It’s hard for me to watch our congresswoman, Elise Stefanik, these days, because I’ve always hated it when people play dumb.
When she first ran for office in 2014, in response to a question about climate change from the Post-Star editor, Ken Tingley, Stefanik said, “I’m not a scientist.”
That wasn’t relevant, any more than it would be relevant for her to say she wasn’t a doctor in response to a question on health care funding. As a member of Congress, it’s her job to educate herself on important issues.
The larger point is, Stefanik was educated about climate change, but she was feigning ignorance to avoid an answer that didn’t match the party line.
Stefanik isn’t dumb. Like most members of Congress, she’s very well-educated (she attended Harvard). She’s sharp.
Despite that remark in 2014, Stefanik rarely played dumb her first few years in office. She engaged with dissenters and argued effectively for her positions.
I often disagreed with her, but I wasn’t embarrassed to see her on TV and think, “That’s my congresswoman.”
I’m embarrassed now.
Stefanik was prominent this week in a TV clip that shows her and Republican congressmen Lee Zeldin of New York (Suffolk County) and Mike Johnson of Louisiana trying to avoid answering a question from Heidi Przybyla, an NBC News correspondent.
Przybyla says, the Department of Defense certified in May 2019 that Ukraine had “taken substantial actions to decrease corruption” and “increase accountability,” as required by law, and therefore could receive the U.S. military aid approved by Congress.
So, Przybyla asks the three members of Congress, what changed after May? What instances of corruption were found after May that caused President Trump to withhold the aid for several months?
What follows are increasingly desperate diversions from the three representatives.
Q: What corruption investigations was Trump tracking from May (when Pentagon approved Ukraine's aid)and Sept., when Trump released it (days after Congress started investigating).— Heidi Przybyla (@HeidiNBC) January 28, 2020
A: Didn't really get one, other than Bidens/Burisma.@NBCPolitics https://t.co/xwDKgc9Es5
You can find it online, but it goes something like this:
Zeldin: “blah, blah, there was a new president, blah, blah and new members of Parliament, a lot of corruption, new initiatives, blah, blah, Pence meeting, blah, blah.”
Przybyla lets him ramble on from one non sequitur to another, finally jumping in to repeat her question: What changed since May?
Zeldin asks if anyone else has a question.
But Przybyla’s colleagues in the press also want to know the answer, so Zeldin cranks up the avoidance machine again:
“Burisma, blah, blah, Hunter Biden, etc.”
Then he snaps: “You’re doing a great job as Adam Schiff’s shills,” he says.
Congressman Johnson attempts a rescue: “The president is elected to be the commander in chief,” he says, and “it doesn’t matter” that the Department of Defense gave the OK.
Finally, Stefanik, spotting an opening, swoops in: “I will cite actual testimony. Everyone who testified gave examples of corruption.”
And — “Ukraine has a rampant corruption problem.”
And — “The premise of your question is wrong.”
And — “This is ridiculous.”
That is her conclusion, and she’s right: Three smart members of Congress playing dumb, pretending they’re answering a simple question when they know they aren’t. That is ridiculous.
But that is the very low level to which our politics has sunk. It’s not as if it was high before, but it’s embarrassing now.
Will Doolittle is projects editor at The Post-Star. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on his blog, I think not, and on Twitter at @trafficstatic.
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