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Mar 16, 2016 10:26 PM

Steinhauser: Ayotte tells NH1 News she'll meet with Garland to explain why nomination must wait for next president

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD – From the White House to the State House, President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination on Wednesday was front and center in New Hampshire’s high profile U.S. Senate battle.

A couple of hours after the President nominated federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the high court, Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte told NH1 News that “out of courtesy and respect” she would meet with centrist judge to explain “that people should be weighing in in the November elections before a confirmation process goes forward.”

But Ayotte’s Democratic challenger, Gov. Maggie Hassan, speaking one-on-one with NH1 News at the State House, charged that “Ayotte is not doing her job” and described the senator’s actions as “an incredible example of dysfunction.”

Since the unexpected death last month of conservative Supreme Court associate justice Antonin Scalia, Ayotte’s been in-line with most fellow Senate Republicans in insisting that the next president, rather than Obama, fill the vacancy.

With the future direction of the high court at stake, Ayotte said “it’s a four-four court. This position will have an impact on the American people and the court for decades and so in my opinion let the people of this county weigh in in the November elections by who they elect president.”

A couple of weeks ago Ayotte stated that she wouldn’t meet with whomever Obama nominated. With the naming of an actual nominee, Ayotte relented a little, telling NH1 News that “Judge Garland has now been nominated. And certainly out of courtesy and respect I will be meeting with him if he wants to me with me.”

But she added that if she meets with Garland, “I will clearly explain to him as well that I believe that people should be weighing in in the November elections before a confirmation process goes forward based on who gets elected president in November.”

Asked if Garland is qualified to serve on the Supreme Court, Ayotte responded that she “just received his nomination today. So obviously I’m not familiar with all of his background. But he does serve on the Circuit Court of Appeals.”

“But this has never been about a particular person. This is about the principal of when you have a divided Supreme Court, a position of consequence, a lifetime appointment that will impact the nation and the interpretation of our laws and our constitution for decades, that the American people should weigh in,” she continued.

Asked if her position would theoretically allow Donald Trump to choose the successor to Scalia, Ayotte said “I think that we’re still going forward in this nomination process and no one has the delegates yet to seal the nomination. So I want that process to go forward and let it play out on both sides of the aisle. I can say the same thing for Hillary Clinton or Sen. Sanders as well.”

Shaheen, Hassan, fire back

New Hampshire’s senior senator, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, disagrees with Ayotte’s stance.

“Granite States don’t take an election year off from their jobs and we shouldn’t take election years off from our jobs in the Senate. We need to do our jobs. We need to allow the process to begin. Hold hearings on this nominee and make a decision. Either give him an up or down vote,” Shaheen told NH1 News.

The language with a bit stronger from Hassan.

“There's nothing in the constitution that says you're supposed to wait until the next president is elected to do your job,” she declared.

“It’s really a great disappointment. She (Ayotte) is siding with the far right party leadership in the Senate along with special interests instead of siding with the people of New Hampshire. Her position is undermining justice for the people of New Hampshire and for the people of the United States,” Hassan added.

Air wars

Ayotte’s had a starting role in two TV commercials by third party groups that have flooded New Hampshire airwaves the past month.

Senate Majority PAC, the leading super PAC supporting Democratic Senate candidates, has been running a ad in the Granite State the past two weeks that targets Ayotte by tying her to the likely Republican presidential nominee.

“Donald Trump wants the Senate to delay filling the Supreme Court vacancy so he can choose the nominee next year. And Senator Kelly Ayotte is right there to help,” says the narrator in the commercial.

Late last month the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative organization, started running a spot titled “Let the People Decide,” which supports Ayotte.

“This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats it’s about your voice. You choose the next president. The next president chooses the next justice. Call Senator Kelly Ayotte. Thank her for letting the people decide,” says the narrator.

Wednesday evening the Judicial Crisis Network applauded Ayotte.

"Senator Ayotte has shown great leadership and resolve by standing for New Hampshirites' right to have a say in who their next Justice is by how they vote in November. It is a shame that left-wing extremists are trying to shift the balance of the Court and attacking the Senator for serving as the check and balance that her constituents elected her to be,” wrote Carrie Severino, the group’s chief counsel and policy director.

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