Democratic U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire joined NHPR's Morning Edition Wednesday for reaction to President Donald Trump addressed to a joint session of Congress.
Were there proposals put forth by the president last night you feel you could support? He spoke about paid family leave and a $1 trillion infrastructure program, for example.
There were several areas where I thought there could be good bipartisan support. The infrastructure proposal; I think most of us would agree that we need to invest in our infrastructure, rebuild our roads, our bridges, our water systems, our wastewater treatment systems, our broadband. He also talked about lowering the cost of prescription drugs, something I think is very important and I’ve been working on since I was governor. He talked about the importance of childcare and paid family leave, both things I think are very important to working people in New Hampshire and across the country. And he talked about combating the opioid epidemic, something that he promised when he was in New Hampshire and something I’m certainly committed to and there’s bipartisan support to address. So there were a number of areas, but unfortunately, he didn’t get into any specifics, so it’s hard to know what his actual proposals will look like.
The president did outline details of what he’d like to see in a replacement for the Affordable Care Act. He spoke about health insurance tax credit and health savings accounts. He also said Obamacare is collapsing. Is there room for compromise here?
Well, there’s always been room for compromise from the very beginning when we started working on health care back when President Obama was in office. There was an effort to try and get Republicans to work on the issue. But the things he put forward have not been shown in objective analysis to provide the same kind of coverage that the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid have done. Even though I think some of those proposals are things that I’ve supported in the past and think we ought to take a look at, to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the health care that’s available now – we know in New Hampshire that about 120,000 people in the state would lose their health insurance if we repeal the Affordable Care Act, and particularly for those people who are in treatment for heroin or opioid misuse, they are getting treatment by and large because of the expansion of Medicaid in New Hampshire. That has been a bipartisan plan supported by former Gov. Maggie Hassan and the Republican legislature. To repeal that would put so many people in New Hampshire, it would mean they would lose their treatment.
So wholesale repeal is a nonstarter with Democrats?
I think wholesale repeal is a nonstarter with the American public. The fact is Obamacare is not imploding. What we saw was despite efforts from the Trump administration to make it harder for people to enroll, we saw increasing numbers of people enroll in the exchange this year. So I think what we need to do is look at what’s working with the Affordable Care Act, keep that, and look at what’s not working and work together to try and fix it. And I hope we will see that inclination across the aisle to do that.
Trump spoke about immigration reform, saying he wants to reach a compromise. He talked about instituting a merit-based immigration system. Do you see comprehensive immigration reform as a possibility?
I hope so. I was one of the senators and we have overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate for a comprehensive immigration reform bill. It passed the Senate, but got bogged down in the House. So I think there is support to do this, and do it in a way that provides a path to citizenship or to legal status for immigrants who are here and recognizes the contributions that immigrants have made to this country.
What’s your reaction to the office Trump has established called VOICE, which he says will focus on crimes committed by immigrants?
I think there is universal support to address any immigrants who are here illegally who commit crimes. There is no question about that. We need to make sure they are prosecuted for those crimes and that they leave the country. But the question is not really so much about those criminals. That’s been a policy of this country for as long as I can remember. The question is how are we going to deal with the other people who have been here illegally. And sadly, one of the things that has happened in recent days under the Trump administration is people are being rounded up who haven’t committed crimes and are being sent back. And I’m not sure that effort makes sense given everything else we should be doing.
Trump last night defended his controversial travel ban, and there’s reporting this morning that a new executive order will remove Iraq from the list of countries whose citizens are banned from traveling to the U.S. What’s your reaction?
I think Iraq should not be on that list. I don’t think we should have a travel ban for those seven majority-Muslim countries. I don’t think that’s the issue, and we know that the first travel ban that got struck down by the court has created real problems for our ally Iraq in this fight against terrorism and against ISIS. When I was in Munich last weekend at the Munich Security Conference, we met with Prime Minister al-Abadi and he alluded to the challenges that he’s facing in his internal politics, in her parliament, with those people who would like to more Iraq closer to Iran rather than the United States and the challenges it presents for him when we have a policy that says we’re not going to let Iraqis, who are our allies in this fight, into the United States. It makes no sense.
Do you still feel it’s accurate to call in a Muslim ban, as you did you again in a statement last night?
What he said, both before and after the ban, was that he wanted to keep Muslims from coming to the country. That’s what he said during the campaign. We heard Rudy Giuliani say he helped the president figure out how to do that. So I take him at his word that he’s trying to keep Muslims out of the country.
But the wording in the order of course does not say that.
No, but he indicated that was his intent.
Moving forward, do you feel any more optimistic after last night’s speech?
As I’ve said all along, where there are areas we can agree on that are important to the country, I’m interested in working with President Trump. But I’m not interested in supporting efforts that I think undermine the values of this country and I think are not supportive of our democracy.