CHISHOLM — Earlier this week, Minnesota Representative Pete Stauber fielded questions on the potential closure of Hibbing Taconite Co., the impacts of tariffs and his take on impeachment.
Stauber is a 53-year-old Republican representing taxpayers in his hometown of Hermantown in addition to micropolitans like Duluth and rural Iron Range cities in the gigantic landscape of the Eighth Congressional District. More than nine months after being elected to office, he’s nearing the end of his freshman year in Congress and has begun to make more political rounds as he squares off against three Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidates aimed to challenge him for the seat up for election in 2020.
On Tuesday morning, Stauber spoke before roughly 50 people at the “Coffee with a Congressman” event at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm. Both the Hibbing and Laurentian Chamber of Commerces hosted the continental breakfast and moderated Q&A that took place shortly after a similar event featuring members of the Range Delegation. Below, the Hibbing Daily Tribune breaks down five takeaways from the chamber session.
Stauber attempts to play the middle ground
President Donald J. Trump made several trips in 2018 to Duluth to campaign for Stauber to become only the second Republican to win his congressional seat in 72 years. Despite his much publicized connection to the president, Stauber has been publicly defining himself as a bipartisan politician.
Still, Stauber’s voting records show that he mostly followed GOP direction this past year. For example, he backed Trump’s trade scrap with China, a move that earned him continued support from U.S. Steel and Cleveland-Cliffs. (Cleveland-Cliffs co-sponsored the chamber session.) He also showed support for the proposed PolyMet and Twin Metals copper-nickel mining projects, opposed a House resolution seeking to condemn the president’s remarks against his congressional colleague, Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN), cheered for the Trump administration’s repeal of an Obama-era clean water regulation and called the impeachment inquiry “irresponsible.”
Last month, Trump gave a 102-minute speech at Target Center in Minneapolis, where he voiced his opposition against a Democratic-led impeachment inquiry. He also took verbal shots at former Vice President Joe Biden, Omar and refugee resettlement programs. Stauber and Representative Tom Emmer (D-MN), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, had flown into town with the president on Air Force One and remained in his corner throughout the event. On Oct. 31, Stauber joined Emmer once again and Representative Jim Hagedorn (D-MN) in voting against a resolution that aimed at furthering an impeachment process of the president. (Representative Colin Peterson (D-MN) strayed from his party members to become one of two Democrats in the nation to vote against the resolution.)
Yet this week, Stauber appeared to toe party lines. “It’s about being bipartisan,” he said when discussing his congressional record of introducing the most bills in his freshman class. He said that “90 percent of all legislation” he introduced this year have been sponsored by Democrats. He also mentioned his friendships with Representatives Jared Golden (D-ME) and Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ), the latter being the second Democrat to vote against the impeachment resolution. “They’re good friends of mine,” he said.
Stauber also paraphrased a saying from the late Minnesota-born, Olympic-winning hockey coach Herb Brooks, “the name on the front of the jersey means more than on the back and my jersey says U.S.A.” He continued, “We can have our difficulties, but understand one another through good conversation.”
Stauber voted against the impeachment resolution
When asked why he voted against the impeachment resolution, Stauber echoed the GOP argument that Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have been preventing members of Congress from attending their closed door hearings.
“Nobody is above the law,” Stauber said, expounding on his belief in the judicial system strengthened by his previous career in law enforcement. “But this is not a transparent and fair process.”
Stauber added, “For me, it was one of the saddest days as a House member to have that resolution come up.”
The previous week, he had posted his full statement to Twitter: “The American people deserve better than these Soviet-style impeachment proceedings. Today, I voted against the impeachment resolution as it would allow Schiff to continue to act as prosecutor, judge and juror and do absolutely nothing to provide this administration with the same due process rights which were afforded in past presidential impeachments.” Meanwhile, Schiff maintained that nearly 50 GOP members were authorized to attend the hearings.
Stauber’s latest words come as the House Intelligence Committee recently announced its plan to start the first public hearings on impeachment proceedings next week.
Stauber remains pro iron-ore and copper-nickel mining
Like most politicians on the Iron Range, Stauber has long plead allegiance to both iron and copper-nickel mining companies. He now seemingly sees that as a way to distance himself from new political opponents.
Last month, Quinn Nystrom, of Baxter, announced her congressional candidacy and said she was a DFLer in support of “labor” and had ties to local families working at HibTac. She also voiced her plan to arrange meetings and tours in order to gage whether voters favored proposed copper-nickel projects from Polymet and Twin Metals. “I’m not like Congressman Stauber and I won’t come into a huge issue and say we’re only listening to one side,” she said at the time.
At this week’s chamber session, Stauber dropped several statements about his pro-mining stance.
“Let’s unleash the economic engine.”
“We need to protect our economic driver, particularly in northeastern Minnesota.”
“Mining is the past, present and future.”
“Copper-nickel. That’s going to bring Super Bowl like numbers for the better part of 20 years.”
“People are trying to take away our livelihood. It’s not going to happen. I’m not going to let that happen.”
Stauber supports Trump on tariffs
“Tariffs have done tremendous,” Stauber said at the chamber session, adding that he has been part of the Congressional Steel Caucus which “has a positive view” of tariffs and its impacts on the steel industry.
Stauber’s comment came several days before U.S. Steel announced its elimination of several dozen nonunion management jobs at Minntac and Keetac taconite plants on Friday, citing “challenging market conditions.” The company recently released its third-quarter loss of $35 million, the first decline since Trump imposed tariffs on imported steel in 2018.
Stauber briefly mentions possible HibTac solution
HibTac — owned by ArcelorMittal, Cleveland-Cliffs and U.S. Steel — employs at least 735 workers and pumps about $450 million into the regional economy. In recent weeks, members of the Range Delegation — State Sen. David Tomassoni and Reps. Dave Lislegard and Julie Sandstede — said it would be nothing short of devastating if they ran out of iron ore by 2024. The three DFLers posited that local and state leaders along with the mining industry must come up with a solution to find leasable property near Hibbing. During the first chamber session, they talked about land-exchange ideas to give HibTac access to leased iron ore reserves currently controlled by U.S. Steel in Keewatin. Tomassoni said the “obvious thing to do is the land exchange” to extend the life of the mine.
At his event, Stauber said HibTac’s troubles present “a challenge, but also an opportunity.” He continued, “Many agree we have to work together, including the federal government. There’s a potential to acquire private lands...The steel industry needs it and northeastern Minnesota needs it.”