Ayotte says she's an 'independent voice,' cites disagreements with Trump in contrast with Hassan, ClintonBy DAN TUOHY
New Hampshire Union Leader
August 22. 2016 7:48PM
MANCHESTER — Pointing to her disagreements with Donald Trump, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, said Granite Staters will be hard-pressed to find instances where Democrat Maggie Hassan isn’t marching in lockstep with Hillary Clinton.
As Ayotte campaigns on her record since winning the seat in 2010, she refers to herself as an “independent voice” and a “common-sense conservative” who has worked across the political aisle. She noted she took on her own party caucus last September when she opposed Sen. Ted Cruz’s efforts for a government shutdown.
“Look at Maggie Hassan in this race, because I haven’t heard yet one time where she’s had a major disagreement with Secretary Hillary Clinton,” Ayotte said during an interview Monday at the New Hampshire Union Leader. “I don’t see her being an independent voice for New Hampshire or standing up to her own party in the way I have done on many occasions on behalf of this state.”
Ayotte has said she supports Trump, but will not endorse him. She was blunt when asked if Trump is honest and trustworthy.
“I think that he, you know, he certainly hasn’t had the big public issue as Hillary Clinton has,” Ayotte said. “Has he always been? No, I don’t think so. I think in some ways he has been, in terms of what he thinks. But you know, I can’t speak to his whole history. So I don’t know every single thing that he’s done, but you know I think that he clearly says what he thinks.”
Ayotte, a former attorney general whose husband is a former combat pilot, has spoken out against Trump before. After his criticism of a Gold Star family, Ayotte said she was “appalled that Donald Trump would disparage them and that he had the gall to compare his own sacrifices to those of a Gold Star family.”
Ayotte said Clinton is neither honest nor trustworthy; she faulted Hassan for a failure to answer that question when asked three times by CNN. Before and after that report, Hassan has called Clinton honest and trustworthy, but the GOP claims it shows a scripted candidate who only sticks to party talking points.
Hassan, a two-term governor and Clinton superdelegate, will never hesitate to stand up to her party when it is in the best interest of New Hampshire, her campaign spokesman Aaron Jacobs said. He referenced opposition to President Barack Obama’s proposed closure of the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Hassan calling for strengthening the vetting process for people entering the U.S.
“Meanwhile, Kelly Ayotte continues to support Donald Trump for President, even though members of her own party have made it clear that he poses a real threat to our national security, proving Ayotte puts party before the interests of New Hampshire,” Jacobs said in a statement.
Ayotte has a GOP primary challenger in former state Sen. Jim Rubens, R-Hanover, who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2014.
VIDEO: Sen. Kelly Ayotte sits down with the New Hampshire Union Leader to discuss her bid in the Republican primary for the United States Senate representing New Hampshire:
She said she is often asked about the distinction between supporting and endorsing Trump. An endorsement, she said, would involve actively campaigning for Trump, similar to what she did with 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
Ayotte continues to push back that a vote for Clinton and Hassan is a vote for a third term for the Obama administration, particularly when it comes to fiscal affairs and foreign policy.
Ayotte, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the U.S. must step up its attack on Islamic State terrorists, including better air strikes and making sure the rules of military engagement do not keep U.S. forces from taking out terrorist targets and enemy combatants.
She said the U.S. must do more to support the Kurds with military support, engage NATO more directly to counter and destroy terrorists, and be tougher on Russia, which she says is more interested in propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad than defeating ISIS in Syria and elsewhere.
Ayotte said Trump is correct when he says some NATO countries are not pulling their weight, but wrong in his thinking that Russia is a key ally in the fight against ISIS.
“He’s not right about Russia in the sense that I think Russia is a very strong geopolitical foe at the moment,” she said.
Ayotte said the U.S. cannot allow Syrian refugees into the country without guaranteeing they are not a member of ISIS. Those who disagree should look at Europe, she said.
“If you look at the flow of these refugees, they have inundated Europe. ISIS has also weaponized the refugees. They have infiltrated the refugees,” Ayotte said.
Besides vetting procedures, Ayotte said Congress and the next administration must tackle illegal immigration and pass comprehensive immigration reform. She voted for legislation in the past to double the amount of border fencing, double the amount of border patrol agents, and reform the entry-exit system, saying an estimated 40 percent of those in the country illegally overstayed their visa.
Ayotte said she would continue to oppose “sanctuary cities” for illegal immigrants, and she said Hassan supported efforts in the past to allow sanctuary cities.
She is referring to Hassan’s vote, as a state senator in 2008, to kill a bill that intended to outlaw the state and cities or towns from serving as a “sanctuary for illegal aliens.”
Jacobs, Hassan’s spokesman, said the problem is a patchwork of immigration laws and the inability of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. He noted there are no sanctuary cities in the state. Hassan “does not support unfunded mandates that would pass the onus of enforcing our immigration laws from the federal government to local law enforcement.”
Ayotte further criticized the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal, which Hassan supports. She wants reauthorization of Iran sanctions and remains skeptical that Iran is living up to the terms of the pact, citing Iran’s testing of ballistic missiles.
“They’ve done it with very little consequence, if any, from this administration,” Ayotte said.
Ayotte said she supports looking into ways to strengthen Social Security to maintain benefits for retirees and those approaching retirement, while ensuring its sustainability for future generations.
She is open to considering means testing and a review of the tax cap, and, for younger generations, possibly phasing in an increase in the retirement age.
“If we did nothing between now and then, then people would see a 25 percent cut in Social Security, and that wouldn’t be right,” said Ayotte, referring to reports that indicate inaction means trust fund insolvency by 2034.
A key component is increasing labor participation rates, which are the lowest since the Carter administration, according to Ayotte. She also is calling for tax and regulatory reform to improve the economy.