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Stefanik hopes Trump’s ‘strong speech’ leads to bipartisan action

President Donald Trump introduces Rep Elise Stefanik to speak before he signs the John McCain National Defense Authorization Act for the 2019 fiscal year in August at Wheeler-Sack Army Air Field, Fort Drum. (Provided photo — Daytona Niles, Watertown Daily Times)

North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik came away from Tuesday night’s State of the Union address by President Donald Trump feeling that a strong message was sent.

“I thought it was a very strong speech, and the president really called upon Congress to come together and work together on a bipartisan basis,” Stefanik said in a telephone interview shortly after the speech.

Areas of agreement

Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, said the president touched on many issues that both parties should agree on.

Better health care, more affordable prescription drugs, national security, better immigration policies and border security were all issues Stefanik mentioned as areas where agreements need to be reached.

The president talked at length during his speech about the need for a wall or some kind of barrier on the southern border with Mexico. The wall has become a major sticking point between the president and Congress, and led to a recent federal government shut down for more than a month.

Stefanik said when the issue is covered by the media, too often the focus is only on the wall, while the president has also talked about other barriers of some kind, increased border personnel and better technology.

“I support those principles,” she said.

Abortion position

Stefanik also said she hopes the president’s position on border security can lead to more discussions with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“I feel it was an olive branch to Speaker Pelosi to negotiate in good faith, which she has failed to do,” Stefanik said.

The president also said that he would ask Congress to prohibit late-term abortions, a reaction many feel to new laws in New York and Virginia that allow for such procedures in certain cases.

Stefanik, who describes herself as pro-life, said she does not support late-term abortions, and certainly does not support being allowed to abort babies after birth.

“I think the vast majority of the American public understands that it is not a policy that respects human life,” she said of late-term abortion.

Korea policy

Trump also claimed that if he had not been elected president in 2016, America would be at war with North Korea.

Stefanik said the president’s approach with North Korea is better than what happened under President Barack Obama.

“I think the previous administration’s policies towards North Korea clearly didn’t work,” Stefanik said.

“The president has approached this in a different perspective, and I believe we need to try something new. But I still believe we need to verify, verify, verify to make sure they are not producing nuclear capability, and as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I will continue to ask those questions.”

Gillibrand responds

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York who has eyes on the presidency in 2020, disagreed with Stefanik’s take on the speech.

“President Trump has had years to bring this country together, but instead he has chosen to divide the country across every single line he can imagine,” Gillibrand said in a statement.

“If President Trump wants to convince the country that he actually cares about bringing us together, then he can start by no longer using government workers as political pawns, reuniting the families that his administration ripped apart at the border, and stopping with political wedge issues like telling women they can’t make their own health decisions in consultation with their doctor.”

Bowman guest

Stefanik was impressed with the president’s guests at the speech, who were honored for a variety of heroics.

“They were just extraordinary stories,” she said.

“Incredibly inspiring regardless of what your political ideology is.”

Stefanik’s guest was Clinton County Veterans Services Administrator Steve Bowman. Bowman sat in the box next to the president’s box and had a firsthand view of the action.

“I was excited to have Steve Bowman there, and it was amazing for me to honor him, his service to the community and his service to our country,” she said. “It was amazing to watch.”

White outfit

Dozens of Democratic women members of Congress wore white to the address in honor of 100 years of women’s suffrage.

Stefanik, who at 30 was the youngest woman ever elected to Congress when she first won the 21st District seat in 2014, wore a white jacket to the address.

But she said it was not planned and she did not find out about the others wearing white until after she had decided her wardrobe.

“I did not coordinate it, but I support women’s suffrage and was proud to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.”