7 News Interview: Stefanik On Shutdowns, State of Union, AOCPosted: Updated:
North country congresswoman Elise Stefanik says she's "hopeful" Congress will vote on more money for border security and to keep the government open before another partial shutdown next Friday.
In an interview with 7 News, Stefanik said "people understand the urgency of not facing another government shutdown and getting our work done."
Stefanik also spoke with news director Scott Atkinson about President Trump's State Of The Union address, a Twitter exchange she had with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the first term Democrat who is a rising star in the Democratic Party, and about how Stefanik describes herself now.
Hear the complete interview by clicking on the picture above this post. Read a complete transcript below.
SA - The shutdown's over for the moment but you've got another deadline. I'm curious before we get started with the substance of it, what's it feel like to be on the ground in Washington right now and to be doing your job? Does it feel normal?
ES - Well, certainly the start of this Congress was historic in a negative way in that we were in the middle of a shutdown. So that was a very unique experience. Obviously our work is incredibly important because it has an impact on peoples' lives in my district. When I ran for Congress Scott, as you know, I pledged never to support a government shutdown and I've kept that promise. I've voted at every opportunity to fund the government. In terms of where we are now, I think people understand the urgency of not facing another government shutdown and getting our work done. The President is in negotiations with both the Senate and the House. I anticipate the senate will act first on a package that is appropriations as well as border security, and I'm hopeful it will pass the Senate and the House will have an opportunity to vote on that before the end of next week.
SA - So what's it like as you go about your day to day? Can you tell that something is amiss?
ES - Well, the government is obviously funded right now. During the shutdown, it was very clear, the impact on peoples' lives in the district, and what our day to day life was like was hearing from some of the Customs and Border Patrol families, hearing from local community banks who were hearing from individuals who would not be able to make their mortgage payments. So that number of calls increased as time went on during the shutdown. Another example, obviously, is commuting back and forth. I go home to the district every weekend and the TSA agents as the shutdown continued on, they were incredibly professional but I had the opportunity to talk to them and they talked about the negative impact it was having.
SA - Were you surprised by the impact it had?
ES - I was not surprised. I know government shutdowns are bad, I know they are Washington at its worst, this is one of the reasons I ran for Congress in 2014, to bring common sense solutions and to reach across the aisle to get things done.
SA - So, if you had your druthers, what deal would you want the Democrats to make with President Trump over border wall funding, and if it's different, what deal do you think is actually possible at this point?
ES - I believe the Democrats have to come to the table and show a willingness to support a package that includes border security. I was very disappointed in Speaker Pelosi's total lack of leadership when the President offered border security as well as a DACA fix, which is part of immigration reform. That was a deal I think the Democrats should have gotten to the table, and they should have negotiated with him. And even members in her own Democratic caucus started splitting off from her in their public statements, saying yes, they do want an opportunity to vote for some portion of border security. I think any deal needs to include a portion of border security and that is what I anticipate we will see come up for a vote in the Senate.
SA - Well along that line, you've said that a border wall isn't just a physical barrier, it's a lot of things that would increase security along the border. What do you have in mind?
ES - Well the border security funding, the $5.7 billion, I know rhetorically oftentimes it's reported as quote unquote 'the wall,' it includes a lot more in addition to a physical barrier. It includes increased border personnel; it includes increased funding for technology - that's really important for 21st century security; it included increased funding for addressing the backlog in the court system, that we can actually have a functioning legal immigration system. So it was a very holistic, comprehensive package to address border security. Now along the northern border, I do support increased personnel and increased funding. That's important to make sure that on a very long rural swath of the U.S.- Canadian border we have the resources that our border personnel need.
SA - If I recall correctly, you don't think President Trump should declare a national emergency to get the wall built, but you've used the word 'crisis' to describe what's happening at the southern border. How do you parse those two things, if it's a crisis but not an emergency?
ES - Well I'm a member of Congress and I believe we're co-equal branches of government with the executive branch. It is our job to legislate and it is our job to appropriate. Immigration reform and border security has been an intractable political issue going back to when I was a kid; this is something Congress failed to act on. I believe it's time to step up and finally act and make the investment when it comes to border security, coupling that with fixing problems in our immigration system. We know in the north country there are huge issues in agricultural workers, for example, and ag visas. That's a broken system that needs to be addressed. My other concern with an emergency declaration is, that it's likely to be held up in the courts. So the best way to address this crisis now is for Congress to appropriate the funds necessary, which includes border security.
SA - Alright, on the subject of State Of The Union, now that you've had a few days to think about it, did you hear anything in what President Trump said that makes you think Republicans and Democrats can go forward on any of the issues that he talked about?
ES - Absolutely. I thought it was an excellent speech by President Trump. I thought he reached out and identified a number of bipartisan issues, whether that's continuing to invest in our military which is important in our district, whether that's investing in border security and having a functioning legal immigration system, whether it's lowering health care costs and lowering the cost of prescription drugs. These are issues that we can agree on - and I was very pleased to see that in the polling after the State Of The Union, the American public overwhelmingly thought it was a strong State Of The Union. This was a President who showed bipartisan leadership, and it was pretty interesting to sit in the chamber, to look across the aisle, and they were struggling in the Democratic Party to decide when to stand up and when not to stand up. They struggled and didn't want to stand up, for example, when the President talked about the historically low unemployment rate for women in the work force. That's something we can all celebrate and we should all celebrate. So I think it's going to be an interesting congressional term; obviously we're in divided government. I intend to be very productive, I intend to continue doing my work, but I thought it was a very strong speech.
SA - You've had some back and forth since then on Twitter with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. What point were you trying to make, and how do you think it came out?
ES - I think that she obviously has approached this job very differently than I did in my first term, and that I do. I focus on my district, I focus on being a legislative workhorse and not a Twitter show horse, and I think that's proven itself at the ballot box. I was dismayed that she was very demeaning in pointing out the lack of Republican women. You can say that in a positive way, saying that we need to have more women on both sides of the aisle. But she didn't say that, and most of my Democratic female colleagues say that in a respectful way, so I'm proud to have stood up for what I believe in. I appreciated her immediate response; I know she spends a lot of time on Twitter.
SA - I've gotta ask you this: I've been thinking about this for the last few months. I remember when you first ran I saw you a number of times and you would describe yourself when you were speaking to groups as a conservative Republican. In light of everything that's happened in the party in the intervening years, and how the definition of conservative seems to be up for grabs, are you still comfortable with the label of being a conservative Republican?
ES - I've always called myself a new-generation Republican. I think obviously we're in a unique political time right now, and I think the Republican Party in the north country has grown, if you look at the fact that this is a district that voted for President Obama but it voted overwhelmingly for President Trump. So President Trump spoke to many people who felt left behind. I'm a new generation Republican because I'm willing to be independent and put my district first. That's what I ran on. There are issues where I've been different from the party, for example, my leadership on environmental issues. But I think there is room for a big tent approach in the Republican Party. And I think President Trump has been a part of expanding that tent in rural communities like ours where he's spoken to blue collar workers, for example, people who've seen the lack of manufacturing jobs in our region.
SA - Congresswoman, thanks for your time.
ES - Thanks Scott.