Stefanik, senators offer insights on president's speech

Rep. Elise Stefanik (right) talks Tuesday with her guests for the State of the Union address, (from left) twins Katie and Mary McCurry and their mother, Sadie McCurry. It was Stefanik's first time attending the president's annual speech.

PLATTSBURGH — Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, who attended her first State of the Union address Tuesday night, said she had to "pinch herself" to make sure it was real.

But the 30-year-old freshman quickly shook the stars from her eyes to offer some insights on President Barack Obama's speech.

She does not agree with some major issues.

"The president seems to offer a lot of rhetoric without results," Stefanik told the Press-Republican a day after Obama's nationwide address from the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Stefanik, a Republican from Willsboro, became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress when she defeated Democrat Aaron Woolf and Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello last November.

She replaced Democrat Bill Owens from Plattsburgh, who decided not to seek re-election.


Stefanik said that if the president were serious about working across the aisle with Republicans, he would not have mentioned four times during his speech that he would veto bills.

"That's a record," she said.

"The bills we've passed so far have been bipartisan."

One of them was support for the controversial Keystone Pipeline to bring oil down from Canada, which was supported by Democrats, including Owens, and Republicans.

Stefanik said the president should take some of his own advice about working across the aisle.


She also took issue with the president's plan to offer free community college.

"There is no such thing as a zero price tag," she said.

Stefanik, who graduated from Harvard, said she is concerned that the cost of free community college would wind up on states — and ultimately all taxpayers.

"I think a better approach would be to talk about college affordability," she said.

She also was concerned about a proposal that could wind up taxing people when they go to withdraw funds from college savings plans to pay for school.

"That is going to affect a lot of young people and families," she said.


Stefanik opposes the president's shift toward re-establishing relations with Cuba until human-rights violations in that country are addressed.

"It's a human-rights issue for me," she said.

"I am opposed to this policy change."

She also wants to see immigration reform that will help North Country farmers retain migrant workers without prohibitive costs and reform of the entire tax code, not just talk of closing loopholes for millionaires.

"All I heard was 'raise taxes,'" she said.


Stefanik said she is concerned about climate change and is pleased that China has signed on to help deal with the problem by cutting emissions.

"This needs to be addressed globally," she said.


She agrees with the president's desire to eliminate terror threats from ISIS and other groups that would harm the United States and pledged to do whatever she can to support Fort Drum in Watertown.

"That is a main concern of mine," she said.


Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, were left feeling bolstered by Obama speech Tuesday night, but Gillibrand wanted to see more.

"I had hoped the president would use this opportunity to demand that we also make college campuses safe," she said in a statement.

"Last week, I personally urged the president to shine a national spotlight on the need to flip the incentives that currently reward colleges for sweeping sexual assaults under the rug."

Gillibrand had Emma Sulkowicz, a young woman fighting to change the system on college campuses, as her guest at the speech.

"I will continue to fight to pass the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, a bipartisan bill that will finally force colleges and universities across the country to face this problem head-on with the goal of making safe campuses for America’s students a reality," Gillibrand said.


As for the speech itself, Gillibrand said the president presented a plan for anyone to get a fair shot at achieving the American Dream.

"As I travel throughout the state, New Yorkers tell me they are still struggling even as the economy begins to show signs of recovery," she said.

"They want action from Congress to ease the burden of the basic costs of living so they can provide for their families, afford to send their kids to college, work good-paying jobs and retire with dignity.

"Now, Congress must do its part to work together, Democrats and Republicans, to expand economic opportunity for hard-working families."

Gillibrand said the president's goals for an expanded middle class, a fairer tax system and a better shot for hard-working families should be welcomed by both parties.

"I am hopeful Congress will use his ideas as a starting point for real action," she said.


Schumer characterized the president's speech as optimistic, forward-looking and nonpartisan.

"President Obama didn’t point any fingers, and without any anger or negativity, he simply said, ‘Let’s come together for the good of America and the good of the middle class,'" the senator said.

"President Obama’s speech was uplifting for Democrats and for the country, and we hope our Republican colleagues will join us in coming together in the spirit of the speech."

Email Joe LoTemplio:

Twitter: @jlotemplio

Staff Writer at Press-Republican since November of 1985. Has covered just about all beats at the paper, including sports.Currently covers government and politics. Graduated from Plattsburgh State in 1985. Originally from Rochester, NY.

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