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Stefanik, Cobb clash over Trump’s church photo-op, tear-gassing protesters

(Photos provided)

North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik praised President Donald Trump’s walk from the White House to a historic church Monday — a walk enabled by police and the National Guard using tear gas and flash-bang grenades to chase away people protesting the police-involved killing of an unarmed black man in Minnesota. At the same time, Tedra Cobb, a Democrat from Canton running against Stefanik in the November election, said the congresswoman and Trump “are wiping their asses with the constitution.”

The crowd in Lafayette Square, in front of the White House in Washington, was protesting the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in handcuffs as a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

As the protesters were being cleared out, Trump spoke in the White House Rose Garden and promised to deploy the military to stop rioting and looting around the country in the wake of Floyd’s death. He then walked through the newly cleared Lafayette Square for a photo shoot in front of the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, which had been set on fire in the rioting the night before.

Stefanik, a Republican from Schuylerville, in a tweet called this “an incredibly important moment,” adding that St. John’s is “an extraordinary church where every President has prayed including Abraham Lincoln during the scourge and tragedy of the Civil War.”

Cobb wrote on Twitter that Trump and Stefanik “are wiping their asses with the constitution tonight.”

“Deploying the US military to police our streets is unconstitutional and unacceptable,” Cobb wrote. “(Trump and Stefanik’s) idea of ‘ending lawlessness’ involved tear-gassing and firing rubber bullets at American citizens. All for the sake of a cheap political stunt. Their goal isn’t to unify, it is to divide.”

Stefanik declined to personally comment on Cobb’s statement for this article, but her spokeswoman Madison Anderson wrote in an email that “Stefanik will continue her bipartisan and unifying leadership on behalf of the North Country, which is in stark contrast to her opponent who issued a tweet that is so repulsive, it’s not even fit to print.”

Cobb said she was horrified that Stefanik said on Monday that Trump had “struck the right tone.'”

“In the past several days the president has said some remarkably disturbing things,” Cobb said. “He said he was going to ‘unleash the dogs,’ he retweeted a (video) that said ‘the only good democrat’ was a dead one, and then he tear-gassed American citizens and members of the clergy to secure a photo-op.

“Honestly, I find it absolutely horrifying that Elise Stefanik refuses to acknowledge how wrong the president(‘s) actions are,” Cobb said.

Earlier Monday, before Trump’s Rose Garden address, Stefanik told reporters in Plattsburgh that she hoped the president would call for unity. She also said she thought his remarks needed to be “specifically focused on his criminal justice reform record, but also how we need to listen as a nation and the importance, historically, of the civil rights movement, focusing on peaceful protests and not destruction of property.”

Trump did not talk about criminal justice reform, civil rights or First Amendment rights. Rather, he talked about bringing in the military to enforce law and order, and said he would protect the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Cobb said she has worked in tense environments as a corrections counselor at a prison in Ogdensburg, and that the goal is always to deescalate situations, not to “stir up fear.”

Cobb said she knows she running in a “Trump district” and that her stance is not a decisive campaign issue, and may even be unpopular.

“But this isn’t about left versus right,” Cobb wrote. “This is about right versus wrong. … The past several days have shined a momentous spotlight on the inequity and injustice of this America. … We can not let this go unchallenged.”

Stefanik has called for the officers involved in Floyd’s death to be prosecuted “to the absolute fullest extent.” She also said there should be zero tolerance for racism, “whether it’s racial slurs or racial messaging.”

“My heart breaks,” Stefanik said, “America’s heart breaks for George Floyd and his entire family.”

“The heinous tragedy of George Floyd’s senseless death should never happen in America,” Stefanik wrote in a May 29 tweet. “Or anywhere in the world. The perpetrators must be criminally prosecuted to the fullest extent. … In the North Country, we have dedicated local law enforcement who are deeply connected to and have earned tremendous respect in our community for their fair and just public service to ensure the safety and security of all.”

Cobb said she is not yet sure she has the answers for what legislation should be passed to change police brutality in America.

“We need someone who will let the black community know we will stand with them,” Cobb said.

Cobb said she does not support violence, from police or protestors, but she wholeheartedly supports the protests.

New York’s 21st Congressional District includes Fort Drum, the home of the 10th Mountain Division. Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton called for several Airborne divisions of the U.S. Army, including the 10th, to be deployed to stop looting, saying they should give looters, rioters and anarchists “no quarter,” a military phrase that implies killing instead of taking prisoners.

“This is not the job these brave men and women signed up to do,” Cobb said. “They fight every day to secure our freedoms.”

Asked if them being deployed against Americans would be fighting against freedoms, Cobb said, “We need to stand up when the president is clearly showing authoritarian tendencies.”

Stefanik declined to comment on the 10th Mountain Division for this article.

“He did not pray”

Trump’s trip to St. John’s did not have the blessing of church leadership, who said they were not told of plans for the photo ceremony.

Church members, including clergy, were part of the crowd gassed and attacked by police in Lafayette Square. That afternoon was peaceful, and protestors chanted, “You are the threat” at a line of riot police, who suddenly and without clear provocation rushed forward, tear-gassing and clubbing protestors, clergy and press alike.

Park police later said they charged because protestors were throwing water bottles at them and climbing a structure.

Church leaders also said they were insulted over Trump’s use of the Bible and church.

“He did not pray,” Mariann Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, told NPR. “He did not mention George Floyd. He did not mention the agony of people who have been subjected to this kind of horrific expression of racism and white supremacy for hundreds of years.”

Budde said the way he held the Bible, “It almost looked like a prop.”

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