Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, was a senior in high school on 9/11.
“That was a very formative moment at that age, particularly at the precipice of adulthood,” she told the Press-Republican in a phone conversation Wednesday.
“That was one of the reasons I wanted to pursue public policy and was interested in national security.”
National security meetings that happened post-9/11 were held at Camp David, and Stefanik vehemently opposed any plan for President Donald Trump and the Taliban — who protected al-Qaida extremists who carried out the attacks — holding talks there.
Trump canceled the Camp David meeting and ongoing peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban in Qatar after a Taliban car bomb killed a U.S. soldier and 11 others in the Afghan capital of Kabul last week.
Stefanik added that she does not support negotiating with the Taliban and had been skeptical of the talks in Qatar, since they failed to include the elected Afghani government, including President Ashraf Ghani, or any women.
The congresswoman vividly remembers the international media’s focus in the wake of 9/11 on the horrific human rights abuses and treatment of women in Afghanistan under Taliban rule.
“To wash that aside and not remember that, that’s just not something I support.”
Stefanik has gone to Afghanistan three times to visit Fort Drum’s U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division soldiers — members of the most-deployed unit post-9/11 —, and noted that a number of terrorist groups are seeking to make inroads there.
“Our number one priority as policymakers should be not allowing a safe haven for terrorists to ever be able to strike the U.S. again.”
On former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s resignation Tuesday, Stefanik said she did not know the details on whether Trump asked for his resignation or if Bolton offered it first.
“I respect John Bolton. I think he was an important voice in the administration.
“I know there were some policy disagreements, and if the president wants to go another direction, he can go another direction.”
Stefanik is sad to see Bolton go, but awaits the next appointment to the position and feels confident in U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s leadership.
“I think he’s an important steady hand, but Congress has a role in this, too.
“As we’re figuring out the future U.S. presence in Afghanistan, we have to have hearings on the House Armed Services committee to discuss that.”
Stefanik is disappointed in Walmart’s decision, announced last week, to discontinue sales of certain ammunition in the wake of recent shootings such as those at Walmart stores in El Paso and Mississippi.
“I know that that’s a decision that they can make. I understand, given some of the recent acts, that that was the direction they wanted to go.”
She said we need to look for bipartisan solutions to gun violence in Congress, including investing in mental health and strengthening background checks for criminals and the mentally ill.
A bipartisan path may include reforms to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) or better information-sharing between agencies.
“I represent a district where there are tens of thousands of law-abiding gun owners and I believe those constitutional liberties are important to protect, so I’ve focused on bipartisan policies that protect those constitutional amendments.”
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Stefanik agrees with U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service should resume data collection on U.S. honey bee colonies for its annual survey, which he spoke about in a recent visit to a Morrisonville bee farm.
“That’s something the USDA should be doing,” she said.
She went on a lot of agricultural visits around the district in August, and heard from farmers as the 2018 Farm Bill — passed last December — was being implemented.
Farms are growing, and we want to make sure we have fair trade policies in place, particularly with dairy products going to Canada, Stefanik said.
That’s why the United States-Mexico-Canada Act, or USMCA, — the updated version of the North American Free Trade Agreement — numbers among her priorities this legislative session.
“We are working very, very hard to make sure that we can get that to the floor,” Stefanik said.
“That’s a decision Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi has to make.”
Virtually every school district and group of parents Stefanik speaks with brings up concerns around vaping.
She believes Congress should have hearings on the issue and do as much as it can to eradicate and limit underage use of vaping devices.
“We also need to have an understanding of the long-term health impacts.”
Shortly after the Press-Republican’s phone conversation with Stefanik, news broke that Trump’s administration plans to ban flavored e-cigarettes in the wake of hundreds of related illnesses nationwide.
Six people have died from those illnesses so far.
Along with the USMCA, Stefanik has set certain priorities now that Congress is back in session.
On Tuesday, she testified before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee about her bill “The Vietnam Era Veterans Hepatitis C Testing Enhancement Act” which she anticipates will receive bipartisan support.
Stefanik shared the story of veteran Danny Kaifetz of Keeseville who was exposed to hepatitis C while receiving vaccinations during his military training at the time of the Vietnam War.
Kaifetz was diagnosed in 2011 and sought treatment from the New York VA.
The bill Stefanik has put forth would expand the VA’s focus on screening veterans from the Vietnam era to ensure they can be diagnosed.
Additionally, she is collaborating with Joseph Morelle, a Democrat from the Rochester area with whom she serves on the House Education and Labor Committee, on legislation to address surprise medical bills.
Lastly, she and others are working with the Senate to bring the National Defense Authorization Act — which passed in the House of Representatives — to its conference committee.
That bill contains provisions related to Fort Drum, and Stefanik anticipates she — as a members of the House Armed Services Committee — will have a seat at the table to negotiate the final bill.