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Sen. Shaheen on Ukraine, Build Back Better and the Supreme Court

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Senator Jeanne Shaheen

As Russia continues to amass troops on the Ukrainian border, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, has been involved in recent U.S. diplomatic efforts to address the situation. She spoke with All Things Considered host Peter Biello about tensions between Russia and Ukraine, in Ukraine, the Build Back Better infrastructure initiative, and her reaction to Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement from the Supreme Court.

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What would Sen. Shaheen like to see the Biden administration do regarding Ukraine?

Sen. Shaheen says there’s been an unprecedented diplomatic effort on the part of the U.S. and the Biden administration to try and defuse Russian aggression on the Ukrainian border. The administration has been coordinating with European allies, like Germany and former Soviet nations, to try and work with Russia to deescalate the situation.

Does Sen. Shaheen support sanctions on Russia?

Yes. Sen. Shaheen says she supports sanctions on Russia and Vladimir Putin and is co-sponsoring a bill with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) sanctioning Vladimir Putin personally, as well as those around him and military leaders who are part of this effort to invade Ukraine. That bill also hopes to financially hinder Putin and Russia by sanctioning certain banks in the country and targeting their access to the SWIFT System, the global system of monetary transactions.

President Biden’s Build Back Better plan includes $500 billion dedicated toward fighting climate change. What does Sen. Shaheen envision it will be used for in New Hampshire?

Sen. Shaheen says it could support more projects, like those at the wastewater treatment plant in Exeter, and toward ensuring New Hampshire infrastructure can withstand severe weather, like the winter storm expected this weekend.

Following the announcement of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement, what is Sen. Shaheen looking for in a new justice?

Sen. Shaheen says she hopes that person is an advocate for the First Amendment rights and reproductive rights. President Biden has expressed he wants to nominate a Black woman to serve as a Supreme Court Justice, and Sen. Shaheen says that “would be wonderful.”

Is Sen. Shaheen concerned that the public may currently view the Supreme Court as a partisan institution?

Yes. Sen. Shaheen says the way in which nominees for Supreme Court Justices were pursued in the last administration have given some the sense that the Court is partisan. She says she hopes the Justices will be held to the same “ethical standards” that others holding office are held to, like disclosure of finances and participation in organizations, and that she thinks the lack of an entity policing the Court needs to change.


A full transcript of the conversation is available below.

Peter Biello: Senator Shaheen, thank you very much for speaking with me.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen: Nice to be with you, as always.

Peter Biello: Senator, you visited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy this month with a delegation, and you've introduced legislation that would expedite the process of sending military equipment to Ukraine. Can you tell us a little bit about your main takeaways from that meeting?

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen: I joined a bipartisan delegation. I co-led it with Senator Rob Portman from Ohio. There were seven senators and we really went to show support for Ukraine. Several of us are members of the Ukrainian caucus in the Senate, but also to show there is bipartisan opposition to what Vladimir Putin is talking about doing in Ukraine. And we wanted to send a consistent, clear message that we are here to support our ally Ukraine, that we want to stand with our European allies in showing Vladimir Putin that we are not going to give him a veto over who joins NATO or what the future of Ukraine is going to be.

Peter Biello: So what would you most like to see from the Biden administration with respect to Ukraine?

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen: Well, I think the administration is working very hard on deterring an invasion. We all hope that we can prevent Putin from going into Ukraine. There have been a number of options offered for ways that the United States and Russia could move forward. And so it's up to him to decide whether he's going to go to war or not. There has been an unprecedented diplomatic effort on the part of the Biden administration to work with our allies in Europe, so I think that's been very important. I think the president has let Vladimir Putin know that he will be held accountable if he takes this action.

Peter Biello: I wanted to ask you about sanctions, that's one of the ways Vladimir Putin could be possibly deterred. If there was a bill proposed in the Senate or if it comes up to a vote soon, and some say it may, is that something you're prepared to support?

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen: It is. I'm co-sponsoring a bill with Senator Menendez that would sanction Vladimir Putin personally, as well as those around him and military leaders who are part of this effort to invade Ukraine. It would also put in place heavy sanctions on their financial transactions in Russia. It would look at sanctioning certain banks in Russia. It also raises the specter of the SWIFT System, which is the global system of monetary transactions, so it would put severe sanctions in place on Russia and on Putin personally.

Peter Biello: President Biden's signature legislation, Build Back Better, includes $500 billion that would be dedicated to fighting climate change. If that does pass in some form, what can we expect to see done with that money here in New Hampshire?

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen: Well, this morning I was in Exeter at their recently award-winning wastewater treatment facility that is going to address what is a problem in so many communities where in storms there are what are called "combined sewer overflows" that affect our water sources throughout the state. It's a huge issue, and it's become more of a problem with climate change because there are more of those kinds of events. I talked about the storm that's coming up this weekend that is going to, hopefully not be too much of a problem, but has the potential to create real havoc. And one of the things that we did in the infrastructure package was put in funding for resilience to help address some of those issues. And we talked about that a little bit this morning when I was in Exeter about how that funding is helping communities like Exeter as they're dealing with some of these long term investments that need to be made to ensure that we continue to have clean water, that we can deal with our waste, that we can address the changes in our climate that are affecting our infrastructure.

Peter Biello: Another domestic issue I want to ask you about Senator Shaheen, the public found out yesterday that longtime Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will be retiring soon. How do you envision the path towards nominating someone for his seat on the Supreme Court? Do you think we'll see a nomination approved as quickly as the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett was approved?

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen: Well, first of all, I want to thank Justice Breyer for his many years on the U.S. Supreme Court, 27 years on the Supreme Court, more than four decades as a judge, I very much appreciate the legacy that he leaves behind. I think there will be an effort to make sure that we have hearings on the nominee, whoever the president decides to nominate. I hope to have a chance to meet with that person. I think there will be plenty of time for due diligence, and I hope we will move forward as expeditiously as possible.

Peter Biello: And what are the qualities in a new justice that you'll be looking for?

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen: I want to know that somebody has an understanding of the rule of law, something that's critical, particularly right now in our democracy. I want to see what record that nominee may have with respect to some of the issues that I care about: First Amendment rights, a woman's reproductive rights. I want to know that that person is someone with high integrity who understands how our judicial process works. So, a lot is at stake as we look at what's coming up and the Supreme Court.

Peter Biello: President Biden, when he was running for president, said he would be interested in appointing a Black woman to the Supreme Court. Is that a sentiment you share?

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen: I think it would be wonderful. The more we can open the doors of our institutions to all Americans, I think the more it sends a message that this is a country of opportunity for everyone.

Peter Biello: And do you have any concerns about public perception of the Supreme Court and whether people believe it's become a partisan institution?

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen: I am concerned about that. It's not in the interest of the institution of the court for people to perceive their decisions as partisan and certainly given some of the decisions in the last few years, and given the previous administration's choices for the Court and the way those were pursued, there has been a perception that the Court is more partisan. I think the other, sadly, the other contributor to that is the failure of the Supreme Court to police itself with ethical standards. Right now, most officials in the federal government have ethical standards that we have to comply with. And those are, you know, everything from disclosure of income to other organizations that we're part of, the Supreme Court doesn't have that. I think that has contributed to the view that the Court has become more partisan.

Peter Biello: Well, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, I appreciate your time, thank you very much for speaking with me.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen: Nice to talk to you, Peter.

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