Fmr. Rhode Island Gov. and Sen. Lincoln Chaffee in Concord on Tuesday, May 19

May 19, 2015 11:30 PM

Steinhauser: Chafee criticizes Clinton; says he's almost 100% certain to run for WH

NH1 Political Director -

CONCORD – Lincoln Chafee says “I do feel that the president of the United States should have credibility,” and said that Hillary Clinton’s credibility is “suspect.”

And in an interview with NH1 News, the former Republican senator from Rhode Island turned independent governor said he’s more than 95% certain he’s going to run for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

Chafee spoke to NH1 News prior to meeting with the Merrimack County Democrats at a small event held at the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s headquarters in downtown Concord. The trip to the first-in-the-nation primary state was Chafee’s second in the past month, following a speech to the Hillsborough County Democrats.

Chafee said he would launch a campaign “I think sometime before mid-June.”

“I think the factors are all favorable and it’s just a matter of making sure the organization is prepared to file with the FEC (Federal Election Commission),” he added.

Asked if he was about 95% certain that he’s going to run for the White House, Chafee said “yes I would say, even higher.”

Chafee, the son of a former Rhode Island senator and governor, was elected the Republican mayor of Warwick in 1992. Upon his father John’s death in 1999, he was appointed to fill his father’s seat as U.S. senator. He won election to a full six year term in 2000, but lost re-election in 2006.

During his years on Capitol Hill, Chafee was known as the most liberal GOP senator in the chamber. He became in independent in 2007, after his term in the Senate ended. In 2010, he was elected the first independent governor of Rhode Island in more than 200 years. In 2013, he registered as a Democrat. But suffering from poor poll numbers, he decided against running for re-election last year.

In his NH1 News interview, Chafee touted his experience, saying “I think I’m going to be the only candidate on either side, Democrat or Republican, that’s been a mayor, a governor and a United States senator.”

If he does run, Chafee would join Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont (who recently launched a presidential campaign) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (who’s expected to announce his bid before the end of the month) in running to the left of Clinton in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The former secretary of state’s considered the overwhelming front runner for the nomination, but has been attacked by Republicans and even some Democrats over her use of a private email account during her tenure as America’s top diplomat, and over the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation’s acceptance of donations from foreign countries.

Asked about those controversies, Chafee said “I do feel that the president of the United States should have credibility, and we’ve been through a rocky period starting this century with President Bush and Vice President Cheney obviously not being honest with the American people. If you go back to someone who’s credibility is suspect I don’t think it’s in our nation’s best interest. All of these issues, they add up, even going back to Rose Law firm, Whitewater, Travel Gate, it just never seems to stop.”

“I think the American people look at it that way. When asked about her trustworthiness they don’t respond favorably. So that is an issue,” Chafee added, when discussing whether Clinton has too much political baggage to win the White House.

Chafee was the only Republican senator to vote against the Iraq War. Clinton, at the time a senator from New York State, voted in favor of the war. It’s a vote she later regretted.

“Her vote for the Iraq War is an indication of where she wants to take this country. That whole neocon issue that we’re debating here today 12 years after the vote,” Chafee said. “The mess that we have to deal with, with ISIS, with Yemen, with Boko Haram in Nigeria, all the refugees coming out of Libya. We live with it today. We live with that bad decision today.”

Chafee and Clinton agree on giving the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. a path towards eventual citizenship. But Chafee, who last decade backed a bipartisan bill that would do just that, seemed to criticize Clinton as playing catchup on the issue.

“I have a record. I’m not a Johnny-come-lately to this issue of treating these nine, ten, eleven million undocumented residents with a path to citizenship.”

On an issue that’s dividing Democrats right now, Chafee appears to be breaking with the party’s liberal base. Chafee said he supports the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal with Asian nations that President Obama supports. The free-trade pace is vehemently opposed by many liberal Democrats and by many union leaders.

“I would give the President the fast track authority to go negotiate the deal. My view is that trade is going to occur, let’s put the regulations that are favorable to us in there. I know there’s a lot of debate about it, but that’s my view,” Chafee said.


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