After being called out for the hypocrisy of voting by proxy on the same day she appeared at an in-person fundraiser with former President Donald Trump in Florida, U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, is doubling down on her actions.
“These are rules that [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi has put into place without any discussion with Republicans. These are the rules of this House,” Stefanik said Thursday during a press conference in Washington, D.C., in which GOP leaders were discussing President Joe Biden’s first year in office. Stefanik is the third-ranking Republican in the House. “When it comes to proxies, the Republican majority, we believe in in-person voting. When Republicans win back the House, that’s what we are committed to.”
The 37-year-old GOP House Conference Chair faced criticism after voting by proxy on Jan. 11 on the same day of a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago, submitting a letter to the Clerk of House stating, “I’m unable to physically attend proceedings in the House Chamber due to the ongoing public health emergency.”
While the language is boilerplate language that House members of both parties have been using to vote by proxy during the pandemic, the reasoning given was seen by many as hypocritical, considering Stefanik appeared in person at Mar-a-Lago that evening at a fundraiser reportedly attended by more than 200 people.
The visit to Florida came at a time when COVID-19 cases were surging. According to Florida Department of Health numbers, Palm Beach County, where Mar-a-Lago is located, saw 26,918 new cases the week of Jan. 7-13 with a new case positivity rate of 29.7%. Meanwhile, 561 new cases were reported on Jan. 12 in Stefanik’s hometown Saratoga County.
Democratic Congressional candidate Matthew Putorti, who is running for Stefanik’s seat this year, called the actions “concerning.”
“I don’t know what the explanation is. What I do know is that it’s another red flag for me with somebody who says I can’t be at work because of COVID then flies to Florida to have a fundraiser to raise money for herself and Trump and other Republican elected officials,” Putorti said. “There is a real disconnect there, and it’s concerning.”
During the event at Mar-a-Lago, Trump heaped praise on Stefanik – who has repeated Trump’s baseless claims about election fraud in 2020 – and said Stefanik could win the presidency in 2028.
“I want to congratulate Elise on her success. Man is she moving fast. That means at this rate she’ll be president in about six years,” Trump said.
Stefanik and her team have said they are focused on the Congressional race and are not thinking about the higher office.
“Congresswoman Stefanik is focused on securing results for the hardworking families of NY-21 and maintains historic support. She is running for congress in New York’s North Country,” Alex deGrasse, Stefanik’s senior advisor, told The Daily Gazette.
Stefanik is currently in her fourth term. When she was first elected, at 30, in 2014 she was the youngest women ever elected to Congress.
At the event, Trump also reportedly commented on Stefanik’s looks.
“She’s always been a friend and people would say she’s upwardly mobile. She goes to Washington as a young beautiful woman who took over and all of a sudden she becomes a rocket ship, she’s the boss. She’s been a great,” Trump said, according to The New York Post.
Republican leaders in Stefanik’s district, which spans New York’s North Country and includes all of Fulton County and part of Saratoga County, said they are supportive of the congresswoman, no matter where her path leads.
“I will be behind her all the way,” said Susan McNeil, Fulton County Republican Committee Chair and vice-chair of the NYSGOP North Country Regional, who said the fundraiser is an indication of Stefanik’s standing in the party.
Saratoga County Republican Committee Chairman Carl Zeilman called Stefanik a “natural born leader.”
“She has shown that time and time again here in our district,” Zeilman said. “I’m not surprised that somebody like the former president would say those types of things about Elise Stefanik.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.
More from The Daily Gazette: