The Post Star
July 29, 2018

By: Abraham Kenmore – Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, has walked a delicate balance on supporting President Donald J. Trump, sometimes backing his policies, other times vocally distancing herself from him.

For her first Watertown campaign visit of 2018, Ms. Stefanik chose to highlight one of these differences at the Watertown International Airport on Friday.

“When I first ran for Congress I talked about the importance of being an independent voice and delivering real results,” Stefanik said during a press conference after she toured the airport. “When the president proposed his budget, the president had suggested cutting essential air services, and that would have been very detrimental to the rural airports in my district. So I was very proud to be one of the leading voices standing up for rural infrastructure, standing up for rural airports.”

Stefanik said she was impressed by the tour, given by Scott A. Gray, chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators, and county Legislator Philip N. Reed, and by the fact the facility was debt-free — due, in part, to the federal grants it received from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Stefanik said she tries to work with local officials to get all kinds of infrastructure funded.

“We need to continue to focus on broadband,” she said. “I also think water infrastructure and sewers is important; those are really basic but critical part of any community’s infrastructure.”

Stefanik pointed to the grants announced the day before from the Northern Border Regional Commission by her office, as well as by Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., for $2.8 million in projects along the northern border of the state. Many of the grants are going to the 21st Congressional District. Stefanik also wrote letters of support for several projects.

“I like to take the lead from our local electeds who are closest to the people they represent,” Stefanik said. “I typically listen to what their priorities are, and then my office steps in; we typically provide them with the grants guide.”

Asked about the rooftop highway, Stefanik demurred.

“My focus is making sure our roadways are maintained,” she said. “My priority is making sure we have a solvent highway trust fund, making sure the highways and bridges that we have are up to standard.”

Stefanik also distanced herself from the president on trade. She has consistently opposed his tariffs, saying she considers them a form of taxation, although she was not entirely opposed to the announcement by the administration of $12 billion in funding being provided to farmers struggling because of tariffs.

“I don’t call it a bailout, I call it a short term fix for a long term problem,” she said.

Stefanik drew a connection between farmers and her work on funding other rural projects.

“There needs to be relief to the agricultural community, the same way we’ve provided relief to rural airports, rural infrastructure,” she continued. “I think it’s a recognition farmers are going through a very challenging time, but again, I hope we get to the larger issue, which is getting out of a trade war.”

Stefanik said that Congress does play a role in trade and she would want a vote on leaving any trade agreements.

In a week dominated by ongoing questions about Russia, Stefanik said her position on Congress’ role in investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election had not changed.

“I’m very hawkish on Russia,” she said.

But she also said that she had concerns about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant filed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to secretly survey Trump campaign foreign policy aide Carter Page.

“I believe transparency is important; I believe there needs to be updates and policy changes to the FISA process,” she said. “And I have concerns not all information was disclosed in the FISA application.”

Stefanik said her concern was based in the fact that the warrant does not disclose that a now-infamous dossier alleging collusion between Trump and Russia was paid for, in part, by the Hillary Clinton campaign. The warrant does, however, have a footnote saying the dossier was funded by someone looking to discredit Trump, although Democrats are not named specifically.

“My position has been very clear and consistent, in that I believe, A, Russia is an adversary, we need to make appropriate investments,” she said. “And when it comes to the investigation, I believe the (Special Counsel Robert) Mueller investigation is the best way … I think transparency is a good thing, and I voted to release both the majority and minority memo regarding FISA.”

The dueling memos were authored by Democrats and Republicans earlier this year, presenting different opinions on the legitimacy of the Page FISA warrant.

With Congress on a summer break and many representatives hitting the campaign trail, Stefanik also reiterated her opposition to a recently announced bid by Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a founding member of the hard-right Freedom Caucus, to run for speaker of the House. Stefanik said on Twitter she would continue to support Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California.

Also this week, Jordan called for impeachment proceedings against Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general in charge of overseeing the Russia investigation in the Department of Justice.

“I don’t support the impeachment of Rosenstein,” Stefanik said. “I don’t support Jim Jordan for speaker.”