Mar 29, 2016 10:26 PM

Steinhauser: Shaheen jumps directly into Ayotte-Hassan Senate battle over SCOTUS nomination

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD –Whether it’s intentional or not, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s stoking the coals in the hottest U.S. Senate race in the country.

New Hampshire’s senior senator will hold a news conference Wednesday morning outside the federal court house in the Granite State’s capital city to make the case that President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court deserves to be considered by the Senate.

According to her office, Shaheen will insist that the Senate “maintain the longstanding bipartisan tradition of considering Supreme Court nominees and request that Republican leadership schedule a hearing and a vote on Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination.”

Since the unexpected death last month of conservative Supreme Court associate justice Antonin Scalia, nearly all of the 54 Senate Republicans have insisted that with the future direction of the high court at stake, the next president, rather than Obama, fill the vacancy.

One of those GOP senators is New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, who’s facing a strong Democratic challenge this year from Gov. Maggie Hassan, in what’s turning into the most high profile, expensive and negative campaigns in the country.

National and state Democrats have been making the Supreme Court vacancy battle a key issue in drive to try and win back control of the Senate, and Ayotte’s faced constant criticism for the past six weeks.

But Ayotte’s standing her ground, recently telling NH1 News 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 “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.”

Hassan’s slammed Ayotte for her stance, telling NH1 News recently that “Ayotte is not doing her job,” adding that “there's nothing in the constitution that says you're supposed to wait until the next president is elected to do your job.”

“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,” Hassan continued.

Aiding the two candidates in this fight are outside groups, such as the Senate Majority PAC and the Judicial Crisis Network, which have shelled out big bucks to run ads supporting and criticizing Ayotte.

Watch/Read: Shaheen, Ayotte, Hassan speak out on Garland nomination

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 two weeks ago.

Hassan won’t be attending the news conference. And while Shaheen’s not expected to mention Ayotte in her opening remarks, the GOP senator’s name is sure to come up.

While Wednesday’s news conference is an official Senate event, some see Shaheen’s move as possible political payback for Ayotte’s support of the Democratic senator’s GOP challenger in the 2014 midterm elections.

While Ayotte continued to work with Shaheen on important bipartisan legislation that year, she campaigned for former Sen. Scott Brown, New Hampshire’s 2014 Republican nominee, appearing in some of his television commercials and fundraising emails.

Shaheen narrowly survived the powerful GOP wave that gave the Republicans control of the Senate.


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