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Ayotte Speaks Out On Early Re-Election Bid, SCOTUS Decisions, And Her 'Rising Star' Status

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

  Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte kicked off her re-election bid Tuesday night in Manchester.

She spoke with NHPR's Morning Edition about seeking a second term, and weighed in on last week's two historic decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Historically, this is a bit early to make an announcement. We’re still 17 months out from the election. Is this is a move as some have suggested to get a jump on your likely Democratic opponent Gov. Maggie Hassan, who’s embroiled in her own state budget battle?

My timing really isn’t dependent on my potential opponent. This is something we’ve been putting together for a while and after making the decision to run for reelection with my family, I want to get out and continue to listen to New Hampshire voters and continue getting their feedback. That’s why I’m making this announcement now.

Let’s move on to the two landmark rulings last week from the U.S. Supreme Court. Let’s start with the decision on Obamacare, which upheld subsidies for those buying plans on federal exchanges. That includes 30,000 Granite Staters. What’s your reaction to the ruling?

My reaction is that the ruling was on the subsidies, but it doesn’t really address some of the underlying concerns I’ve heard about the law itself from Granite Staters, including issues like higher deductibles, higher premiums, and people who had plans before that they wanted to keep and it hasn’t worked out for them. So I think there are still a number of issues that need to be addressed with this law.

But do you think it’s a good thing that those subsidies will remain for those people?

Well, even the legislation that we were working on as a Republican alternative that would have given people greater choice and introduced allowing more competition and really putting the choice back in the people’s hands would have extended to make sure that the people who were receiving subsidies now until at least the next presidential election, they wouldn’t have been left without them. Certainly, nobody wanted to see anyone have an immediate harm from this. But in terms of the plain language of the statute, I was surprised by the Supreme Court’s ruling just because I think it was different from what the statute said itself.

Let’s move on to the ruling on same-sex marriage. The ruling legalized it in all 50 states. Do you agree with the decision?

I believe in traditional marriage. I respect the court’s decision. Certainly, in the Senate I’ve been supporting measures to make sure New Hampshire’s legally-married, same-sex couples if they move to another state can get the same access to federal benefits and benefits they would have here in New Hampshire having been married here. I think this is an issue that New Hampshire’s decision and I certainly respect New Hampshire’s decision on that and it’s consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision.

There are now states arguing those who hold religious beliefs against same-sex marriage should not be forced to perform them. Do you believe religious rights trump the individual right to marry?

First of all, we have a First Amendment to the Constitution. Respecting people’s religious freedom is part of that First Amendment and an important part of it, but I think we can respect people’s religious freedom and still certainly adhere to what the court has said.

We saw the tragic shooting in Charleston, South Carolina of nine black people in a church by a white young man with apparent white supremacy ties. Should the Confederate flag come down from the state capitol?

Absolutely, the Confederate flag should come down. It probably should have come down a long time ago.

You took some criticism back here at home for refusing to support stronger gun control measures after the massacre in Newtown back in 2012. Does what happened in Charleston change your perspective at all on this issue?

I think if you look at what happened in Charleston from what I understand he legally obtained that gun so none of the laws we were debating in Washington really would have unfortunately impacted his access to a gun. However, I’ve been focusing very much on fixing our broken background check system and that’s the legislation I supported. I want to more aggressively prosecute those who do violate the laws. And also I want to improve our mental health system. None of us know all the facts of what happened in Charleston, but I know that we can benefit as a state from a stronger and better mental health system. Those are where I’ve been focusing my efforts in Washington.

You said Congressman Frank Guinta should step down, a call he ignored from you and others in the Republican Party. In fact, he says he plans to run again and is seeking donations. State GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Horn calls him untrustworthy. Is his continued presence in Washington dividing the party?

I don’t think that he’s dividing the party. I just think that if you look at what’s happened here, the public trust is so important to keep. It is time for him to step aside. This isn’t about dividing the party; this is about doing the right thing. When you’ve violated the law and lost the public trust, it’s hard for you to represent your constituents. That’s why I called for him to step aside and obviously I’m disappointed that he’s chosen not to do that.

You’ve been attacked in recent days by Democrats as having a “cozy relationship” with special interests in Washington. How do you respond?

These are just false partisan attacks. I still live here. I live in Nashua with my kids. I commute to Washington. I do town halls throughout our state. And I’ve been focusing on working across the aisle. In fact, two independent studies have ranked as me as one of the most bipartisan Senators. I work with people to get things done for people in New Hampshire and that’s going to continue to be my focus.

You’ve been called a rising star in the GOP. Do you have any aspirations of being on a national ticket some day?

I do not. I am announcing my reelection for the United States Senate to serve New Hampshire today and that’s what I want to do. I want to serve the people of this state. There’s so much work to be done and to work across the aisle to get things done for people in New Hampshire and our country and that’s really what I want to do.

Michael serves as NHPR's Program Director. Michael came to NHPR in 2012, working as the station's newscast producer/reporter. In 2015, he took on the role of Morning Edition producer. Michael worked for eight years at The Telegraph of Nashua, covering education and working as the metro editor.
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