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Sununu's Trip to D.C. Highlights Divide Between Corner Office, Congressional Delegation

SBA Administrator Linda McMahon on Twitter
After his meeting with the Small Business Administration, Gov. Chris Sununu said he’s also hoping to see that agency have a more prominent presence in New Hampshire. ";

Governor Chris Sununu spent Monday in Washington, meeting with leaders from a number of federal agencies: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon and officials from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Sununu said his goal, in part, was to make up for what he views as inefficient advocacy by New Hampshire's Congressional delegation.

"These types of trips are absolutely necessary,” Sununu told reporters on a conference call Tuesday recapping his day of meetings in D.C. “Right now, our federal delegation does a very poor job advocating for what our state needs. The administration is not listening to them. The only thing the administration hears from them is all the negativity that our federal delegation pushes. That is never going to get you a seat at the table and is never going to get good results for the state of New Hampshire."

While such public tension between the delegation and the governor’s office is rare, it’s reflective of a unique political dynamic at the state level: This is the first time New Hampshire’s been represented by an entirely Democratic Congressional delegation in more than a century, and it's happening while that Republicans hold full control of all chambers at the New Hampshire State House and in Washington.

Sununu said the delegation, however, is too often critical of the Trump administration, which hurts the prospect of maintaining an open conversation between the state and federal agencies.

"The members of the delegation are concerned about headlines," Sununu said. "I'm concerned about action. I'm concerned about implementation. I'm concerned about making sure, as a governor, we're implementing the policies that we need to with the flexibility we need."

This isn’t the first example of a rift between the governor and those representing the state in Congress.

Last week, all four members of the state’s federal delegation — including Sununu’s gubernatorial predecessor, Sen. Maggie Hassanpublished a letter criticizing Sununu’s decision not to have New Hampshire join the U.S. Climate Alliance.

Before the letter was released, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter and Congresswoman Annie Kuster issued individual statements condemning Sununu’s decision.

In terms of the substance of his conversations in Washington this week, Sununu said he spent part of the day cautioning officials at the EPA and the Department of Education about the potential impacts of program cuts under the Trump administration's proposed budget.

On the environmental side, Sununu said state officials have identified about a half-dozen programs that rely entirely on federal funding.

“Those programs would be gone under the current budget proposal,” Sununu said.

Sununu said the EPA officials signaled they would be advocating to restore funding to the programs at risk of future cuts under the Trump administration’s initial budget proposal.

“We made sure we were advocating, kind of line-by-line, through that budget, how some of these programs worked  for us, what the value of them to us were,” Sununu said. “We were reassured by them that they understood it. They were very happy that we came down and were able to talk in great detail about that.”

Casey McDermott is a senior news editor at New Hampshire Public Radio. Throughout her time as an NHPR reporter and editor, she has worked with colleagues across the newsroom to deepen the station’s accountability coverage, data journalism and audience engagement across platforms.

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