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Rep. Claudia Tenney loves curling and she’s not ashamed to admit it

‘Everybody’s watching everything else, and I’m watching curling,’ New York Republican says

Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., came back to Congress in 2020 after one term away. She lost to Democratic challenger Anthony Brindisi in 2018, but narrowly defeated him two years later in a rematch.
Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., came back to Congress in 2020 after one term away. She lost to Democratic challenger Anthony Brindisi in 2018, but narrowly defeated him two years later in a rematch. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

It happens like clockwork every four years. A debate engulfs the nation. The two sides mock and deride one another, while comedians and the disengaged crack jokes from the sidelines. 

We are, of course, talking about curling, that Olympic sport loved and loathed in equal fervor by its partisans. Is it a “real” sport? Does it deserve to be in the Olympics? You honestly enjoy watching this? 

Claudia Tenney does. The high school curling champion will be rooting for Team USA as they aim to brush aside their opponents in Beijing and turn their granite stones into gold medals. 

Heard on the Hill sat down with the congresswoman from New York back in November. Besides curling, Tenney talked about her close elections, running as a Trump Republican and what she means when she calls herself a “constitutionalist.”

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Q: I heard you were a curler growing up. 

A: I was the 1975 teenage curling champion in Utica. I had the old broom from the old days — we didn’t use the push brooms. But I love to watch curling in the Olympics. Everybody’s watching everything else, and I’m watching curling.

Q: What do you think about how the sport is covered? Do people take it seriously enough?

A: So the thing with curling is they don’t cover them like they’re athletes, but they really are very athletic now. If you’ve ever curled — which by the way, I want to have a fundraiser or event at this curling club in Maryland, and I could show you all how to throw the stone — it’s not easy. It used to be associated with people drinking a lot, but really it’s very athletic, very precise. It’s like shuffleboard on ice. 

There’s one lobbyist on the Hill, who I probably shouldn’t name, who teases me all the time about it. I was in the drug store last year and found one of those massage things, and it had a seal on it that said, “Used by the USA curling team.” So I sent it to him. I said, see this is a legitimate sport. When the men’s team won the gold medal [in the 2018 Olympics], I gave everybody “Miracurl on Ice” T-shirts. I had fun with those. 

Q: You’ve had a lot of jobs, including lawyer, consulate aide and newspaper publisher. You helped manage your family’s packaging company, and you were a legislative staffer and state assemblywoman. You’ve bounced around a lot. How did you end up in politics?

A: I didn’t bounce around a lot. I’m 60 years old, so it was a natural progression. I went to law school, and then I fell in love with Yugoslavia. I worked for the consulate and worked on the Olympics in Sarajevo, and just got really involved in that region. When I went home, I helped resettle a lot of the Bosnian refugees and did the first Bosnian newspaper in Utica.

I never really thought I’d be in politics, although my father was. He was the Republican county chairman and a judge. But once we sold our newspaper division in 2004, I was offered a position with former assemblyman [David Townsend]. And at that point, I was getting divorced. I was already single, and I had my parents across the street — my dad was sick, and my mom had health problems. My son was young. I was doing all those things at once. So I took the job as his chief of staff and legal counsel, which in the assembly was a part-time position — it wasn’t really wasn’t part time, but I was paid part time. And then when he retired, I ran for the spot.

Q: You won your race in 2020 by 109 votes, in the old 22nd District. Most members from swing districts tend to run as moderates even if they’re actually not. But you didn’t. You ran as a steadfast conservative. 

A: I don’t run as a conservative. I run as a practical business person and a constitutionalist. I mean, I’m not in the Freedom Caucus. I’m certainly not in their category.

I’m not in this for a career. I’d probably make a lot more money in the private sector. I’m in it because I care about our business community and the people in my region. We once had a lot of prosperity, we once had a lot of opportunity. I’m more of the Trump type — I’ve always been very strong on the trade issue. The first shovel in the ground to build the Erie Canal was in my district, IBM was founded there, Revere Copper is there but not to the level it was. We’ve lost so much of that, and bringing it back is the challenge.

Q: When you say that your primary focus is doing what’s constitutional, what does that really mean for you? It’s one of those terms that people hear and then assume a lot.

A: I look at the freedom index, the consequences that a decision or a vote or a bill will have on taking freedom away from someone and the balancing of that. Why are we doing that? This is a government that is supposed to be self-governing.

Sometimes the Constitution doesn’t always have a pretty result. It doesn’t necessarily have a conservative result. But it’s really about freedom and individual rights, versus collectivism and collective rights and government control. 

The more we move away from the ability of the individual to have any rights, the harder it’s going to be to preserve those rights in the long run. And I lived in Yugoslavia. It was a communist country. If you disagreed with Tito, you were often sent to this island out in the middle of the Adriatic, and they tortured you and some people died. They always say he was a benevolent dictator, but no. I’ve sat there and seen the inefficiencies because there was no entrepreneurship, no market economy. Filthy conditions, waiting in line for food, no service in restaurants because the guy that sits in the back and falls asleep gets paid exactly the same as the one hustling. I just see us sometimes moving in that direction — not because we want to, but because we’ve allowed government to become so large.

Quick hits

Last book you read? “Rigged” by Mollie Hemingway. And I’m actually reading Bret Baier’s book “To Rescue the Republic,” the one on Ulysses S. Grant. 

In politics, can the ends justify the means? No, I’m not Machiavellian like that. I think the Constitution has to justify lawmakers’ decisions. 

Least popular opinion? The best Olympic sport is curling. 

If you could do anything else for a job, what would it be? I’ve always wanted to have a horse farm, and I’ve expanded that to any kind of animal rescue — horses, dogs, cats, donkeys, goats. And I also would love to have people who are vulnerable, like children with rare diseases, be able to come to the farm.

Closest friend across the aisle? Mike Thompson from California or Juan Vargas. I had a gap term, so I wasn’t here, and then things changed with COVID-19. We don’t get to really interact as much as we used to.

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