WATERTOWN — The candidates for New York’s 21st Congressional District, Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville and her Democratic opponent Tedra L. Cobb, faced off for the first time this election season in a contentious debate Monday afternoon.

From the studios of WWNY-TV, also known as 7 News, Rep. Stefanik and Ms. Cobb debated for roughly an hour over issues such as healthcare, the coronavirus pandemic and the governmental response to it, as well as their track records, the tone of their campaigns and numerous other topics.

The first question of the debate was about the coronavirus pandemic and how President Donald J. Trump has lead the federal response. Ms. Cobb said she’s seen a complete lack of a coordinated federal response to the pandemic, and put the blame squarely on the president.

“I spent 30 years working in public health, and the president lied to the American people,” she said. “He knew how dangerous this virus was, and he didn’t tell the truth. With public health, we need to trust the American people to do the right thing.”

Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, makes her opening remarks in a debate against Democratic NY-21 candidate Tedra L. Cobb on Monday afternoon at WWNY-TV, also known as 7 News, in Watertown. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

Rep. Stefanik said she approves of the federal response thus far, and lauded the president for his decision to halt foreign nationals from flying into the U.S. from China.

“I think the president has done well in terms of providing what we need in the north country,” she said.

Rep. Stefanik said while she approves of the federal response, it’s New York state that deserves criticism.

“I’ve been very critical of the governor,” she said. “My opponent is a former political appointee of Gov. (Andrew M.) Cuomo, and she was silent when Gov. Cuomo tried to seize our ventilators and ship them towards downstate.”

Rep. Stefanik’s often repeated claim that Ms. Cobb was appointed by Gov. Cuomo has been frequently proven false by north country media outlets. In Monday’s debate, Ms. Cobb attempted to set the record straight on the issue, but was repeatedly interrupted by Rep. Stefanik.

“Let me be clear, the governor has never appointed me to anything,” Ms. Cobb said. “I was, however appointed to the Northern New York Healthcare Redesign Commission ...”

“By the governor,” Rep. Stefanik interjected.

“By the commissioner of public health, and I served with two principled Republicans, (state Sens.) Betty Little and Patty Ritchie,” Ms. Cobb finished.

Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, makes her opening remarks in a debate against Democratic NY-21 candidate Tedra L. Cobb on Monday afternoon at WWNY-TV, also known as 7 News, in Watertown. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

Rep. Stefanik then interjected that state Sens. Elizabeth “Betty” Little and Patricia A. Ritchie have both endorsed her for re-election.

The candidates were asked what they believe needs to be done to get a new round of coronavirus aid legislation passed in Congress, and who they believe is at fault for its delay.

Rep. Stefanik said she’s worked hard to ensure local businesses were well supported by the last round of aid legislation, and said she blames Speaker of the House Nancy P. Pelosi, D-Calif., for including “partisan provisions” in the last two attempts at coronavirus aid, the HEROES Act and the HEROES Act 2.0. Rep. Stefanik, along with every other Republican representative in the House, voted against those bills.

“I believe we need a bipartisan package that funds K-12 schools, an additional round of the Paycheck Protection Program, as well as increased funding for hospitals and tests,” Rep. Stefanik said.

She also accused Ms. Cobb of changing her position on the HEROES Act and its updated version.

Ms. Cobb initially criticized Rep. Stefanik for what she termed “politicizing” the pandemic when asked about the congresswoman’s vote on the two bills. She has subsequently said she would not have voted for them either.

“I want to be very clear,” Ms. Cobb said. “Tonight (Monday night) you are going to hear Elise Stefanik say lots of things about me that are just not true.”

Democratic NY-21 candidate Tedra L. Cobb listens during a debate against Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, on Monday afternoon at WWNY-TV, also known as 7 News, in Watertown. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

Rep. Stefanik attempted to interject again before Ms. Cobb continued, explaining she believes any future coronavirus aid legislation must include extensions to PPP, as well as funding for schools, hospitals and long-term planning for a vaccine. Ms. Cobb then criticized the congresswoman for what she said was hyperpartisanship.

“Elise Stefanik says she’s bipartisan, but yet she (does) this sort of vitriol and argument and sticking her feet in the mud and not working with others to get us what we need,” Ms. Cobb said.

Rep. Stefanik responded by touting her rating as one of the most bipartisan members of Congress. In May of this year, the Lugar Center, an organization promoting bipartisanship in government, rated Rep. Stefanik as the 14th most bipartisan House representative.

When asked about Rep. Stefanik’s record in Congress, Ms. Cobb said Rep. Stefanik has ignored the accusations that the Russian government paid Taliban militants to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan.

“115 days ago, we learned that Russia put bounties on the lives of American soldiers, and Elise Stefanik has not said anything,” Ms. Cobb said.

Rep. Stefanik has in fact spoken about the claims. The congresswoman has said she believes the intelligence was illegally leaked to the media and remains unverified. She’s also said she does not believe in the veracity of that information.

“There is no verified information of Russian bounties on U.S. soldiers,” Rep. Stefanik said. “You can only look to Gen. (Kenneth F.) McKenzie, who is the head of U.S. Central Command, the combat and command overseeing U.S. forces in Afghanistan.”

Fact checking Stefanik, Cobb debate

Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, makes her opening remarks in a debate against Democratic NY-21 candidate Tedra L. Cobb on Monday afternoon at WWNY-TV, also known as 7 News, in Watertown. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

Perhaps the most contentious issue of the night was on the topic of healthcare, specifically both candidate’s records on the issue. Rep. Stefanik has repeatedly criticized Ms. Cobb for what she’s called “flip-flopping” on the issue of healthcare. Ms. Cobb has changed her position on the issue since she first ran for office in 2018. Then, she expressed support for expanding Medicare for All. Now, Ms. Cobb supports a Medicare public option, where Americans could choose to purchase a Medicare plan or a traditional insurance plan. Ms. Cobb seemed to downplay her prior positions in her initial answer, although she did later admit her positions on a number of issues have changed.

“I have been really consistent in saying I support a Medicare public option,” she said. “I understand what Elise Stefanik said, but I have spend 30 years working in healthcare and expanding access to healthcare — that has been my life’s passion.”

Ms. Cobb criticized Rep. Stefanik for her votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which Rep. Stefanik interrupted to say were votes “for better healthcare.” The candidates argued over one another for a few seconds before the moderator was able to regain control of the conversation.

Ms. Cobb was then asked about another position she appears to have changed her views on. During the 2018 election, a video was released showing Ms. Cobb, in a conversation with young supporters, saying while she believes assault weapons should be banned, she could not publicly call for that without destroying her chances of winning. Ms. Cobb responded by saying she does not support an assault weapons ban, but does support other gun control measures, including universal background checks, an end to the “gun show loophole,” as well as universal background checks as part of the pistol permitting process.

When asked further questions on the issue of her changing views, Ms. Cobb said she’s learned since her last run for office, and has always sought to be more informed on the issues she’s been trusted to legislate on.

As shown on a TV screen, Democratic NY-21 candidate Tedra L. Cobb speaks during a debate against Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, on Monday afternoon at WWNY-TV, also known as 7 News, in Watertown. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

“I think the reality is, you do learn,” she said. “I’ve been elected for eight years, I served in the St. Lawrence County (Board of) Legislature(s), and there were times that I thought something was right, and later I learned from that.”

Rep. Stefanik said Ms. Cobb lied to voters for personal gain.

“When you’re a candidate for office, you’re held accountable for your positions and your words,” she said. “People know in this district, Tedra Cobb has said so herself.”

The candidates did agree, at least in principle, on a number of issues during Monday’s debate.

When asked if they believe the federal government should mandate masks for all Americans when in public, both said no.

Both candidates were also willing to say “Black lives matter,” although they said they believe racial inequality must be addressed in different ways.

“Black lives matter, every life matters in this country,” Rep. Stefanik said. “What I don’t support is the No. 1 policy priority of the BLM organization (which) is to defund the police.”

She said she supports the Justice Act, a bill in Congress that would ban chokeholds and require an officer’s disciplinary records be shared with any police departments they may move to. Rep. Stefanik said the bill would also increase funding for law enforcement agencies to allow for more training.

Rep. Stefanik reiterated another claim she’s frequently made, which is that Ms. Cobb supports defunding the police. Ms. Cobb said that’s incorrect.

“I started my career in New York state’s prison system, working side by side with law enforcement,” Ms. Cobb said.

Democratic NY-21 candidate Tedra L. Cobb waits to make her opening remarks in a debate against Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, on Monday afternoon at WWNY-TV, also known as 7 News, in Watertown. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

In closing, Ms. Cobb called attention to Rep. Stefanik’s record on Medicare, Social Security and the ACA. She said Rep. Stefanik wrote the Republican plan in 2012 to privatize both programs, and has since voted to cut billions of dollars from them.

“You deserve better,” she said. “One quarter of the people in this district rely on Social Security and Medicare, 64,000 people in this district rely on the Affordable Care Act, but Elise Stefanik has voted time and time again to strip it away and has not put a plan forward.”

In her closing statement, Rep. Stefanik highlighted a number of differences between herself and Ms. Cobb, and said she’s proven her ability to work with the current president to bring real benefits back to the north country.

“It is a choice between my bipartisan record of results for the hard working families, the small businesses, our military families and Fort Drum, our farmers and our seniors, versus my opponent who would be a rubber stamp parrot for Nancy Pelosi,” she said.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

Recommended for you

(19) comments

Holmes

"Taxin’ Tedra REFUSES to answer if she supports court packing after being asked MULTIPLE times.

She also had no idea that the House would have to vote on it. A fundamental misunderstanding of the job she is campaigning for. Unacceptable." Elise Stefanik

That should cover last night’s debate. Cobb really embarrassed herself. If you remember one thing about last night, Elise +14

Honest Abe

Like Stefanik, you resort to name calling when you can't win on the issues. Undecided is an answer, and an intelligent one when you want more data. Support whom you choose, but do it on the issues, and not who calls who names. This is for a US Representative to Congress, not the 2nd grade class president.

KRobbins

What a shame this election is about the coronavirus and Trump’s lying, incompetence in meeting it and Stefanik’s obeisance to Trump.

She may win, but it’s not gonna be by 14.

KRobbins

"Taxin’ Tedra REFUSES to answer if she supports court packing after being asked MULTIPLE times.

I’m sure that’ll motivate the people who were already going to vote for Stefanik anyway. Nice use of all caps. You should give Trump lessons.

Eagle24

Holmes... if Biden wins...do you seriously think he won't pack the court ? Bet on it! After POTUS not waiting until after the election before the nomination and the Senate pushing the nominee through, and you expect the Dems not to pack the court?? Better get your amnesia checked dude...

Honest Abe

The debate made it perfectly clear that Stefanik lives is the same alternate reality as Trump. It took guts for Cobb to admit that she is learning and that her views progress as she learns more. Sadly, Stefanik sounded like a broken record repeating over and over outdated statements and defending not doing her job. Cobb is getting my vote. I want someone in Congress that will do their job, stand up for what is right and not just politically correct, and protect us here in the North Country.

Pitbull

...says someone using outdated statements I have heard repeated over and over.

Eagle24

Yea...like "we've turned the corner on Covid"... if she'd distance herself from POTUS...call him out on his lies....she'd get my vote as her policies are in line with the north country.. POTUS is a threat down the ticket...

KRobbins

Rep. Stefanik said while she approves of the federal response, it’s New York state that deserves criticism.

Now can she explain what’s happening in the rest of the country vis-à-vis New York? Or are the nearly 60,000 new cases a day a hoax? I blame Trump’s Superspreader Tour.

LightningSix

Rep. Stefanik is willing to throw her own State under the bus in order to score political points for her party. Stay classy, Ms. Stefanik.

Pitbull

Let me be the first to say that Elise crushed the "rubber stamp parrot for Pelosi" last night. The only thing Cobb won was the "Let me be clear" competition.

Eagle24

North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville), co-chairs the House of Representatives’ Northern Border Caucus... ZERO progress...still no border crossings... hundreds of commercial shipments arrive daily to/from Canada..and NO family members can't cross?? Come on Elise...

Pitbull

Cmon Eagle! Cmon man! The border is closed because of Canada's decision, not the US's! Contact Trudeau and see if he can help. Oh, I forgot...he wants a Biden administration and so he's in lockstep with Harris/Biden and Big Tech. https://www.forbes.com/sites/carlieporterfield/2020/10/19/canada-us-border-to-remain-closed-for-another-month-amid-rising-coronavirus-cases/

Eagle24

Potus on Trudeau during the G7 meetings.. Trudeau acted "so meek and mild" and "very dishonest & weak"... THAT's why he's' lockstep with Biden... Another example of trashing allies(and everyone else)...that's why Elise can't make headway on border crossings... amnesia again?

hermit thrush

exactly, pb. stefanik has been totally ineffective at influencing canada directly or, more seriously, at addressing the root problem of the out-of-control pandemic here. she could have stood up to trump and modeled good health and masking practices. but nope, she went the bootlicker route instead.

Eagle24

"Rep. Stefanik said while she approves of the federal response, it’s New York state that deserves criticism." NYS has one of the lowest rates in the country... Trump claims "we've turned the corner"..?? Seriously? If Elise wants to work across party lines... criticize POTUS when he's wrong.... get some McCain nerve...and she'll get my vote..

Holmes

NYS has the 2nd highest rate in the country, 171 deaths per 100,000. Florida 74 per 100,000.

How did “McCain nerve” work out for him for his presidential run??

KRobbins

People on the right really embrace NYC when they can use deaths there to slam Cuomo. It’s the only time they care about them.

hermit thrush

it is true that ny (in particular nyc) got hit very hard by the first wave of the pandemic, when trump's failure to ramp up testing forced us to fly blind. since then nys has been a true model in combatting the virus. nny has been fortunate to have been protected by cuomo's policies. meanwhile so much of the rest of the country failed to learn from what happened in ny during the first wave.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.