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Now on VP shortlist, Stefanik said Trump "has been insulting to women," disagreed with immigration order in archival WAMC interviews

New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik during a visit to Plattsburgh
Pat Bradley
New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik during a visit to Plattsburgh

Northern New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik is on the shortlist to join former President Donald Trump’s ticket as he runs to return to the White House.

Elected as a young moderate in 2014, Stefanik later became one of the top House Republicans and a fierce Trump defender. Now in her fifth term, she has won re-election by wide margins and built a national fundraising operation.

But before defending Trump during his impeachments and emerging as a high-profile surrogate on the campaign trail and in conservative media, the representative from the 21st district kept her distance from candidate Trump.

Stefanik’s political evolution has been chronicledclosely, with former friends and political allies marveling at her willingness to countenance Trump’s insults, ever-shifting positions, and efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Before all that, though, Stefanik was a regular guest on WAMC’s Congressional Corner program. (She has not returned to the Congressional Corner since Feb. 2017 and has largely eschewed most mainstream news interviews in recent years, preferring to appear on MAGA-approved podcasts.)

WAMC interviews from 2015 and 2017 offer insight on how the possible future vice president once viewed Trump and her role in the party and her Adirondack district.

In August of 2015, Stefanik appeared with then-Congressional Corner host Alan Chartock, who began a segment by asking:

“You're a woman, you're a congresswoman, and Trump has been, by many people's allegations, insulting to women. Where are you on this one?”

Stefanik responded: “I agree with that. I think he has been insulting to women. I think that his commentsabout Megyn Kelly, who actually went to law school in Albany, so she's very familiar with upstate New York, I was deeply concerned about those comments. And we are a long way out from the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary. I think this may be Mr. Trump's peak moment, and I think we're going to see his numbers change, you know, and decline over the coming weeks and months, as the other candidates have an opportunity to share their vision for the future of this country. But I think it's really important for Republicans, if you look at the 2012 election, we need to ensure that we're increasing our party's ability to reach out to women, and I work on that in Congress, I care passionately about that, and Donald Trump's comments have not helped that effort. They've hurt that effort.”

Today, Stefanik is recognized as a prolific fundraiser for female GOP candidates.

Chartock followed up by asking if Stefanik favored a different candidate in that year’s GOP primary.

“I actually think the field is the best field we've had probably in my lifetime,” she said. “I think that the depth of the field is incredible, even both of the tiers of the two debates. I watched the top tier debates from start to finish. I think that we have some great governors and Senators, but I'm really focused as a freshman member of Congress representing my constituents, getting around my district. I'm watching the presidential race very closely in both parties, but I'm not picking a horse as of yet.”

Stefanik returned to the program in November of 2015, a year out from the general election that vaulted Trump to the White House.

“I consider myself a new generation Republican. I think that as you're seeing a generational shift in Congress, there's going to be an increasing willingness to work across the aisle,” she said. “I think that's a characteristic of my generation, and I'm already finding that with some of the new colleagues on the Democratic side, we're trying to work together on education policy, for example, common sense security policy. But in terms of the race, I mean, look, I think the depth and the breadth of the Republican field is a strength. I think it shows the diversity of opinions. I think it shows the diversity of backgrounds. The fact that you have senators, governors, outsiders, a doctor, CEOs running for the highest office, I think that debate is good. I certainly think that whoever is the nominee needs to show that he or she will be able to serve as commander-in-chief in very challenging times, and I think that needs some perspective of how government and public policymaking functions.”

Later in the interview, Stefanik was asked about how the question of abortion rights was being addressed in the GOP presidential primary.

“I think in the presidential field, there are some candidates who, over the long run, and they've already started this process, are somewhat disqualifying themselves with untruthful statements and not being willing to really talk about the substance of issues and just firing away rhetorical devices that don't necessarily have a basis in fact,” she said, without naming names.

During that campaign, Stefanik said she would support the GOP nominee without saying Trump’s name.

By the time of Stefanik’s appearance in February of 2017, Trump had been inaugurated and was already shaking up Washington. Stefanik was asked for her assessment of the election.

“At the national level there are definitely voters who were motivated and turned out to the polls that I think previously were not as motivated in politics before,” she said. “So it's definitely a new chapter in American politics.”

Later in the segment, Stefanik was asked if she thought Trump was doing a good job early in the administration.

“What's interesting is, if you look back only a few short months ago, this was a very historic election, and I'll take my district as a snapshot. President Obama won my district in both 2008 and 2012. President Trump won my district by 11 points. It was double digits in terms of his win. He won Pennsylvania, he won Florida, he won states that previously the Republican presidential candidates have struggled in the last few election cycles, so I certainly think he ran a nontraditional campaign, and he hasn't served in government before, so he's bringing an outsider's perspective,” she said. “But again, my role as a member of Congress, if there are issues we agree on, I will say so, and we will work together, but I will continue to be an independent voice for my district.”

Host Chartock asked for an example of where she had disagreed with the new administration.

“When President Trump made the announcement on the immigration executive order, I believed it was overly broad and rushed and didn't go through a policy process,” she said. “I believe that when it comes to strengthening our visa vetting program, the House has done some significant bipartisan work on this issue, so I publicly disagreed with the president on that issue.”

Asked for comment Friday, Stefanik spokesperson Alex deGrasse referred to WAMC as a “liberal outlet” and wrote: “Elise stefanik [sic] was the only elected Republican woman in the North East [sic] that endorsed, supported, and voted for President Trump in 2016. She was viciously attacked with hundreds of thousands of dollars in TV ads for her support of President Trump back then. She is proud to be one of the strongest supporters of President Trump in Congress over many years and the first to endorse his 2024 campaign.”

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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