LOWVILLE — Impeachment, Syria, drug prices, small farms and, frequently, President Donald Trump, were among the topics north country residents lobbed at U.S. Rep. Elise N. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, during a Coffee with Your Congresswoman session Thursday morning at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post.
About 40 people, including Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, six county legislators and residents from a number of backgrounds, from mothers to vets to soldiers to firefighters, gathered at VFW Post 6912 to ask for clarification and insight from the congresswoman.
Rep. Stefanik confirmed previous media reports that she does not support President Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria near the Turkish border, leaving vulnerable longtime U.S. allies, the Syrian Kurds.
Referring to the president’s decision as “short-sighted and misguided,” Ms. Stefanik said, “The way we’re going to defeat terrorism globally is through partners and allies. We’re not able as Americans to do this all on our own.”
A specific concern for Ms. Stefanik is a prison holding 11,000 “hardened ISIS fighters” under the protection of the Kurds and the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, that she said may be more vulnerable to ISIS attack if Kurdish troops are busy fending off a Turkish offensive.
When questions were raised about the possible impeachment proceedings against the president, Ms. Stefanik said she is against impeachment and critical of House speaker Nancy Pelosi for not calling for a vote. Traditionally, in the three instances in U.S. history when impeachment proceedings were held, the process began with a congressional vote.
Three attendees of the event called Ms. Stefanik’s response into question each time she said it in the public session, stating that the Constitution does not require a vote to begin impeachment proceedings.
Ms. Stefanik did not respond to those assertions but rather restated that it was the practice “historically” to call the vote and clarified that this was her “viewpoint.”
Similarly, Ms. Stefanik rebuked the process followed by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., for being aware of the whistleblower testimony before bringing it to his colleagues. She also called out Mr. Schiff for what she called lying and partisanship.
As she did in April “Coffee with your Congresswoman” sessions, Ms. Stefanik called for Chairman Schiff to step down.
Asked during the press session if she saw a double standard being used by Republicans with President Trump compared to the last time impeachment proceedings were held against President Clinton, she said that she was very young during the Clinton impeachment, so she is only considering “the facts that we have,” but no, she doesn’t see a double standard being used.
One attendee, George Smith, raised a question about white supremacist attacks, including mass shootings, being classified as domestic terrorism and Ms. Stefanik agreed that they should be classified and dealt with as such.
Unlike Mr. Smith, who said he no longer feels safe in “gatherings like this, because who knows?” Ms. Stefanik said she feels safe in her district because of strong law enforcement.
“These things are happening in communities just like this and instead of dealing with the problem of school shootings, they’re designing schools with curved hallways, That shouldn’t be the solution,” Mr. Smith said.
Expressing support for school resource officers as a deterrent and emphasizing the importance of communication between school officials and law enforcement, Ms. Stefanik said, when asked, that she would support a “Red Flag Law” through which a person’s guns could be confiscated if “red flags” like violent behavior or posing a credible threat are raised. She stressed that due process must be followed in such circumstances.
Small dairy farmer Cliff Hofstadter wanted Ms. Stefanik to understand the importance of dairies with fewer than 100 cows and said proposed agriculture visas helping large-scale farms would increase production, cause the market to be flooded and milk prices to dip once again.
“We have farms going bankrupt and farmers willing to do the work,” Mr. Hofstadter said, “They just don’t want to work for them [the big farms]. That says something about their management. That says something about them treating their employees.”
In addition to working with the Farm Bureau, which Mr. Hofstadter said focuses on large-scale farms, Ms. Stefanik said she holds roundtable discussions with farmers with under 100 cows, and invited Mr. Hofstadter to participate, but she couldn’t give ground on the three- to five-year, year-round agriculture visa being supported by the Farm Bureau.
“I will continue to make sure small farms are part of the discussion but I’m not going to ignore requests of farmers who are interested in having a year-round work program,” Ms. Stefanik said.
She made it clear that she does not agree with Secretary of Agriculture George E. “Sonny” Perdue III, who recently said, “In America, the big get bigger and the small go out,” at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis.
The congresswoman also offered her office’s services and referrals to training and programs for some of the individual issues raised like navigating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, grant referrals and grant writing training for funding problems for volunteer fire departments.
Another Coffee with your Congressman session was held later in the day in Fulton County.
U.S. Rep. Elise N. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, answers questions at the Coffee with Your Congresswoman event held Thursday morning at the Lowville VFW Post 6912, 7744 W. State St. Julie Abbass/Watertown Daily Times