PLATTSBURGH — North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) said her and America’s hearts break for George Floyd and his family, and that the officers involved in his death need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent.
“This nation is grieving together," she told media following a tour of Mold-Rite Plastics in Plattsburgh Monday.
"We need to do better to root out any form of racism that we see in our communities or across this country.”
Floyd, an African-American man, died in Minneapolis last week after a white police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes while he was handcuffed, lying face-down on the ground.
His death sparked protests that have continued and spread across the country, with some escalating to rioting and looting in places like Minneapolis, Philadelphia, New York City and Washington, D.C.
Stefanik said Americans have the right to peacefully protest, citing such events that have happened in the 21st Congressional District, and that those who do so have an important message to listen to.
But she was concerned by the “anarchy” that has resulted in destruction of property, referring to how Congressman John Lewis (D-Georgia), also a civil rights leader, has said that is not the answer.
“We need to have constructive dialogue as community leaders at the most local level, but also at the national level.”
Asked what she wanted to hear from President Donald Trump, who did not speak publicly Sunday, Stefanik pointed to the remarks he made at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida Saturday following the SpaceX rocket launch about coming together.
She said his comments struck the right tone, but added that she does want to hear the president address the nation directly, hopefully soon.
“I think he needs to do remarks 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.”
In order to stem the flames of the riots, it is important for elected officials to make public statements regarding the crisis and destruction of property and for the community to engage in constructive conversations, Stefanik said.
“When it comes to any instance of racism, and our law enforcement community needs to be a part of that discussion.
“Our law enforcement locally has very good community relationships and based upon my conversations this morning with some of our law enforcement leaders, they are committed to having those conversations and listening."
Stefanik said she believes people can get safely back to work, and part of the reason she visited Mold-Rite Plastics was to highlight best practices and ensure they were being shared between small businesses, manufacturers and farm-related businesses.
But she noted the underbelly to the COVID-19 crisis, including increases in domestic violence and child abuse.
“We need to make sure that we are addressing all of those issues and I think one of the most important things we can do is to ensure a safe path towards reopening.”
TESTED BEFORE LAUNCH
Stefanik attended the SpaceX launch in Florida over the weekend, and pictures posted to her social media accounts showed her, fellow members of Congress and the parents of one of the astronauts standing close together without masks.
She said she was tested for and confirmed as negative for COVID-19 that morning.
“Anytime you interact at the White House, you’re tested," Stefanik explained.
"And the same thing for NASA … for the safety and health for the mission control workers, for the astronauts and their families.”
Stefanik said it was her sixth time being tested for COVID-19, and that though she had not yet taken an antibody test, she would consider it.
“The more information, the better.”
Stefanik was optimistic that there would be a fourth bipartisan COVID-19 relief package, and believed that aid for state and local governments would “land pretty close” to the legislation she is co-leading to establish the State and Municipal Assistance for Recovery and Transition (SMART) Fund.
The $500 billion SMART Fund, which has bicameral and bipartisan support, would provide funding to every state, county and community.
“What’s really important from my perspective is making sure that, regardless of the size of the municipality or the county, that even small communities qualify,” Stefanik said.
“If you’re a small county in this, my district, you’ve still had to take on significant costs ... on the public health side, and also just the economic impact is dire.”
The congresswoman added that it would be important for federal support to be available for small businesses, such as hotels or restaurants, who need to update their operations as they reopen.
Stefanik does not support extending federal unemployment compensation that gives people collecting payments an additional $600 per week past July.
“I think the focus should be getting people back to work and we’re looking at policy proposals to provide some sort of bonus going back to work."
Stefanik said the U.S.-Canadian border, set to remain closed until at least June 21, must be safely reopened.
She floated ideas like temperature checks and symptom questionnaires that she has to undergo when entering certain buildings in Washington, D.C.
The congresswoman also suggested utilizing the strong relationship between U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the agency’s Canadian counterpart to update operations.
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