STAGE RIGHT: A NEW SENATE STAR KELLY AYOTTE (R) NEW HAMPSHIRE BY SARAH McHANEY
When Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) retires from the upper chamber he will leave behind a gap in the “three amigos” on foreign policy, as he and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have been dubbed. The three senators traveled the world together for over a decade and were always at the table for foreign policy debates. Through bipartisan measures, these three senators have championed wars and solutions for global humanitarian crises.
It seems that a trio will remain intact even as one member bows out. Lieberman has found a successor in Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R).
Ayotte is the junior senator from New Hampshire. She was elected in 2010 and received wide support from high-profile Republicans who can to campaign with her including Sarah Palin, McCain, Gov. Mitt Romney, Gov. Haley Barbour, and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa). Ayotte was an important victory for the Republicans in New England as well as adding another conservative female voice to the Senate floor.
Before running for the Senate, Ayotte served as the New Hampshire attorney general for five years. Before that, she was a prosecutor.
In her first two years as a senator her largest contribution was leading the fight for an amendment revoking President Obama’s 2009 executive order restricting American interrogators to the techniques outlined in the Army Field Manual.
“When a member of al-Qaeda or a similar associated terrorist group is captured, I want to them to be terrified about what’s going to happen to them in American custody,” said Lieberman, explaining his support for the amendment. “I want them not to know what’s going to happen, I want that the terror that they inflict on others to be felt by them as a result of the uncertainty that they can look on the Internet and know exactly what our interrogators are limited to.”
The amendment did not ultimately make it into the defense spending bill, but Ayotte emerged as a voice supportive of a strong military, national security priorities, and firm foreign policy.
Although still a freshman senator, she has made her voice heard on many important foreign policy issues and worked her way into the three amigos’ tight group.
The three traveled the country together this past summer as well as made a trip to east Asia. On Nov. 27 at the Foreign Policy Initiative, Lieberman and Ayotte appeared together to talk about “the past and future of foreign policy in the Senate.”
Then when it came time for U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to answer congressional questions about the attack in Benghazi, Libya, it was McCain, Graham, and Ayotte who met with her in closed room.
After her meeting with Rice, Ayotte told journalists, “I actually came out more troubled than when I went in.”
“If Rice were to be President Obama’s nomination for Secretary of State, there will be a hold,” Ayotte said. “We should hold until we get information, sufficient information.” Last week, Rice withdrew her name from consideration for the post.
Ayotte is about to enter into a new Congress, possibly as the face of future conservative foreign policy. Last week she presented many of her foreign policy ideas, concerns, and criticisms at the American Enterprise Institute.
Ayotte opened cautioning that we have many threats facing the United States yet the Department of Defense is being asked to make significant budget cuts. The senator outlined what some of these reductions would look like including a significantly reduced Navy fleet. “The numbers speak, and message they send is a bad one for American security,” she said.
Regarding the lack of immediate response in the Benghazi attack, she also pointed to a lack of engagement in security after Moammar Gadhafi fell from power. Afraid that this could happen again in places such as Syria, Ayotte warned that it is essential for the administration to maintain security engagement even after the revolution is over.
She maintained, as McCain and Graham have as well, that there were plenty of indicators that Americans in Libya were in danger and should have been granted additional security if not pulled out entirely. “There was no surprise. The British and Red Cross teams had already pulled out after attacks on their teams. The security levels were diminishing and the indicators were all there,” Ayotte argued.
“I am deeply, deeply troubled,” she added.
There were specific signs Ayotte thought the administration should have been quick to respond to. She cited statements from late high-ranking al-Qaeda member Abu Yahya al-Libi encouraging attacks on the U.S. in Libya, plus the facts that the attack occurred on Sept. 11 and the consulate had repeatedly sent requests for increased security.
As a prosecutor of those accused of murder, Ayotte feels particularly strong about bringing justice in this situation as well as taking lessons and learning from the attack.
She expressed frustration with the Accountability Review Board, the State Department group charged with investigating security overseas that just released its report. “They will not fully engage in inter-agency discussions. They will not answer the questions my colleagues and I repeatedly send them,” she said.
Beyond Libya, Ayotte stressed the strategic importance of Syria and President Bashar al-Assad’s strong ties to Iran.
“What we do in Syria is very important in relation to what we are trying to accomplish in Iran,” said Sen. Ayotte.
She supports arming the rebels and possibly a no-fly zone.
In the midst of fiscal cliff negotiations, the defense budget has come under some scrutiny and is facing massive sequestration cuts. Ayotte was quick to point out our defense spending is not at the highest percentage it has ever been. Also given the amount of threats the U.S. currently faces she does not think the defense budget should be on the cutting table.
“The Department of Defense should not take a bullet for us to be able to afford healthcare costs. However, we are $16 trillion in debt so cutting money anywhere is our priority,” argued Ayotte.
There were rumors when Romney went to campaign with Ayotte in New Hampshire that he was putting her name on the short-list as a potential vice-presidential candidate.
Recently at New Hampshire’s Saint Anselm College, Ayotte said her daughter had dreams of becoming the first female president. Later, New Hampshire Public Radio asked Ayotte about her own presidential aspirations.
“I think I’ll be campaigning for Kate Daley, my daughter, for president — that’s it,” she said.
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