Before we sat down with Sen. Kelly Ayotte as part of our “Conversations with the Candidates” earlier this week, we asked you what questions you had for the Republican incumbent.
You pitched lots of great suggestions, and while we weren’t able to include all of them in the forum, we did ask Ayotte to weigh in on a few issues (which also happen to be at the forefront of recent headlines) that you told us you wanted to hear the senator address.
On the Supreme Court
Several of you wanted to know where Ayotte stands on the nomination of a justice to fill the open seat on the Supreme Court. One person asked, specifically, whether Ayotte supports the idea — voiced recently by some of her Republican colleagues — to block any nominee put forward by Hillary Clinton, if she becomes president.
Ayotte said she “would not support that.”
“I said that clearly this election has very serious implications for the country and that obviously we have a vacant Supreme Court position right now, that the people are going to weigh in by whom they elect as president in November, and then we have to go forward with that confirmation process,” Ayotte said. “Obviously I will carefully vet whoever is proposed and make sure they’re not only qualified, but I’ll want to understand their constitutional philosophy, but I would not support the proposal to permanently block filling that court [position].”
Someone else wanted to know where Ayotte stood on confirming Merrick Garland, the nominee put forward by President Obama to fill the seat left vacant after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Nearly eight months after Garland was nominated, Ayotte stands by her position to wait until the presidential election is decided before moving forward on his nomination.
“My position has been, heading into a presidential election with the balance of the court at stake, the people of this country should weigh in, in terms of who will nominate the next justice,” Ayotte said. “At that point, we will go forward with the vetting process. To me, it’s really important – we are in a balance that will matter in terms of people’s constitutional rights and what’s at stake, and it will also matter in terms of the shift of this court, in one way or another, in terms of how the interpret people’s constitutional rights.”
On the FBI and the Clinton Emails
One of you asked for Ayotte’s thoughts on recent developments around the FBI’s investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State.
FBI Director James Comey’s recently announced that his agency would take a renewed look at Clinton’s emails after discovering emails that might be related to the case during the course of a separate investigation. Some have raised concerns about the timing of Comey's announcement, given the imminence of the presidential election, but Ayotte said he had an obligation to address the issue.
“When new information comes forward, as an investigative official, you can’t ignore it,” Ayotte said. “In his position, were he to ignore it, that would be as problematic as to where we are now.”
It’s especially critical for Comey to reexamine the emails, Ayotte said, to make sure there’s no criminal matters involved or national security issues at stake.
“I don’t see a choice of looking at it at this point, because otherwise you’d be ignoring something that could be important,” Ayotte said, “and you can’t do that as a law enforcement official. He has to enforce the laws, and he has to look at it.”
That said, Ayotte did reiterate that she disagreed with Comey’s initial handling of the email case earlier this year when he announced, in July, that he would not recommend that charges should be brought against Clinton.
“Haven’t agreed fully with the way that he’s handled this, because I thought it was unusual in the first instance for him to make both the investigative and the prosecutorial decision,” Ayotte said, citing her experience as a former prosecutor. “I’ve never been in a case like that myself, especially when it’s involving a felony or more significant crime.”