Hassan counters criticism by making national safety central to her campaign

  • Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, who is running for Senate against incumbent Republican Kelly Ayotte, speaks during a “Monitor” editorial board meeting. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/12/2016 12:08:54 AM

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan says if elected to the U.S. Senate, she would not support President Obama’s plan to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay because it puts national security at risk.

“This was a generalized proposal,” Hassan told the Monitor’s editorial board. “I don’t think it had thought through a number of concerns about what releasing those detainees would do to our nation’s security both at home and abroad.”

Hassan’s opposition to closing the prison – where most detainees are held without charges and which has come to represent a dark side in the country’s anti-terror efforts – is one of several hard-line national security stances the Democrat has taken since announcing her bid against Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte.

The race, one of the most competitive in the country, could tip the balance of the U.S. Senate. Ayotte – one of the most vocal opponents of closing Guantanamo – has sought to use national security against Hassan by painting the two-term governor as weak and inexperienced on defense and foreign affairs.

Hassan has countered by making national safety a key tenet of her campaign.

Last year, Hassan was the only Democratic governor out of more than two dozen who called for the U.S. to stop accepting Syrian refugees in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks. The U.S. recently hit its goal of taking in 10,000 refugees from the war-torn country, but Hassan still stands by her call for a “temporary pause.”

She declined to say whether she agreed with Hillary Clinton’s plan to let in 65,000 refugees from Syria, calling it a “hypothetical question.”

Hassan said the focus should be on improving vetting systems and talking with heads of national security and border control agencies to hear their concerns.

“Then we have to look at what the overall humanitarian crisis is,” Hassan said, “and we have to work with Europe to figure out what our proportion, our responsibility, is.”

More than 4.5 million Syrians have fled the country, and the bulk have been resettled in Europe.

When asked if she ever wants to see Guantanamo closed, Hassan didn’t directly answer, simply saying she would “always review proposals” that come to her.

“I understand the symbolism Guantanamo has for much of the international community,” she said. “But I think we have to be able to address those security concerns.”

Obama’s term is up this year, but Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, has voiced support for his plan to close the prison, open since 2002.

Obama released a nine-page plan in February, which was immediately rejected by Republicans in Congress, some of whom called it too vague. The proposal called for the transfer of roughly one-third of the 91 detainees to other countries and the relocation of the remainder, deemed too dangerous to be released, to a new U.S. facility.

The prison held roughly 770 detainees at one point, but President George W. Bush transferred more than 500 of them, and Obama has so far transferred at least 160 detainees to other countries.

Hassan called the outline too general, saying it didn’t tell governors what to expect if detainees were transferred to their state. The Democrat said she relayed those concerns to members of Obama’s administration.

On environmental issues, Hassan advocated ending tax subsidies for major oil companies, investing in “green-energy technology” and creating a national model rule for net metering, which lets homeowners sell electric companies their excess solar power.

She said she wouldn’t initiate a carbon tax “right now.”

Hassan also voiced opposition to increasing the federal gas tax, which was last raised in 1993 to 18.4 cents. But she pledged to increase investments in transportation and advocated for the creation of a national infrastructure bank to fund the projects.

(The Asssociated Press contributed to this report. Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)

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