Stefanik, Cobb spar in final debate

Elise Stefanik and Tedra Cobb speak at a congressional candidate debate Oct. 19 at the WWNY television studio in Watertown. (Provided photos — Sydney Schaefer, Watertown Daily Times)

PLATTSBURGH — Much was made over the word “banning” during Congresswoman Elise Stefanik and Democratic challenger Tedra Cobb’s second and final debate hosted by NBC5 at the Strand Center Theatre Wednesday night.

During questions surrounding Second Amendment rights, Cobb, of Canton, said she would support legislation that would put in place universal background checks, close gun show loopholes and keep families safe.

Subsequently asked if she really believed Democrats would take away people’s guns, Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, replied yes, pointing to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s support of an assault weapons ban, as well as a 2018 video in which Cobb said assault weapons should be banned, but she could not say that publicly because she would not win the race.

Cobb retorted that she did not support such a ban and that she believed responsible gun owners’ rights should be respected.

“But I also believe that we should pass meaningful legislation, banning, uh –“ she paused, appearing to reassess her language.

“This is childish”

It was at this moment that Stefanik pounced.

“Banning, she said it herself. Banning. Banning, she said it herself. Banning assault weapons, what I’ve done — banning, she said banning,” the congresswoman finished, smiling.

Cobb clarified that she meant to say banning gun show loopholes.

“You know what, Elise? I’m not a career politician, and I will never lie about you or twist the truth about you,” she said.

“You said banning,” Stefanik interjected.

“I said the word banning. Elise, this is childish.”

Stefanik said Cobb “can’t even help it” and pointed to how she herself had voted to increase mental health funding and to fix the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Cobb shot back that Stefanik had voted against measures that Americans believe will keep people safe, pointing to her 2019 nay vote on the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.

Stefanik contended that bill expired due to anti-Second Amendment provisions.

Skipped intel meetings

NBC5 co-anchors Stephanie Gorin and Brian Colleran moderated the debate, which covered a broad array of topics.

Both New York 21st Congressional District candidates agreed in part on imposing term limits and what the next phase of federal COVID-19 relief should include.

But they sparred throughout, such as when Cobb went after Stefanik for skipping months of House Intelligence Committee meetings.

Asked why she did so, Stefanik said she and fellow Republicans had made “the correct decision that we don’t want to leak classified intelligence online” through virtual meetings.

“Tedra Cobb would follow (House Intelligence Committee Chair) Adam Schiff’s approach, which is to leak classified information which would put our troops at risk.”

Cobb argued that, if Stefanik had an issue with those meetings, she should have attended them and fought to make sure they were secure.

“You would leak to China, Iran and North Korea,” Stefanik said during an exchange during which the two talked over each other.

After Colleran intervened, Cobb went on to say that front-line workers were putting their lives at risk every day.

“And you did not show up for your job. If you were unhappy about it, then you should have figured something out.”

Across the aisle

Colleran questioned the candidates on whether they could work with presidents from the opposite party.

Stefanik pointed to her bipartisan voting record and how legislation she penned to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s auto-enrollment mandate passed in an appropriations package during the Obama administration.

Cobb said she would work with President Trump, referencing how, as a St. Lawrence County legislator, she worked with both Democrats and Republicans, passed an ethics law and helped lower prescription drug costs.

She contended that Stefanik had passed two pieces of legislation during her six years in Congress.

“She’s named a post office, and she’s minted a coin. Those are her signature pieces of legislation.”

Stefanik said Cobb was “woefully misinformed” and that she had passed multiple bills as part of both the National Defense Authorization Act and the appropriations package.

“Similar to her not understanding court packing, like she answered earlier this week,” Stefanik continued, referencing Monday night’s debate, “she doesn’t understand that, passing a bill, you can do it through appropriations, or you can do it on the House floor.”

Court packing

On whether she would support efforts to pack the Supreme Court with four justices to give it a liberal majority again, Cobb said her honest answer was “maybe” but that she did not want to.

“Unfortunately, right now in Washington (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell, this administration and enablers like Elise Stefanik have pushed through this nomination and instead of focusing on the needs of the people in this country in a global pandemic.”

Stefanik said voters deserved to know whether candidates are for or against court packing.

“I oppose court packing,” she said. “My opponent just two days ago did not know that court packing would be a vote in Congress.”

Roe v. Wade

Asked if she would welcome a decision from a conservative-learning court to overturn Roe v. Wade, Stefanik said the case was settled law and that she was both personally and legislatively pro-life, with the exceptions of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is in jeopardy.

She then went back to the court-packing question, saying Cobb refused to answer.

“Well, she said maybe, and she’s clear on that,” Colleran said.

“Maybe’s not an answer,” Stefanik replied.

“Well, that’s her answer right now,” he said.

As Cobb tried to interject, Stefanik repeated that, when you vote in Congress, maybe is not an answer.

She argued that Cobb would fill the seat, while Cobb said she would look at “every piece of evidence” to inform her decision.

Colleran pressed Stefanik further for a yes or no answer regarding Roe v. Wade.

“On court-packing, you’re going to let her get away with a maybe?” Stefanik said, before reiterating her pro-life stance.

One nice thing

Prior to closing statements, the candidates participated in a light-hearted lightning round that covered their favorite NY-21 foods, places and preferred pizza toppings.

Gorin asked them to name one nice thing they had to say about each other.

“I think that Elise Stefanik is driven,” Cobb said. “I think that she is focused and driven.”

“I think Tedra Cobb is a very dedicated mom,” Stefanik answered. “She speaks with passion when it comes to her children, and that’s something we can all admire.”


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