratoga County. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports the Republican seeking a third term tried to distinguish herself from her party.

The 21st District that covers much of northern New York is considered a prime target for Democrats in November’s midterms. Before the election of Congresswoman Elise Stefanik in 2014, the district was represented by Democrat Bill Owens.

In 2016, the district went for President Donald Trump. But as Stefanik seeks a third term against a pool of seven Democrats and at least one other Republican, as well as other third party candidates, she spent some of her time with constituents Thursday distancing herself from the GOP.

Stefanik, whose district includes the Adirondack Mountains, drew roaring applause after she called for the resignation of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Adminstrator Scott Pruitt.

She said she fundamentally disagrees with how President Trump’s pick to run the agency has “handled his position as director of the EPA.”

“So I’m going to make some news here: Pruitt should resign.”

Pruitt, who has worked to undo many of the environmental policies put in place by the Obama administration, has come under fire for a condo rental linked to an energy lobbyist.

Stefanik also said she opposed funding cuts to the EPA and said she was concerned about Pruitt’s decision to limit the scientific research used for the agency’s decision-making.

Stefanik, who is 33, has taken an environmental approach that her campaign says seeks “a balance between stewardship and clean economic growth.”

“I think on environmental issues, you’re seeing demographic shifts,” said Stefanik. “If you ask very conservative millenials who say they’re very conservative, they believe that we need to tackle climate change and that we need to truly be conservative in terms of conserving our environment.”

Nevertheless, the League of Conservation Voters, which scores members of Congress on their environmental voting record, gave Stefanik a 43 percent in 2017, and a lifetime score of 27 percent.

On other issues, Stefanik repeatedly mentioned to her audience that she voted against the GOP-led tax overhaul, claiming she was concerned about the repeal of state and local tax deductions, and that she supported the doubling of the standard deduction and closing of loopholes included in the final bill.

On guns, Stefanik said she supported a ban on bump stocks and the bipartisan “Fix the NICS” bill, which seeks to strengthen the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check system for those purchasing firearms.

But the Republican defended her endorsements and campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association.  In the wake of recent high-profile mass shootings, her stance on gun laws drew both jeers and applause.

“This district has a very large number of sportsmen…sportswomen too… and gun owners who are safe. I know that we’re going to disagree on this issue,” said Stefanik.

Stefanik, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said she believes the panel’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election and the Trump campaign has become “politicized.” She also said she fully backs the Russia-probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

On the president himself, Stefanik, whose district stretches to the Canadian border, expressed reservations about Trump’s announced tariffs placed on several countries including China;  in retaliation China this week announced counter-tariffs on U.S. goods.

Stefanik said she did not vote for Trump in the 2016 primaries – she voted for Ohio Governor John Kasich.  But she did vote for the party’s nominee in November.

“I supported President Trump because I believed that in terms of issues that I care about, in terms of focusing on economic growth, on bringing back manufacturing jobs, on investing in our military, those are important issues and important to this district,” said Stefanik.

But in the #MeToo era,  Trump’s remarks about women remain in the minds of some voters. Stillwater resident Julie Wash, who said she was a sexual assault survivor, challenged Stefanik on supporting the president after the Access Hollywood tape, which included obscene remarks made by Trump in 2005.

“So you will denigrate my integrity and the voices of so many people who have been sexually assaulted or abused so that your candidate can win the White House. Is that what you’re saying?” asked Wash.

“No,” replied Stefanik. “I will never denigrate the victims of sexual assault.”

“You do every day!” claimed Wash, who was referring to a photo of Stefanik standing next to a cardboard cutout of Trump with a thumbs-up snapped during a GOP-fundraiser event in Saratoga County.

Stefanik extended the one-hour town hall to two hours. She has another scheduled Friday in Moriah, in Essex County.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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