Capital Beat: Did Brown ‘lobby’ to stop Shaheen’s energy bill?
This photo taken March 22, 2014 shows former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown posing for a photo with a group of women at the Tilton Diner in Tilton, N.H. Brown is fighting to re-write political history as he tours New Hampshire. But there are early signs that the state's notoriously feisty voters may be reluctant to embrace the recent Republican transplant. Brown joined New Hampshires U.S. Senate race roughly a week ago. He moved to the state 13 weeks ago. Brown is trying to become the third person to serve more than one state in the Senate. The last one was elected more than two centuries ago. His residency figures to play prominently in his quest to defeat Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen this fall. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., talks with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., during a meeting of the Senate Climate Action Task Force prior to taking to the Senate Floor all night to urge action on climate change on Monday, March 10, 2014, in Washington. At left is Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
Gavin Lahey, 5, Concord
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Scott Brown found himself in the middle of U.S. Senate Republicans’ refusal last week to support a bipartisan energy efficiency bill co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, the Democrat whose seat he hopes to take this fall.
“Scott Brown, who is running for the Senate in New Hampshire, he asked the Republican caucus to make sure they didn’t give Sen. Shaheen a win on this,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said on the Senate floor a few days after the vote.
The bill, which Shaheen and Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, have been working on since last year, died in the Senate before even coming to vote. Both parties are chalking it up to election-year politics: Republicans blame Reid for not allowing them to bring forth amendments, including approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, while Democrats say Republicans held a good bill hostage for political reasons.
On Tuesday, the Huffington Post reported – without citing any sources – that Brown was lobbying Republican senators to sink the bill so that Shaheen wouldn’t get an election-year win. The allegation has taken on a life of its own. CBS News, Politico and MSNBC have all picked up the story, citing the Huffington Post rather than any on-record sources, allowing the story to spread even as little new information emerged.
Then on Thursday, the Huffington Post, a liberal-leaning news outlet, declared that Se. Kelly Ayotte was throwing Brown “under the bus.” Ayotte, New Hampshire’s Republican senator and a co-sponsor of the bill, was one of three Republicans who joined Democrats in an attempt to end debate and allow an up-or-down vote on the bill. In an interview in D.C., she told a Huffington Post reporter that she did speak with Brown about the bill and told him she was voting for it because she thought it was good for New Hampshire.
What that Huffington Post story left out? Ayotte said Brown didn’t try to change her vote. The reporter did, however, provide audio of the full interview with his story.
“Did he urge you to slow it down?” the reporter asks.
“No he didn’t,” Ayotte says. “I told him what my position was on it, and he didn’t push me on that or anything. . . . I wasn’t lobbied on it.”
What actually happened largely depends on how you define lobbying (and, of course, your political persuasions).
In responding to the initial report, Brown spokeswoman Elizabeth Guyton didn’t comment directly on the lobbying allegations.
“Scott Brown was concerned that Sen. Shaheen was refusing to allow a vote on the Keystone pipeline, a common sense and bipartisan project that would immediately create thousands of jobs and lessen our dependence on foreign oil,” she said in a statement to the Monitor and several other news outlets.
But on Friday, after Ayotte’s comments that she talked to Brown but he didn’t lobby her, Guyton addressed the accusations more fully. Brown did talk to a number of Republican senators about the bill because he was concerned about a Keystone vote, but “he wasn’t lobbying,” Guyton said. The position he shared with them is the same position he’s stated publicly, she said.
“He talks to (other Republicans) all the time about a lot of things, not just this one bill,” Guyton said to the Monitor. “He wasn’t lobbying, that’s been his position on it. . . . He wasn’t lobbying against her bill.”
Guyton did not respond directly to whether Brown discussed with fellow Republicans how the bill’s passage could affect Shaheen’s re-election chances. Other than Ayotte, Republicans Brown has spoken to recently include Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who was in New Hampshire recently, and Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Mark Kirk of Illinois, who called to congratulate Brown on his retirement from the military early last week, Guyton said.
This is a perfect example of how, in an election year, every nugget of political news – even ones no one will back up on record – can spiral into national news stories.
Still, the story has legs for several reasons. Brown possibly lobbying against a bipartisan bill that Shaheen said would create 190,000 jobs gives Democrats enough fodder to say he cares about himself more than passing good legislation. Add Ayotte’s comments that she “did what was best based on my state,” and Democrats can keep furthering their narrative that Brown doesn’t have New Hampshire’s best interests at heart.
Perhaps more importantly, Republicans’ refusal to back the bipartisan bill (four of its seven Republican co-sponsors wouldn’t even support it on the floor) and Democrats’ decision to block Republicans from adding a vote on the Keystone pipeline demonstrate election-year politicking at its worst.
“It was disappointing to see in the end that politics is what killed it,” Shaheen said at an event Friday in Concord.
Earlier in the week, she told The Hill newspaper she was disappointed that Reid didn’t allow amendments.
“I think we should vote on amendments,” she said. “I think that’s part of why we’re here.”
Wolves in sheep’s clothing?
Conservative group Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire is making good on its pledge to attack Republican state senators who voted to expand Medicaid.
Majority Leader Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro and Sens. Nancy Stiles of Hampton and David Boutin of Hooksett are the targets of three new television ads that charge they are “wolves in sheep’s clothing” when it comes to being fiscal conservatives. All three voted on a bipartisan plan that uses federal Medicaid dollars to put people on private health insurance plans. Stiles and Boutin also voted to increase the state’s gas tax by 4.2 cents.
The ads show animated sheep grazing in a field then, as the narrator begins talking about the senator, a wolf in a sheep’s costume pops up from the herd.
“He tried to blend in as a fiscal conservative, but state Sen. Jeb Bradley has been deceiving taxpayers, voting with Democrats to take a bigger bite out of your wallet by extending Obamacare, and now Bradley is trying to pass a bill to prevent us from criticizing his votes,” the narrator says.
That second clause references a disclosure bill sponsored by Bradley (and co-sponsored by two other Republican senators) that’s passed both the House and Senate. But Bradley says the bill doesn’t limit free speech “in any way.” The bill just requires outside groups engaging in issue ads, like this one, to disclose where they’re spending their money if they spend more than $5,000. It doesn’t require those groups to disclose their donors or membership lists. Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire clearly put its name on the ad, so it’s not as if the group is trying to hide its affiliation with the ad.
Bradley also defended his record as a fiscal conservative, saying he helped produce the last session’s budget that cut spending and this year’s budget, which didn’t raise taxes or fees (he also voted against the gas tax increase), and worked on pension reform.
“I think that people know that I’m working hard to protect taxpayer dollars, I’m working hard to protect growth in government, I’m working hard to foster a growing economy,” he said.
One problem with the ads? They don’t say which districts the senators represent, meaning voters who view the ads and don’t know much about state politics will have no idea whether they even have the ability to vote for these people. Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire says it only plans to air the ads only in the towns and cities represented by each senator.
Let the games begin
State senators showed this week they have no appetite to re-debate repealing the death penalty, despite House efforts to force another discussion on the issue.
House members attached a repeal of the death penalty to a Senate bill related to burglary, hoping senators would be inspired to re-debate the issue or at least take it to a committee of conference. But senators played their own hand and added the language from the burglary bill to a different bill.
Here’s how the process works: If a House bill goes to the Senate and senators amend it, House members have three options. They can ditch the entire bill, accept the changes or ask for a committee of conference to iron out differences. In some cases, lawmakers will try to attach bills the other chamber doesn’t want onto popular bills that the other chamber does want in hopes a committee will form. Once in committee, anything can happen.
Senators tried to do their own version of this when they added an amendment that would send all $15 million in last biennium’s surplus to the rainy day fund, which the House doesn’t want.
As many lawmakers say, we’ve entered “silly season” in the Legislature.
King for Shaheen
On Friday, U.S. Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, came to Concord to endorse Shaheen. Earlier in the day, he’d endorsed his fellow Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican. King and Shaheen appeared at Granite State Candy Shoppe alongside about a dozen state and city elected officials.
King and Shaheen overlapped for six years as governors of their respective states. They tend to get along, King said, unless they’re talking about which state the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is really in (Shaheen admitted yesterday that it’s “technically” in Maine). King praised Shaheen for her strong work ethic and said she is “fierce” when it comes to protecting New Hampshire.
“Fierceness on behalf of your state, I think, is a real quality to be valued,” he said.
The New Hampshire Republican Party immediately criticized the endorsement, pointing to both King’s and Shaheen’s support for cap-and-trade policies.
“Its not surprising that Senator Shaheen is being endorsed by a fellow supporter of President Obama’s disastrous energy tax that will hurt New Hampshire families and small businesses,” Chairwoman Jennifer Horn said in a statement.
What to watch
∎ All committees of conference must be formed by Thursday. The biggest fight is likely to be over how to change the Medicaid Enhancement Tax. All committees must complete their work by May 30, then both chambers have to vote on the final versions of bills by June 5.
∎ On Monday, Brown will roll out a “Women for Brown” coalition at his campaign headquarters in Manchester. Democrats have already hit Brown on his record on women’s issues and will likely use this opportunity to do so again.
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kronayne.)
UPDATE: This story has been updated to better reflect where Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire is airing its ads.