On the trail: Hassan tries to put daylight between herself and Biden

  • Protestors and supporters lined the hallways of the State House as U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan signed up to run for re-election. Paul Steinhauser / For the Monitor

  • Gov. Chris Sununu filed to run for another two-year term as the head of New Hampshire state government. Paul Steinhauser—For the Monitor

  • Protestors and supporters lined the hallways of the State House as U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan signed up to run for re-election. Courtesy

For the Monitor
Published: 6/10/2022 5:02:44 PM

As she runs for re-election this year facing a difficult political climate, Democratic U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan wants to spotlight her policy differences with President Joe Biden, whose underwater approval ratings are doing Hassan no favors.

On Friday, the former two-term governor returned to New Hampshire’s State House to formally file to place her name on the Granite State ballot, but first she had to push her way through a crowd of protesters and supporters who came to greet her.

Once the paperwork was filled out, the sitting senator once again tried to show her differences with the president.

“What I’ve been pushing for is, among other things, is suspending the gas tax. That helps put some more money back in people’s pockets,” Hassan said. “I’m pushing the administration to support that. They haven’t yet and that’s frustrating.”

Hassan spoke with reporters a couple of hours after consumer prices hit a new four-decade high, with the Labor Department reporting that the consumer price index, a broad measure of the price for everyday goods, including gasoline, groceries and rents, rose 8.6% in May from a year ago.

Hassan and fellow first-term Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona, who along with Hassan hails from a key general election battleground state and is also being targeted by Republicans as he runs for re-election, co-authored a bill in February, when the average national price for regular gasoline was nearing $3.50 per gallon. The national average as of Monday morning stood at nearly $5 per gallon.

The Hassan/Kelly bill, which they titled the Gas Prices Relief Act, would scrap the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal tax through the rest of 2022 and calls for the Treasury Department to make sure the savings are passed on to consumers rather than the oil companies.

“We also need to stand up to big oil,” Hassan said. “That’s why we have been asking the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) to investigate whether there is market manipulation or price gouging going on.”

Soaring gas prices – and the overall surge in inflation – continue with less than five months to go until November’s elections, when the Democrats hope to retain their razor-thin majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Last month Hassan went up with a TV commercial in her home state spotlighting that the senator is “taking on members of my own party to push a gas tax holiday, and I am pushing Joe Biden to release more of our oil reserves. That’s how we lower costs and get through these times.”

She echoed that point Friday.  

“When you look at this, big oil’s got record profits, but they keep increasing the price of gasoline anyway while they have extra capacity that they could tap but they choose not to,” Hassan said.

Hassan on Friday also continued to put daylight between herself and the Biden administration over another important issue on the minds of voters – border security and immigration. The past couple of months she’s vocally disagreed with the administration’s move to rescind a Trump-era pandemic restriction known as Title 42, which allowed officials to rapidly expel asylum seekers that crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, a position that drew criticism from within her own party and protesters to the State House Friday.

This spring the senator took a well-publicized trip to the southern border and became one of a growing number of Democratic Senate incumbents and candidates running in November to voice serious concerns over the move.

Title 42, an order issued by former President Donald Trump’s administration amid the coronavirus outbreak, has been used by both the Trump and Biden administrations to expel a majority of migrants at the border. The Biden administration’s move came after more than a year of pressure from fellow Democrats who consider the policy cruel and illegal. But the issue, along with inflation, has become another political liability for the president and his party.

As she arrived at New Hampshire’s State House to file for reelection, Hassan was met by a large group of supporters, as well as a smaller group of immigration activists protesting her stance on border security.

“We have a disagreement here,” Hassan said of the protesters. “I do not think the administration should lift Title 42 until there are resources at the border that ensure safety and security because all sides of this issue agree that once Title 42 is lifted, we’re going to see an increase in illegal border crossing attempts, and we need to have resources on the ground that will really keep the border safe and secure and orderly so that it also be humane.”

Hassan didn’t back down from her stance.

“I respect that they have a disagreement with me about this,” she said. “At the end of the day I need to stand up for the safety and security of my state and my country.”

Hassan cited another difference with the Biden White House, noting her vote against Robert Califf to become the head of the Food and Drug Administration.

It’s “really important that we have people in the administration that will work to combat the opioid epidemic, which is why I opposed the president’s FDA nominee, because he wouldn’t acknowledge the role the FDA had in fueling the opioid epidemic.”

Despite these issues, Hassan, like most Democrats, votes in support of Biden almost all of the time. Hassan voted with the president 98% of the time, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight. By comparison, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen voted with Biden 100% of the time, while Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted with the president 95% of the time. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont voted with Biden 93% of the time, according to Senate rankings. 

Hassan said she’d still be happy to have the president join her on the campaign trail later this year.

“I’d always welcome the President of the United States to New Hampshire,” she said. “But it’s also really important that we stand up for the people we represent and listen to the people we represent.”

Sununu blames Democrats for inflation

With consumer prices hitting a new four-decade high, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu is placing the blame squarely on the Democrats in Washington.

“It is hitting every single person at their kitchen table. It affects lower-income and middle-income families worse than anybody,” the governor told reporters on Friday after filing for reelection. Sununu stopped by the Secretary of State’s office a couple of hours ahead of Hassan, his predecessor in the Corner Office.

 “Inflation is the worst tax on the poor that bad management can bring and that’s exactly what the Democrats in Washington have done,” the governor charged.

Sununu, a frequent critic of his state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation, once again claimed that they’re “doing absolutely nothing on the inflation issue. They’re doing their best to walk right past…It’s not a new line – I’ve said it before, I think they should all be fired.”

Sununu’s comments were part of a chorus of attacks from GOP leaders across the country on Friday against President Biden and congressional Democrats.

Pushing back, Democratic National Committee deputy communications director Daniel Wessel argued that “while President Biden and Democrats are laser-focused on lowering costs for American families, Republicans have repeatedly voted against measures to help lower costs, including on insulin and at the pump.”

Sununu, who’s running this year for a fourth two-year term, emphasized that “the key issues are clearly going to be about the economy. There is unfortunately a recession coming. Inflation is not going away. Gas prices are hitting folks really hard.”

Sununu’s angered many on his party’s far-right the past couple of years – from his aggressive moves to combat the coronavirus pandemic to most recently his opposition to a congressional redistricting map pushed by Statehouse Republicans. And three far-right longshot candidates have filed to primary challenge the governor.

But Sununu said he’s not concerned about any deterioration of support by conservatives.

“You’re always going to have folks on the ultra-anti-government right, you could say, that are going to be upset. Just like progressives will always have the ultra-socialists on the left, they’re going to be upset,” he said.

And pointing to his still very healthy approval ratings in public opinion surveys, he touted that “if you look at the polls, Republicans are pretty darn satisfied with the job we’re doing.”

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