WATERTOWN — It seemed absurd that a sitting member of Congress would demand journalists take her seriously while berating a political rival for the “scandal” she manufactured last week.
But U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, needed an outlet for her feigned indignation over what she called “intellectual theft and plagiarism.” She accused Democratic challenger Tedra Cobb of stealing her plan to assist military personnel. However, it turns out Stefanik is the one who claimed credit for a law that she doesn’t deserve.
On Tuesday, Cobb tweeted: “Stefanik has turned a blind eye to the bounties put on American soldiers. Supporting military service members and veterans cannot just be a political talking point. Learn more about how I plan to support our veterans and active-duty military personnel …” This was followed by a link to “Supporting Military Service Members & Veterans,” a portion of her campaign website under “Issues.”
One of her action points reads: “Support legislation such as the Military Family Stability Act, which provides flexible timing when moving for new assignments.” This concept in its final form was eventually inserted into the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, which was signed into law Dec. 12, 2017, by President Donald Trump.
The wording on Cobb’s website shouldn’t have raised any eyebrows. But as she’s done before, Stefanik found a way to create a controversy and portray herself as a victim.
On the heels of Cobb’s statement, Stefanik tweeted this Tuesday: “TAXIN’ TEDRA COPIED & STOLE legislation that I actually PASSED for ‘her veterans plan’ … Taxin’ Tedra is such a failed & desperate candidate that she literally steals my legislation that is now law.”
A tad later, Stefanik tweeted: “RTing this THREAD because I find it shocking, SHOCKING that the media turns a blind eye to #TaxinTedra’s blatant plagiarism and copying of a bill I wrote, introduced, PASSED, & was signed into LAW!”
Stefanik didn’t believe that admonishing both Cobb and those of us in the news industry on Twitter would suffice. So she held a teleconference call with journalists Tuesday afternoon, during which she declared Cobb’s reference to this law to be “very concerning” and “stunning.” She cited other instances where Cobb promoted ideas that she had already worked on for armed service members and veterans. Because Cobb had linked her military talking points to her tweet Tuesday, Stefanik insisted this constituted her releasing her veterans plan that day. But this portion of Cobb’s website hasn’t been updated since March 29, 2018, when she ran against Stefanik for the first time.
It boggles my mind that someone who holds elective office on the federal level would publicly launch such a petty and contrived grievance. But Stefanik did not hold back.
“This is a stunning example of intellectual theft and plagiarism, and my opponent should apologize, not only to me and to north country veterans but frankly to all the voters in the district,” she said during the teleconference call, according to a story published Tuesday by the Watertown Daily Times.
Let’s get this straight: Cobb did not take credit for the Military Family Stability Act. She said that if elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, she would work with colleagues to pass bills that benefit military personnel and veterans — and she cited this measure as a good example. That’s it.
Stefanik’s stunt was nothing but an ego-driven temper tantrum. She demonstrated this by stating: “It would’ve been very different if it said, ‘I support Congresswoman Stefanik’s bill.’ But they didn’t say that; they announced it as part of Tedra Cobb’s plan for veterans.”
This really isn’t about stealing someone else’s work. Stefanik was merely peeved that Cobb didn’t link her name to the law. But should she receive recognition for this?
According to the Congress.gov website, Stefanik introduced the Military Family Stability Act (HR279) on Jan. 4, 2017, during a session of the 115th Congress. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Armed Services that day and then to the Subcommittee on Readiness several weeks later.
However, there’s no record of HR279 proceeding any further. So Stefanik’s assertion that she got her law passed is curious.
What’s more egregious is that she claimed in two tweets Tuesday that she “wrote” this law — which is false. A news release from her office dated Jan. 23, 2017, said the bill was previously introduced by then-U.S. Rep. Christopher Gibson, R-Kinderhook, during the 114th Congress.
HR4200 was referred to the Armed Services Committee on Dec. 9, 2015, and then to the Readiness Subcommittee on Jan. 19, 2016 (Stefanik was not a co-sponsor). Like HR279, this bill did not make it past this point.
In her recent diatribe, Stefanik failed to mention any of the initial sponsors of the Military Family Stability Act. This is hypocritical because she demanded that Cobb give credit where credit is due! Not only was this bill created by other House members, it also had been discussed within the U.S. Senate. And last week, Stefanik completely ignored the contributions of another fellow New York lawmaker.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., first introduced the Military Family Stability Act in the Senate with U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., in October 2015. They reintroduced the measure in May 2017.
U.S. Reps. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., and Susan Davis, D-Calif., introduced this bill in the House at the same time. Again, Stefanik was not a co-sponsor.
According to GovTrack.com, the bills sponsored by Wilson and Davis (HR2487) passed the House on July 14, 2017. The version sponsored by Gillibrand and Blunt (S1154) passed the Senate on Sept. 18, 2017.
The website reports that the final bill agreed upon by both chambers was the one that became part of the 2018 NDAA later that year. It appears that Stefanik didn’t tell the truth when she claimed to have written the Military Family Stability Act and that she got her bill passed and signed into law.
Congress.gov lists all the related bills to the 2018 NDAA: Both HR2487 and S1154 are among them. However, HR279 is nowhere to be found. According to GovTrack.com and Congress.gov, Stefanik has sponsored two pieces of legislation that have been signed into law — and HR279 wasn’t one of them.
Stefanik last week made a stand for professional integrity when it comes to seeking credit for someone else’s work. Will she be honest enough to accept some wise advice for violating this principle?
Just so no one asserts that I’m lifting material, I’ll fess up now that these aren’t my original thoughts. I’ll paraphrase another public figure, whom I’m sure Stefanik will instantly identify.
Stefanik owes an apology to Cobb for falsely accusing her of intellectual theft. She also should throw in an “I’m sorry” to all the legislators who actually wrote and passed the Military Family Stability Act for taking singular credit for their work. In addition, she needs to make amends with her 21st Congressional District constituents for perpetuating these fraudulent claims.
Armed forces personnel and veterans have a term for individuals who seek admiration for acts of bravery they don’t deserve: Stolen valor. And what Stefanik did is akin to this.
She used the military in seeking favorable public sentiment for herself — and herself alone — for a legislative measure that she (despite her claims) neither wrote nor had passed into law. Her biggest apology should go to these men and women for taking advantage of their place of honor in our society just to satisfy her political ambition.
Stefanik and her campaign staffers are fond of tossing around the term Taxin’ Tedra. Now if I had a juvenile mindset, I might use the nickname Stealin’ Stefanik as a counterbalance. But let’s not degrade ourselves to such childish antics, and I truly hope no one picks up the #StealinStefanik meme and spreads it around social media for the remainder of the campaign.
It’s infuriating to consider that our representative on Capitol Hill would believe that deceptive antics like this are good governance. What’s more pathetic is that so many voters agree with her.
Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.