Q&A with U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan
New Hampshire’s new U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan had her first taste of national attention Jan. 17 when she questioned Betsy DeVos, the nominee tapped to lead President Trump’s Department of Education.
Hassan, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, was momentarily taken aback when DeVos appeared to have little understanding about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a federal civil rights law that requires public schools to provide free and appropriate education to all students with disabilities.
“It’s not about sensitivity – although that helps – it’s about being willing to enforce the law,” Hassan said to DeVos.
Before hearings on cabinet nominations and President Trump’s inauguration, the former two-term Democratic governor from Newfields talked with NH Business Review about her priorities and concerns during her first months in Washington D.C. – protecting and expanding the Affordable Care Act, proper vetting of Trump’s cabinet nominees, Trump’s wide range of potential conflict of interests, and the impact of Russian cyber-hacking on the 2016 election.
Q. As a newly appointed member of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, what have you taken from U.S. intelligence community reports of extensive Russian hacking and interference into the 2016 election?
A. The reports we have gotten are extremely disturbing that Vladimir Putin and Russia interfered in our elections. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and I am pleased there is bipartisan concern and this will be on the front burner for many of us who want to see a thorough investigation.
As governor, cybersecurity was very important for the state and we must do the same for the country. I hope there will be a bipartisan effort to work with the (Trump) administration to find out what happened.
Q. You have been a big supporter of the ACA and Medicaid expansion in New Hampshire. What do you say about Republican and Trump administration plans to repeal and replace ACA?
A. My first thought is we really must protect and continue to fix the ACA. We don’t want to go backwards to hurt people with pre-existing conditions or to stop emphasizing preventive care and charging women more for their care. We don’t want to have states left on their own.
Repealing the ACA does nothing to help us as a state and country to meet the needs for a healthy workforce, which is something that business leaders have told me is a priority.
The bipartisan approach we took when I was governor with expanded Medicaid coverage helped 50,000 hardworking people in New Hampshire to get coverage they didn’t have and it kept them out of emergency rooms. Hospitals have had less uncompensated care and behavioral health coverage has helped us confront the opioid and heroin crisis in our state.
While health care costs continue to rise, they aren’t rising as much as they were before ACA. I have heard many examples of how Medicaid expansion is helping people. One doctor told me about a woman with diabetes who could not afford regular treatment or insulin and would have periodic crisis visits to the emergency room. Now, for the first time in a decade, she is getting treatment and taking steps to live healthier. These are the people we would leave behind if we repeal ACA without a suitable replacement plan. I believe the cost for repeal would be very high for everyone.
Q. What are your initial assessments of President Trump’s cabinet nominees?
A. I have serious reservations so far. For instance, his education secretary nominee, Betsy DeVos, has no teaching or public education experience. There’s also concern about the performance of private charter school projects she had in Michigan. We need a thorough vetting process for each nominee to hold them to the same standard that was done for President Obama’s nominees.
Q. Are you concerned about the potential conflict of interest issues surrounding President Trump, and do you believe he has done or will do enough to answer these questions?
A. So far, he hasn’t done enough. There are still too many questions about where his personal and business interests begin and end. The American people need to know. I don’t think he understands that public service is a public trust and his failure to address these conflicts really reflects this.