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Closing Arguments: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen

Senator Jeanne Shaheen
Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Just days before this election season comes to a close, we’re taking a few moments to hear closing arguments from candidates running for statewide office. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is running for a third term in the U.S. Senate. She spoke with NHPR's Peter Biello.

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Why should you be re-elected to the Senate for another six years?

I've worked hard throughout my career trying to make a difference for the people of New Hampshire, working with whoever is required in order to do that, whether it's helping the city of Concord get a grant to redo their Main Street. I worked with Steve Duprey and Mayor Bouley both, different sides of the political spectrum, helping to protect jobs at the Shipyard, inviting the Navy Secretary up here, and inviting the delegation when it looked like the President was going to take military funds from the Shipyard so we could continue to do the expansion of the dry dock there that we need to. I have worked with whoever in order to make a difference for people in New Hampshire and I'm really proud of all of the great work of my office trying to help individuals who have challenges getting through the federal bureaucracy.

And if you're re-elected and find yourself in the Democratic majority in the Senate, and Democrats control the House and the Presidency, what would your first legislative priority be?

I think we need to get this coronavirus under control. Everywhere I've been since it hit the UNited States, that's been the number one concern on people's minds and we're not going to get back to life as we remember it, we're not going to put people back to work and get the economy back again until we get the coronavirus under control.

And how do we do that? How do we get it under control?

I think we need more testing and contact tracing. We're making real progress on getting a rapid test that can actually be as accurate as the PCR tests, the longer tests, and get it quickly. We need to make sure we have that so people can test so we can figure out who might be testing positive and they can quarantine and isolate and the rest of us can go back to normal activities.

Lots of people are worried about the fate of Roe v. Wade with conservatives in the majority on the Supreme Court. Do you have a plan to ensure the right to safe abortions, and if so, what's that plan?

I'm worried not just about Roe v. Wade and whether the Supreme Court is going to take the decision of what to do with women's bodies from women, I'm also worried about the Affordable Care Act. I think it's going to be very challenging and what we need to do is think about action both at the federal level and at the state level to try and protect healthcare and protect Roe v. Wade.

On those two points, what do you think is within the realm of possibility of the federal government, first with respect to abortion rights and affordable healthcare?

It depends on who gets elected. If we have President Joe Biden and Democratic control in the US Senate, then there's going to be support for ensuring that we not only have access to healthcare for Americans to address both the cost and who can get access to that healthcare. If Donald Trump and Republicans continue to control the White House and the US Senate, and if they take back the House, then we have seen what they want to do. I mean, what's happening right now with the courts is the result of President Trump's inability to overturn Roe v. Wade in Congress, so now they're trying to do in court what they were trying to do in Congress because the people of this country spoke up.

We've heard that more than 500 children separated from their parents have yet to be reunited with them. What needs to be done for these children, and what will you do about it in the Senate?

It's outrageous, Peter, that we've had a policy under this administration that deliberately separated children from their parents as a deterrent to keep people from trying to get into the United States. If we think about what happened when Donald Trump took office, the number of people coming across the southern border was the lowest number that had been in decades, and I think we've got to reverse that policy. That has happened, but it's happened half-heartedly and we've really got to put a focus in on trying to return these children to their families. Finding out where they are -- it's my understanding that we don't know where they are. We've tried to pass legislation in the Senate to address this issue. There are a number of bills to try to do that, but because there has been a Republican majority, they haven't been willing to look at what can be done there.

Democrats are talking about huge reforms, including adding Supreme Court justices and ending the filibuster. What do you say to voters who may want to support you on Election Day but are a little concerned about these changes?

I've said I don't support court packing. But I do think we need to take a look at the court because there are issues with ethics on the part of our justices that need some reform. Joe Biden's suggestion of appointing a commission to take a look at the court is something may have some merit. I haven't seen how he wants to constitute that. But I do think there are some issues there that need reform.

What about the filibuster? Would you vote to end the filibuster?

No, I won't. Again, I think there are some places where it could use reform, but when I first got elected to the Senate, I was in the majority, and the filibuster stymied some things the majority wanted to do. But I've also been in the minority and I know that there are significant legislative changes that would've been reached by Mitch McConnell and the Republicans if we didn't have that filibuster. So I think we need to find a way to make it work better so it's not invoked on every single issue that comes before the Senate.

Early in your days in the Senate, you advocated for a graduated threshold on the filibuster. Is that something you're considering?

I think there are reforms like that that we can take a look at. One of the other things that we supposedly did that's never been enforced is that one person can hold up legislation from coming to the floor of the Senate. What we did several years ago when the Democrats were still in control was to say that if you are holding something up, you need to make that public, you need to tell people who you are and why you're holding it up. That's never been enforced. Now, my view is, if I'm going to hold up legislation, I want the world to know why I'm doing that, because there's going to be a very good reason. But there are things like that that would allow legislation to move if we were willing to actually enforce the changes that we've made.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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