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How The Impeachment Inquiry Is Shaking Up Rep. Elise Stefanik's Race For Reelection


One member of Congress has become a breakout star of the impeachment inquiry - Representative Elise Stefanik, a Republican from upstate New York and a staunch defender of President Trump. She's been praised in conservative circles for her questioning of witnesses. There is a downside to all the attention, though. Her Democratic challenger has seen a surge of support, and that is shaking up Stefanik's race for reelection. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Elise Stefanik is a relatively unknown congresswoman from a rural district so far north, it touches the New York-Canada border. As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Stefanik made it clear she thinks President Trump did nothing wrong with the shadow Ukraine policy. In today's hearings, Stefanik again tried to shift attention away from Trump to the Bidens.


ELISE STEFANIK: I know that my constituents in New York 21 have many concerns about the fact that Hunter Biden, the son of the vice president, sat on the board of a corrupt company.

MANN: Stefanik hasn't shown much interest in testimony from U.S. diplomats and White House staffers alarmed by President Trump's actions. Instead, she's argued Trump was making a good-faith effort to fight corruption.


STEFANIK: So for the public listening, we are not just talking about President Trump focusing on anti-corruption in Ukraine. But it is so critical, so important that hard-earned taxpayer dollars...

MANN: Stefanik has also clashed repeatedly with Democrat Adam Schiff, the committee chair, claiming the impeachment process itself is unfair. Here she is on Friday.


ADAM SCHIFF: You're not recognized.

STEFANIK: This is the fifth time you have interrupted members of Congress, duly elected members of Congress.

SCHIFF: Gentlewoman is not recognized.

MANN: Stefanik's combative performance drew praise from conservative media figures, including Sean Hannity on Fox News and Rush Limbaugh on his national radio show.


RUSH LIMBAUGH: So Ms. Stefanik, the Republican woman congresswoman, wants to ask her some questions. You can't...

MANN: In fact, Stefanik was speaking out of order there and later had an equal amount of time to ask her questions under the committee's established rules. But her clash with Schiff pleased President Trump, who tweeted that Stefanik is a new Republican star. As her star was rising, however, critics began taking aim.


NICOLLE WALLACE: And Elise Stefanik wants to send Adam Schiff to unanimous consent jail.

MANN: While Stefanik's performance was being praised on Fox News, it was being panned on MSNBC by Nicolle Wallace and Chris Matthews.


CHRIS MATTHEWS: They tried to yield to Stefanik so she would do her usual hit job.

MANN: Democrats on social media quickly realized Stefanik has a challenger for her House seat, a woefully underfunded former county legislator named Tedra Cobb. Over a 72-hour period, Cobb saw her Twitter following surge from 6,000 to more than a quarter million people. She used her sudden reach to pounce on Stefanik with a campaign video on social media.


TEDRA COBB: During these impeachment hearings, Elise Stefanik has demonstrated that she's just a partisan politician and part of the problem in D.C. We can do better.

MANN: By Sunday night, Cobb's campaign hauled in more than a million dollars in donations, including support from actors like Zach Braff, Rosie O'Donnell and Mark Hamill, the guy who plays Luke Skywalker. This is still a Republican-leaning rural district in upstate New York. Stefanik, the incumbent, has the clear advantage. But if she champions Trump through the impeachment hearings ahead, Stefanik faces a suddenly energized Democratic opponent back home.

Brian Mann, NPR News, Westport, N.Y. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.
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