Stefanik talks taxes, guns, tariffs in teletownhall

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (Photo provided — Amanda Morrison, Watertown Daily Times)

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik got on the phone with constituents Tuesday evening to discuss her views on tariffs, Russia and taxes in her 14th teletownhall.

Calling from her office in Washington, D.C., the Republican congresswoman was connected over the phone with any constituents of New York’s 21st District who called in.

Mental illness and guns

The teletownhall started with a question regarding the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, where 17 teachers and children died after an AR-15 wielding alt-right extremist attacked the school.

“Do you feel like we should be making it easier for those with mental illnesses to buy guns, and if not, how do you square that with your vote early last year?” asked Jeremy from Saratoga.

Stefanik said the U.S. has a mental health crisis and that mental health care — specifically rural health care — needs reform and adequate funding. She did not specifically say what reforms need to be made.

She also said she has co-sponsored bills to provide funding for schools wanting to implement school resource offices for counseling, and supports the “Fix NICS” bill that allow information on gun owners to be better shared between agencies.

Stefanik said she does not support mandatory arming of public school teachers, but wants those who are willing to be properly trained and armed to have the opportunity to carry in school.

She did not reference the vote Jeremy asked about.

Tariffs

Trump signed orders on Thursday placing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, despite domestic and international objections and the threat of a trade war. The orders exempt Canada and Mexico and raise import levies by 25 percent for steel and 10 percent by aluminum.

Before this happened, Stefanik was asked about the tariffs. She said she doesn’t agree with them even though she believes because China is dumping steel. She said the U.S. needs to work with European allies to make sure the country’s ability to export continues to grow. (Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Stefanik said she agrees the tariffs are necessary.)

A caller named Stephen was concerned for Novelis, an aluminum producer in Oswego that supplies aluminum used in the Ford F-150 pickup truck. He said 75 percent of their source material comes from Canada and that they could go out of business if the price of importing the metal rose.

“I have concerns that this tariff will increase costs on consumers and that it potentially invites retaliation from other countries, which will hurt our ability to export,” Stefanik said. “Particularly as a northern border district, this could incentivize Canadian firms in our district to leave.”

Russia investigation

Charles, a veteran, asked Stefanik, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, what she knows about the investigation into Trump’s connections with Russia, saying it has “drug on” and that he believes there is no evidence that Trump did anything wrong.

He added that the only wrongdoing he sees is in Hillary Clinton’s campaign, the Obama administration and the investigation’s special council Robert Mueller. He did not specify the wrongdoings he believes these three entities are guilty of.

Stefanik reiterated her feelings that Russia poses a serious threat to the U.S. through cyberwarfare and that she will follow the facts of the investigation “wherever they lead.”

“In one of the earlier open hearings where we had the director of the FBI and the director of the NSA I was concerned and I asked questions of then-director James Comey as to why information wasn’t shared sooner with Congressional leadership when he was aware that there were Russian active measures, whether it was the hack of the [Democratic National Committee’s emails] or whether it was potential counter-intelligence investigations that had been opened up about presidential campaign surrogates.”

Stefanik was talking about, without being specific, the FBI’s investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is cooperating with the investigation.

Stefanik said the DNC hack was “information warfare” and “a very concerning use of disinformation.”

Stefanik voted to release the Rebublican memo regarding the investigation which drew the ethics of investigators into question and was deemed “extraordinarily reckless” by the Justice Department. She voted twice against releasing the Democratic memo that was written in response, but she later joined a unanimous vote to release it.

Environment

Executive Director of the Adirondack Council Willie Janeway asked Stefanik what she is doing to protect federal funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, which supports acid rain research and recovery in the Adirondack Park.

Stefanik said she is committed to fighting for state and federal funding for the efforts and praised the District’s natural landscape.

Another caller asked how she plans to wrest control of the EPA, Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture’s budgets from chemical companies.

Stefanik said there have been times when the EPA has overreached with its regulations, impacting farmers, but that she does not agree with the EPA cuts president Trump has included in his budget.

She was also asked how she will steer the district away from fossil fuels. She said she likes the use of biomass and helped Fort Drum become the only army installations fully supported by renewable energy. When this title was threatened by an amendment she said she was able to defeat the amendment.

Veterans

A 13-year-old constituent names Sarah asked Stefanik about how to help homeless veterans. Mentioning that NY21 has the highest number of veterans of any New York District, Stefanik said there is a need for more women’s veteran facilities in the district and that abandoned properties should be re-purposed for veteran use.

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