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NHDems Double Down on Late-Term Abortion, Ending Parental Notification

When Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced he was bringing the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) back up for another vote, Sen. Maggie Hassan quickly responded on Twitter.

“Preview: I’m voting yes.”

It was not a surprise. Hassan and her Granite State colleague Sen. Jeanne Shaheen were among the four senators who introduced the legislation last June, according to a statement posted on her website. And she already voted in February in a failed attempt to bring the bill to the Senate floor.

What might be a surprise to most New Hampshire voters, however, is what is actually in the WHPA. Among other things, the legislation Hassan helped introduce would:

  • Overturn state laws that limit abortion to either the first or second trimesters. States would have to allow legal abortion up to the day of birth.  As the pro-choice organization Equal Access to Abortion, Everywhere puts it, the WHPA “establishes a statutory right for health care providers to provide, and their patients to receive, abortion care free from medically unnecessary restrictions.”
  • Override nearly all state abortion laws, including parental notification laws like the one New Hampshire passed in 2011. As the WHPA states: “Access to abortion services has been obstructed across the United States in various ways, including … parental involvement laws (notification and consent).”
  • Weaken “conscience exemptions” to keep healthcare workers from being forced to participate in abortion procedures that violate their religious beliefs. The bill as introduced by Hassan and Shaheen explicitly supersedes the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“WHPA will essentially legalize abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy and undo every state law that has protected children in the womb,” according to the group Democrats for Life America.

And unlike many controversial issues where Hassan is careful not to articulate a clear, specific position, on the WHPA her stances — supporting abortion at any point during a pregnancy, without parental consent for minors, and forcing people of faith to participate in them — is in writing. And she voted with a majority of her fellow Democrats to bring the WHPA to the floor for a vote in February.

The same with Rep. Chris Pappas, who voted with every Democrat except one to pass the WHPA last fall.

While polls consistently show Americans say they oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, polls also show only a small percentage of Americans support abortions in the final months of pregnancy. Since 1996, Gallup has found more than 80 percent of Americans oppose third-trimester abortion, which would be a federal mandate in every state under the bill Hassan introduced and Pappas helped pass.

And a 2021 University of New Hampshire poll found Granite Staters support some restrictions on abortion vs. unlimited abortion on demand 58-38 percent.

During a radio interview with Jack Heath Thursday about the prospect of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, businessman and academic Vikram Mansharamani echoed the view of most Americans, based on polling data.

“If you look at the topic of abortion, you take a commonsensical non-political perspective I think, most would agree that a late-term abortion, partial-birth abortion, third-trimester abortion is not acceptable,” said Mansharamani, who is running in the GOP U.S. Senate primary. “I don’t think there’s a lot of people who think that is worth pursuing, but that is where Maggie Hassan and the Democrats are.”

The New Hampshire Democratic Party has been sending multiple press releases daily on the abortion issue since Justice Samuel Alito’s February draft of an opinion overturning Roe was leaked Monday night. They believe staking out a no-restrictions stance on abortion will help them motivate younger voters who tend not to turn out in midterm elections.

President Joe Biden, whose poll numbers are lower than any other post-war president at this point in a presidency, has strongly embraced this issue. “The idea that we’re going to make a judgment that is going to say that no one can make the judgment to choose to abort a child, based on a decision by the Supreme Court, I think goes way overboard,” he said Tuesday.

His message for the midterms: “It will fall on voters to elect pro-choice officials this November. At the federal level, we will need more pro-choice Senators and a pro-choice majority in the House to adopt legislation that codifies Roe, which I will work to pass and sign into law.”

The question is whether turning the November election into a referendum — not on general attitudes about abortion, but a specific law like the WHPA to mandate unrestricted abortion — will motivate more pro-choice liberals or pro-life conservatives?

Both Hassan and Pappas are polling underwater with New Hampshire voters. Their big problem is independents, where they have a 20-point approval deficit. Based on polling about how these voters view the difficult issue of abortion, staking out an extreme position on late-term abortion, parental consent and personal conscience may not be the best way to get those voters back.

Sununu Taps AG MacDonald For NH Supreme Court

Gov. Chris Sununu announced on Tuesday he’s nominating New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald to serve as the next Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, filling the vacancy created when Chief Justice Bob Lynn retires at the end of August. If confirmed, MacDonald would be the third Sununu pick to be placed on the bench, giving the governor a majority of appointees on the five-member court.

“Gordon has never been afraid to follow the path or take the action that he believes is right, even when that course may not be the easiest and even when some, including myself, may disagree with him,” Sununu said in a statement. “Our Department of Justice is stronger than ever due to Gordon’s leadership and independence, and I am confident that, if confirmed, Gordon will use his unparalleled legal talents and fair-minded approach to lead our judicial branch with distinction.”

Sununu will make the formal nomination at the Governor and Executive Council meeting on Wednesday, June 5.

In 2017 a bipartisan Executive Council voted unanimously in favor of MacDonald’s appointment to the AG’s office, and his nomination to the court was met with approval from both sides of the aisle.

“Gordon MacDonald is one of the better attorneys general this state has ever had, I hate to lose him,” Democratic state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro told NHJournal. “We win cases with him!  And he has endless energy. It’s an excellent pick.”

Ted Gatsas, a Republican member of the Executive Council, called it “a great nomination.”  When asked if he expected any opposition from his fellow councilors Gatsas replied, “You never know.”

Councilor Andru Volinsky, a Concord Democrat considering a run for governor in 2020, was reluctant to comment on MacDonald’s nomination in advance of a public hearing. But Volinsky voted (along with fellow Democrat Chris Pappas) to confirm MacDonald for the AG’s job and praised him at the time for his high ethical standards.

Given Volinsky’s ambitions, should New Hampshire expect the sort of “I am Spartacus!” hearings that U.S. Supreme Court nominations inspire down in DC? “We generally avoid the sort of partisanship you see in Washington,” Volinsky told NHJournal. “But I have pressed nominees hard in the past,” he said.

There have been some controversial nominees, however, most recently Dorothy Graham. In 2015 Graham, a former public defender nominated by Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), was rejected 3-2 by a GOP-controlled Executive Council over her handling of cases involving accused child rapists. Opponents argued that she was too aggressive in pursuing loopholes and technicalities attempting to reduce her clients’ sentences.

There are currently no dark clouds on the horizon for MacDonald. Former New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice Linda Dalianis, an appointee of Democratic Gov. John Lynch, said in a statement, “I have every confidence that he will be an excellent Chief Justice of New Hampshire.”

And longtime Republican strategist Jim Merrill told NHJournal that MacDonald “is one of the smartest and most honorable men I know and we are better for someone of his caliber agreeing to continue serving New Hampshire.

“Governor Sununu could not have made a finer nomination to the Supreme Court,” Merrill said.

NHGOP, Conservative Group Blast Hassan After Meeting With Supreme Court Nominee

U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan met with Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch on Monday to discuss issues important to the freshman senator from New Hampshire. Republicans were quick to criticize her statement about the meeting, saying it’s riddled with hypocrisies and calling on her to support a full Senate hearing for Gorsuch.

“I appreciated the opportunity to meet with Judge Gorsuch and to discuss the importance of a strong and independent judiciary,” Hassan said in a statement after the meeting. “In our conversation, I highlighted the critical role the judicial branch plays in protecting the civil rights of all Americans, including a woman’s constitutionally protected right to make her own health decisions. I also emphasized the importance of ensuring equality for LGBTQ individuals, as well as my concerns with the influence of unlimited corporate and dark money in American politics. I will continue to thoroughly vet Judge Gorsuch’s record and views throughout the hearing process.”

Hassan and her Democratic colleague, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, have expressed concerns about Gorsuch, but have also called for a full confirmation hearing and vote by the Senate.

“It is not in our interest to deny a hearing to Neil Gorsuch,” Shaheen said at a Friday town hall. “That’s what’s prescribed under the Constitution. Let me tell you something. I’m not going to go out and say it’s wrong for them and then say that it’s right for us.”

Last year, the GOP Senate leadership refused to hold a hearing or vote for former President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. There has been some discussion among Senate Democrats who want to filibuster or block Trump’s nominee, similar to what Republicans did to Garland. The GOP has been calling for an “up-or-down” vote on Gorsuch, meaning a direct “yay” or “nay” vote on him without any obstruction.

Hassan and Shaheen have not made a final decision on how they will vote for Gorsuch. His confirmation will require 60 votes, or a cloture vote, according to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“I think it is absolutely appropriate and right for us to do our constitutional duty and have a hearing,” Hassan said.

New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Jeanie Forrester is going to hold Hassan to her promise, noting that last year, the former governor called for a hearing and confirmation vote for Garland.

“If she doesn’t call for an immediate hearing and vote on Judge Gorsuch, she will be in direct contradiction of her past statements,” Forrester said.

Hassan penned an op-ed in the New Hampshire Union Leader in February 2016, calling on the Senate to hold a hearing and vote to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia

“As is often said, justice delayed is justice denied. A stalled Supreme Court will not move our country forward; it will only exacerbate the deep political divide and gridlock in Washington,” Hassan wrote.

America Rising Squared (AR2), an arm of the Republican opposition research group America Rising, is also pushing for Hassan to call for an up-or-down vote for Gorsuch.

“After spending nearly a year talking about the importance of having a ninth justice on the Supreme Court, Senator Hassan should join Senator Shaheen in calling for an ‘up-or-down’ vote for Judge Gorsuch,” said Nathan Brand, spokesman for AR2, in a statement to NH Journal. “If she instead joins in Senator Schumer’s obstructionist games, it reaffirms her hypocrisy and the fact that she puts her partisan agenda before the interest of Granite Staters.”

There was some confusion earlier this month on Shaheen’s comments about calling for an up-or-down vote. On the Senate floor, she surprised many people when she said on February 7 that she would support an up-or-down vote, going against what Schumer wants. Shaheen met with Gorsuch on February 15.

“Unlike the Republican majority, I haven’t heard any Democrats saying we don’t think that Judge Gorsuch should get a hearing or that he should get an up-or-down vote,” she said. “Everybody I’ve talked to agrees he should get a hearing and an up-or-down vote.”

However, Ryan Nickel, Shaheen’s communications director, took to Twitter to correct the record saying she meant a cloture vote, or 60 “yeas” to be approved.

Ar2 also criticized Hassan’s statement, specifically when she said she has “concerns with the influence of unlimited corporate and dark money in American politics.”

The New Hampshire Senate race between Hassan and former GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte was the second most expensive race in the country, with more than $90 million spent in outside funding. Only the Pennsylvania Senate race topped it with more than $119 million in outside spending.

Hassan and Ayotte had the opportunity to avoid big spending by outside groups in the race, but a pledge failed to come to fruition.

Ayotte proposed a “People’s Pledge” similar to one adopted in Massachusetts in the 2012 race between Sen. Scott Brown and Sen. Elizabeth Warren — requiring that a candidate who benefits from a third party ad donate 50 percent of the ad’s total cost to a charity of the other candidate’s choice.

Hassan countered Ayotte, declining to sign the pledge and suggesting limiting each candidate’s spending to $15 million. “This move is politician speak for ‘I do not want to sign the People’s Pledge,’” Ayotte said. The candidates could not come to an agreement and the outside group money flooded into the state.

The Center for Responsive Politics wrote an article about the staggering amount of dark money in the New Hampshire Senate race titled, “Dems in New Hampshire supported by the secret money they rail against nationally.” The article exposed the issue of Democratic candidates being against dark money and outside spending, yet letting it happen anyway.

“If hypocrisy is the coin of the realm in politics, then spending by a Democratic dark money group in New Hampshire’s Senate race could be Exhibit A,” the article stated. “For years, Democrats have blasted Republicans’ use of unlimited secret money in elections. There’s one problem: Hassan herself is receiving millions of dollars in ground support…” from outside groups.

More outside money was spent against Republicans in the New Hampshire Senate race. Nearly $45 million was funneled to the Granite State opposing Ayotte, while $34.8 million went against Hassan.

Gorsuch is making the rounds through the Senate, led by Ayotte, who is helping President Donald Trump’s nominee through the confirmation process. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin on March 20.

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Hassan, Shaheen’s Town Hall Reveals Middle-of-Road Approach to Trump

U.S. Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen’s town hall-style meeting on Friday with their New Hampshire constituents was mostly a warm welcome back to the state. Unlike many of their Republican colleagues who have dealt with protesters, shouting, and many interruptions in their town halls during Congress’ recess week, Hassan and Shaheen received very few interruptions during their question-and-answer session, receiving mainly applause during the hour-long event.

While the positive feedback from the audience showed general approval of their job so far in the Senate, the town hall also revealed that Hassan and Shaheen aren’t some of President Donald Trump’s biggest opponents in the Democratic Party.

While the two senators have made it clear that they do not approve of many policies and much of the rhetoric coming from the Trump administration, they have been more bipartisan in their approach to Trump than others.

For example, Hassan and Shaheen have both approved of seven of his Cabinet nominations and opposed seven of them. That puts them on the lower end of “no” votes in the Democratic Party, with only five Democrats and one Independent who caucuses with the Democrats having fewer “no” votes.

Senators in states that Trump won or who are expected to face tough reelections have fewer “no” votes, including Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Independent Angus King of Maine, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Mark Warner of Virginia. Most senators have eight or nine “no” votes for Trump’s nominees, with potential 2020 Democratic-presidential hopefuls disapproving of 12 or 11 of his appointments, including Sens. Kristen Gillibrand of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucuses with Democrats.

While Hassan and Shaheen’s cabinet votes weren’t the main focus of Friday’s town hall, their position on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, received the biggest disapproval.

Both Democrats rejected the idea of blocking a hearing for Gorsuch, resulting in audible boos and shouts of “no” from the audience.

“It is not in our interest to deny a hearing to Neil Gorsuch,” Shaheen said. “That’s what’s prescribed under the Constitution. Let me tell you something. I’m not going to go out and say it’s wrong for them and then say that it’s right for us.”

Shaheen was alluding to Republican Senate leadership’s refusal last year to hold a hearing for former President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. Some Senate Democrats have previously stated they want to filibuster or block Trump’s nominee from ever getting a hearing, just like the GOP did to Garland.

Yet, neither senator said they have made a final decision yet on how they will vote for Gorsuch. His confirmation will require 60 votes, so some Democrats will have to cross party lines if he is to get the seat on the bench.

“I think it is absolutely appropriate and right for us to do our constitutional duty and have a hearing,” she said.

Hassan said she plans to meet with Gorsuch this week to discuss “the protection of civil rights for all Americans. In my view that includes the rights of the LGBT community. It includes the rights of women to make their own health care decisions.”

In addition to Hassan and Shaheen’s middle-of-the-road approach to the Supreme Court nominee, they have also not gone to the same extremes as other Senate Democrats when it comes to Trump and Russia.

“I never thought that I’d begin my tenure having to stand up to a president whose conflicts of interest and whose campaign and administration’s involvement with Russia would cause so many questions,” Hassan said. “I also think that it is concerning that a president who is so tough on our allies seems so soft on Russia. I think that raises real questions.”

Hassan and Shaheen have joined several Democrats who have called for an independent commission investigation of possible Trump administration ties to, and communication with, Russian officials, in addition to possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Several high-profile Republicans, including Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, also said they support similar measures.

“The American people need to know what happened here, and then we need to take appropriate action,” Shaheen said.

However, Hassan and Shaheen didn’t go as far as other Democrats who have publicly talked about the possibility of impeaching Trump.

Hassan told WMUR after the town hall that impeachment talk was “premature,” yet restated her support for an independent investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia.

“I think it’s really important that we investigate concerns we’ve heard about connections to Russia in the Trump administration, and I think it’s very important that we have a bipartisan commission for the same reason,” she said.

It makes sense for Hassan and Shaheen to take a more bipartisan approach to Trump given the political climate in New Hampshire.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won the state over Trump by only three-tenths of a percent — 46.8 to 46.5 percent. Hassan’s victory over former GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte was even narrower, winning only by 743 votes, and while the Granite State sent an entire Democratic delegation to Congress, the GOP won the majority in the Legislature and took back the corner office for the first time in 12 years. Many people call New Hampshire a “purple” state, since it usually swing back and forth between red and blue every election. Hassan and Shaheen can’t upset their base too much, but they also can’t alienate the independents and moderate Republicans in the state either.

Near the very end of the town hall, Shaheen and Hassan also said they would do what they can to address climate change. Yet, some in the room weren’t happy with what they saw, including one man who shouted that the two women were using plastic water bottles, instead of reusable ones.

Hassan stated she is willing to work with Republican senators, but not at the risk of undoing progress.

“There is a difference between constructive compromise and undermining the progress that we have made,” she said.

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