On the Political Front: If They're Up for Election, They're Likely Pushing a "Pause" on Refugees

Nov 23, 2015

NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers joins Morning Edition to talk about the politics to watch in the upcoming week. 

So Josh, in the wake of the Paris attacks just about every presidential candidate was on record weighing in on how to deal with ISIS, and on whether or not the U.S should continue taking refugees from Syria. But the person what may have made the most news in New Hampshire on that front was Governor Maggie Hassan.

Yes, Rick. As you know the Governor has called for a “pause” in Syrian refugee resettlement. Her position, at this point, seems pretty close to where many voters are, based on national polling. 30 other governors have called for at least a pause and the US House of Representatives also moved to tighten refugee policy. But Hassan was out there fairly early, and she was alone among democratic governors to stake out that position. And I think it’s fair to say from liberal democrats to conservative republicans, people around the state house were pretty surprised Hassan went there. I had more than one person tell me that when they got the first news reports on the Governor’s call for a halt to Syrian refugee resettlement, they immediately sought another source to confirm.

Why?

Well, they saw it as out of keeping with what they perceive to be the Governor’s politics. But I’ve got to say the consensus in Concord is that it’s also an obvious – if still jarring -- reminder that  the Governor is running for US Senate, and fairly or not, pretty much everyone at the statehouse in both parties see the governor’s stance on refuges was taken with an eye towards 2016. Now, the Governor has said repeatedly, her first job is to keep the public safe, and that’s what she’s endeavoring to do. I might also note that right now, New Hampshire hosts two Syrian refugees; another twenty are slated to arrive in the next year or so.

You mentioned congress. It took a bipartisan vote last week to back a bill that bears some resemblance to the Governor’s policy on refugee resettlement.

It did, and that bill had the backing of second district Democrat Annie Kuster, another person, whom one might not expect to favor a tighter refugee policy.  In September, Kuster actually joined more than 70 of her colleagues in signing a letter calling on President Obama to increase Syrian refugee resettlement. Now, its possible something like the Paris attack might prompt one to reevaluate a position. But it’s hard not to see 2016 considerations driving this. Kuster, for example,  is part of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Frontline program, which is intended to help incumbents seen as vulnerable with fundraising  and tactical support. Almost to a one, the Frontliners – I think there are fouteen of them --voted with the GOP on the bill.

That said, it was interesting that neither of the two Democrats so far running for Governor, Colin Van Ostern and Mark Connolly, favor any pause in refugee resettlement, nor does Senator Jeanne Shaheen.

They don’t. But for Van Ostern and Connolly a Democratic primary  -- and not a general election -- is the first order of business. So, all principle aside, for them the politics are different. And as for Senator Shaheen, she’s not up for reelection until 2020.

Another thing I noticed last week was that the term “pause” seems to have become the way a lot of politicians are choosing to refugee resettlement policy.

Yes. Many “pauses,”  “brief pauses,”  and lots to hitting the “pause button.” On the one hand, such phraseology  may be a matter of brevity, “pause” is shorter and clearer than most of the alternatives but I do think it’s also interesting that besides Hassan, you’ve got republicans running for president like Jeb Bush and John Kasich using that precise term.

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

We’re going to hit the pause button until next time, Josh

As long as it’s a brief pause, Rick.

Josh Rogers is NHPR’s senior political reporter. He joins Morning Edition often to talk politics. If you want to follow Josh on twitter, he can be found  @joshrogersNHPR.