Moreau — U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, who represents the 21st Congressional District, on Thursday called for embattled U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt to resign and sought to distance herself from President Donald Trump.
At a noontime “Coffee With Your Congresswoman” event before about 200 people at the Moreau Community Center, Stefanik, R-Willsboro, was also resolute in her support of Second Amendment gun rights, despite being repeatedly pressed by gun control advocates in an often-raucous crowd. Some in attendance repeatedly interrupted or shouted questions.
Stefanik, who is seeking a third two-year term representing the North Country district in the fall election, fielded questions selected by a lottery for nearly two hours, an hour past when the event was scheduled to end.
“I’m going to make news here,” she said in response to an environmental question. “I think Pruitt should resign. I fundamentally disagree with how he has managed the EPA.”
Pruitt, a former vociferous critic of the EPA when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general, has reduced the agency’s mission and slashed its funding since his appointment last year by Trump. He is under pressure due to questions about his having leased a condo in Washington from a lobbyist’s wife. He is also accused of unnecessary travel expenses and accusations that he steered raises to favored aides. The White House is examining the situation, but Trump on Thursday said he has confidence in Pruitt.
Only two other congressional Republicans have so far called for Pruitt’s departure.
Stefanik noted that she fought proposed EPA cuts to research on acid rain damage to the Adirondacks and believes, unlike Pruitt, that stronger action is needed to reduce the effects of climate change.
“It’s generational,” said Stefanik, who at the age of 33 remains the youngest member of Congress. “Very conservative millennials say they believe in climate change and support action.”
The “Coffee With Your Congresswoman” was the 16th such event Stefanik has attended since taking office, with another scheduled for Friday in the Adirondack town of Moriah. Entry to Thursday’s event was first-come, first-served, and people began lining up more than a half-hour before the doors opened at 11:30 a.m.
While pro-gun demonstrators held up signs facing Main Street prior to the event, those who got inside included longtime political activists, two of the Democrats running for Stefanik’s seat and people who have been activated by the Parkland school massacre and other shootings. Some held up small signs that said, “Answer the Question,” or two-sided signs with “Agree” on one side and “Disagree” on the other.
Stefanik said she has voted to support Republican-backed legislation to improve the national gun purchase background check system and to assign more armed uniformed school resource officers to schools, but she wouldn’t endorse calls for a ban on semi-automatic weapons or other gun restrictions. She refused demands to disavow the National Rifle Association, which has donated to her campaigns.
“I believe in our Second Amendment rights,” Stefanik said. “I appreciate your disagreement on this issue,” she added.
Stefanik also repeatedly sought to distance herself from Trump.
Among her statements about the president:
- “I don’t think anyone is above the law. I am very concerned about his rhetoric toward women.”
- “Do I think the president tweets too much? Yes. Does that make it harder to work across the aisle [with Democrats]? Yes. But the president won this district.”
- “I get criticized 100 percent of the time for not supporting the president, and I get criticized 100 percent of the time supporting the president.”
- “I disagree with the president” on trade policy issues, she said, especially given the importance of trade with Canada to farmers and many businesses in the congressional district, which has a 180-mile border with the provinces of Quebec and Ontario.
- On Trump’s proposal to deploy National Guard troops to the southern border: “I am concerned, given the challenges we face around the world, that that is not a good use of our resources.”
Stefanik, a member of the House Intelligence Committee that has investigated Russian collusion allegations against the Trump campaign, reiterated that she supports special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 1016 election and possible collusion by Trump campaign officials. Trump has repeatedly dismissed those allegations as a “hoax.”
The House committee found there was Russian interference, but split with the nation’s intelligence agencies on the question of whether that interference was intended to aid the Trump campaign. The intelligence agencies unanimously concluded that it was, but there has been no findings that Trump’s campaign coordinated efforts with the Russians.
“I am really concerned about Russian aggression around the world and Russian interference in elections,” she said. “I am very hawkish when it comes to Russian interference.”
During a meeting with reporters before the event, Stefanik said she is confident in her re-election bid, despite Democratic hopes for a national “blue wave” that could switch dozens of House seats.
“You do have independent-minded voters in this district, and I’ve always run my campaign reaching out not just to Republicans but Democrats, independent, Conservative and unaffiliated voters,” she said. “I think voters in this district look at who is their best representative focusing on local issues.”
The 21st Congressional District is one of the geographically largest east of the Mississippi, stretching from Saratoga and Fulton counties to the south and north to the Canadian border.