Brian Mann talked with Martha Foley about Stefanik’s support for Trump on The Eight O’clock Hour, 8/30/16
On the campaign trail this summer, Rep. Elise Stefanik has answered a smattering of questions on the fly about her support for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. These exchanges have been brief, and lacking in specificity. They usually come during what we in the news business call a “scrum.” That’s the hasty exchange between a politician and reporters that happens after a campaign event.
In those exchanges, the congresswoman has suggested that the topic of her support for Mr. Trump is a distraction from her own re-election campaign. “Look, I’m focused on my race,” she said earlier this month during a stop in Watertown. (Hear her full comments here.)
We disagree. We have repeatedly asked Rep. Stefanik for a focused, sit-down interview to talk in detail about why she thinks Mr. Trump would be a capable commander in chief. We’ve offered to provide our questions in advance. We’ve offered to conduct the interview at a time and place that matches her schedule.
She has refused. Here’s why we hope she’ll reconsider.
If elected, Mr. Trump would hold awesome power over the health, the safety, the legal standing, and the honor of thousands of North Country service-members living here in New York’s 21st House district.
These include soldiers with the 10th Mountain Division stationed at Fort Drum near Watertown or serving overseas, as well as National Guard reservists in many of our small towns. For those men and women, and their families, this is as local and personal as any issue can be.
If he’s elected, Mr. Trump’s policies and ideas will shape every aspect of their lives.
Rep. Stefanik is widely recognized as an expert on military and foreign policy issues within the Republican Party. She serves on the House Armed Services Committee. In that role, and in her capacity as Fort Drum’s most important voice in Washington, here are the questions we feel she needs to answer.
- When asked in March about his approach to foreign policy, Mr. Trump said his “primary consultant is myself and I have a good instinct for this stuff.” Given statements of this kind and his behavior and rhetoric on the campaign trail, do you view Mr. Trump a safe and sober leader, a man to whom we can trust the welfare of our troops? There is a very real possibility of military conflict in the years ahead. Would you be comfortable saying to the spouses and children of soldiers from the North Country that Mr. Trump is the right man to make life-and-death decisions on their behalf?
- Mr. Trump has said repeatedly that he will order service-members (including those from the North Country) to commit acts that include deliberately carpet-bombing civilian communities, targeting and killing women and children in reprisals related to suspected terrorist activity, as well as torturing detainees and military prisoners. These are widely considered to be illegal acts under international and US military law. Are you comfortable with these positions and the possible impact on soldiers from your district?
- Dozens of your Republican colleagues, including many of the most senior military, intelligence and diplomatic experts from within the conservative movement, have concluded that Mr. Trump is “dangerous” to our men and women in uniform, and would erode our nation’s safety as well as the integrity of our military. On what grounds do you disagree with them?
- You have suggested that the defense and foreign policy ideas of former New York Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent) would be worse than Mr. Trump’s. Please name some things Secretary Clinton has proposed (or done in the past) that would be riskier to our troops and to national security than disbanding NATO, accepting Russian expansionism, or ignoring the advice of our intelligence community when making military decisions, all of which Mr. Trump has said he may do?
- You have suggested that you support Mr. Trump in significant part because of party loyalty. (When asked about your support for his candidacy, you responded, in part, that you are a Republican.) Yet this is an election to choose the president who will hold authority over all our neighbors who serve in the military. In that context, why does Mr. Trump’s party affiliation matter, particularly if you disagree with him on key policy matters?
- There have been credible reports – some from within the conservative movement – that Mr. Trump maintains significant undisclosed financial ties to countries that the U.S. counts among our chief security concerns, including China and possibly Russia. Mr. Trump has declined to release his taxes or provide detailed information about debts owed to overseas lenders. Are you comfortable supporting Mr. Trump as commander in chief without that information being made public?
As we urge Rep. Stefanik to sit down with us and address these questions, it’s important to say again that this isn’t ‘gotcha’ stuff. These are issues of life and death and national security. These are questions central to Rep. Stefanik’s work representing the military families who live right here.
It’s worth pointing out that NCPR isn’t the only news organization urging our congresswoman to explain more fully her support for the Republican presidential nominee. In recent weeks, journalists and editors with the Watertown Daily Times, the Glens Falls Post Star, the Sun Community News chain of newspapers, and Time Warner Cable News in Watertown have all demanded a far more substantive explanation of the congresswoman’s decision to back Mr. Trump.
There’s a reason we’re pushing for answers. We live in a dangerous world. The North Country has suffered grievous losses since 9/11, with local troops serving and dying on the front lines in the war on terror and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our neighbors have paid a heavy price. They will almost certainly be asked to make more sacrifices in the years ahead.
Meanwhile, serious questions have been raised from within Rep. Stefanik’s own party and her own conservative movement about Mr. Trump’s character and fundamental readiness to serve as commander in chief. As Fort Drum’s voice, we need our congresswoman to speak fully and in detail about why she thinks the Republican nominee is the right man for the job.
In the interest of full disclosure, Brian Mann’s son Nicholas Mann, a college student at George Washington University, worked for part of the summer as an unpaid volunteer for the campaign of Democratic candidate Mike Derrick, one of Stefanik’s challengers in the 21st district House race.