For Reeling N.H. Democrats, Senators' Town Hall Meeting Brings Brief Moment of Catharsis

Feb 24, 2017

U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan held a joint Town Hall meeting in Concord.
Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR

While angry protesters have been flooding town hall-style events across the country being held by Republican congressmen, the scene at today’s meeting in Concord felt more like a therapy session for beleaguered New Hampshire Democrats.

Hundreds hoping to hear Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan piled into an auditorium on the campus of the New Hampshire Technical Institute. They bore signs, pink "Pussyhats" and their fears about the next four years.

“I came along with my 4-year old daughter because I have two little girls, and I am desperately concerned about the future that we are going to leave them, in terms of civil rights, in terms of the choices they can make about their own health care and their own bodies, and about the environment, what kind of environment we are going to leave them,” said Jenny Foster, from Hopkinton. “I’m honestly... I’m scared.”

Others in attendance spoke of the need to defend gains made during the Obama years, including protections for the LGBT community and the Affordable Care Act. Fred Bates from Derry says these aren’t areas ripe for compromise.

Democratic supporters of Sen. Shaheen and Sen. Hassan attended a Town Hall meeting in Concord.
Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR

“I’m worried these days when people say we should work — Democrats should work with Republicans to get things done," Bates says. "What the Republicans are interested in doing is dismantling."

For a party still reeling from the November elections, this town hall event hosted by two of their own perhaps served as a chance to exhale.

Hassan and Shaheen entered to a standing ovation and received applause throughout the morning. They each highlighted their efforts in the Senate to block nominations for President Trump’s cabinet positions, and they let their base know that there is more confrontation on the way.

Not everyone in the audience, though, wanted to hear a divisive tone. One person in the crowd asked Senator Hassan her plans for uniting Congress.

“One of the things I’ve tried to do as a new Senator is meet with members of both parties to get to know them," Hassan said. "Relationships matter. Understanding what we have in common matters. And I’ll continue to do that."

But Hassan and Shaheen are willing to remain partisan. They said they’ll continue to push for investigations into any ties between the Trump Administration and Russia. They vowed to defend Planned Parenthood and support the mission of the Environmental Protection Agency.

'The one highlight of Trump's election is that it has energized people.'

When Shaheen spoke about how she wants to handle Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, there was audible dissension in just how firm Democrats need to be. She heard jeers from those who would rather see obstruction.

“Despite what the Republicans did on Merrick Garland, it is not in our interest to deny a hearing to Neil Gorsuch,” Shaheen says. “That’s what’s prescribed under the Constitution. And let me tell you something: I am not going to go out and say it was wrong for them, and then say, it was right for us. I think that’s a double standard and we don’t want to do that.”

There was also the acknowledgement from Shaheen about the distance between what her party may want, and what it can actually accomplish.

“I’m going to continue to speak out. I’m going to continue to raise concerns," she says. "And I have to tell you, sadly, that we don’t control the vote in Washington. And that’s one of the challenges we face, and that’s why your voices are so important."

That message of activism is being received. Grace Aldrich, from Dublin, says Democrats since November are more organized and paying attention to local, state and national issues.

“The one highlight of Trump’s election is that it has energized people and it has...forced people to educate themselves on the political process and where they can interject themselves,” says Aldrich.

That may be the only silver lining, though, for a party that finds itself nearly powerless in Washington and Concord for the first time in a decade.