Shaheen “Skeptical” about Russian Proposal on Syria
As originally appearing in NH Journal

By Fergus Cullen

BEDFORD – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen finds herself in the unusual position of being the most hawkish member of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation, having voted this week as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to authorize the use of military force against the Assad regime in Syria. But in remarks today before the business group The New England Council, New Hampshire’s senior senator sounded cautious.

“There are no good options in Syria right now,” Shaheen said, while maintaining that “the threat of military force is having an impact in Syria.” She described her decision to support the use of force as “very difficult” and acknowledged that “there’s a lot of concern about Syria turning into another Iraq.” She said she is “skeptical” about the Russian offer to safeguard the Assad regime’s chemical weapons but also called the offer “a positive development.”

Shaheen moved off foreign policy quickly, shifting to safer political ground to talk about the federal budget and the economy. She lamented the “manufactured crises” surrounding the lack of a federal budget or a continuing resolution to fund the government and the need to raise the debt ceiling. She called the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester “a crazy way to operate.”

Being careful to avoid partisan framing before the business audience, Shaheen nonetheless made it clear that in her view the Washington stalemate is due to the Republican House majority and “a small group of rightwing Senators.” Making approving reference to Republican Senator John McCain’s description of fellow Republican Senator Ted Cruz and others as “whacko birds,” Shaheen said, “That’s the John McCain I know and love.”

Shaheen expressed hope that “reasonable voices on both sides of the Senate” can come together to avoid what she called “another catastrophe” like what happened in the 2011 debt ceiling fight.

Shaheen related progress being made on the Shaheen-Portman energy bill: “We finally got it to the floor this week!” When there was no response from the audience, she helpfully suggested, “That’s an applause line,” prompting the audience to accede to her hint.

Nonetheless, her bill is stalled in the Senate due to the opposition of Sen. David Vitter (R-LA). Shaheen said she’s spoken to Senator Vitter and urged him not to use her bill to make a point about health care funding.

During Q&A, Shaheen reiterated her support for immigration reform and for changing senate rules to make it more difficult for one senator to use the filibuster.

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