Kuster and the editorial board

Michael Moore / Sentinel Staff

U.S. Rep. Ann M. Kuster talks with editors Wednesday at The Sentinel.

U.S. Rep. Ann M. Kuster says she’s cautiously optimistic heading into midterm elections Nov. 6 and ready to roll out plans should the Democrats retake the House of Representatives.

Vying for re-election against state Rep. Steven Negron, R-Nashua, and Nashua Libertarian Justin O’Donnell, the Hopkinton Democrat stressed in a meeting with The Sentinel’s editorial board the importance of several of her core issues.

They include continued bipartisan action on the opioid epidemic, increasing access to broadband and infrastructure in rural areas, conducting oversight of the Russia investigation and investigating Saudi Arabia’s alleged killing of a Washington Post journalist.

Kuster also urged voters to vote for Democrats to provide a check on President Donald Trump — stopping short of calling for impeachment proceedings.

“This president has been very, very divisive,” Kuster said at the outset of Wednesday’s interview. “I think literally everything that comes out of his mouth, but certainly everything that comes from his tweets, have inflamed the polarization in Washington to a detrimental effect. What I’ve tried to do, and I think been successful at, is the New Hampshire approach to bring people together to get things done.”

Part of the bipartisanship Kuster touted was opioid legislation she co-sponsored, which provides funding for law enforcement and Medicaid. Trump signed the bill into law Wednesday.

Kuster also said she would like to see more research into the therapeutic effects of marijuana, which would involve the federal government declassifying cannabis as a Schedule I narcotic.

“I have not seen solid research (on cannabis), and I think part of that is that we have to change the federal law about using the marijuana during the research, which is sort of an ironic twist,” Kuster said.

Regarding health care more broadly, Kuster said the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act have caused uncertainty in New Hampshire’s insurance market and that the addition of a public option to the exchanges could provide more competition for services in the Monadnock Region.

Kuster cited the region’s lack of modern infrastructure, including broadband Internet, as the chief impediment to business growth in New Hampshire, followed closely by the labor shortage.

“Right now, what I’m most concerned about is the (Federal Communications Commission) reaching the conclusion on their maps that there is great service here, and I’m focused on working with the local community on their going out and measuring the quality of sound so we can demonstrate that there is not full service here,” she said.

Another opportunity to improve the Granite State’s economy, according to Kuster, is the growth of renewable energy in the form of offshore windmills and solar power. She said she would be open to continuing to use existing natural gas infrastructure, but that those planning any potential pipelines should be cognizant of the local landscape.

“Nobody had gotten out of the truck to go look that it would cross the stream a dozen times or go between a high school and a middle school,” Kuster said in reference to the Granite Bridge pipeline from Manchester to Stratham proposed by Liberty Utilities in 2017. Liberty has said it plans to submit applications for the pipeline in early 2019 and to begin operating in 2021.

While addressing immigration, Kuster said the economy could continue its positive growth and overcome the labor shortage if the Trump administration eased its limitations on legal immigration.

Should the Democrats retake the House, Kuster said she would support bids to succeed California Rep. Nancy Pelosi as speaker by Democratic colleagues such as Reps. Adam Schiff of California, Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts, Steny Hoyer of Maryland or Katherine Clark of Massachusetts.

“I’m very confident that we have terrific leaders coming through our caucus and that the American people will see the depth and breadth of our caucus, and the country will be in good hands,” Kuster said.

Toward the end of the interview, Kuster voiced her concern with Saudi Arabia’s alleged killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a vocal critic of the new regime under Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. A Saudi citizen living in Virginia in self-imposed exile from the kingdom, Khashoggi was never seen again after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to procure paperwork to marry his fiancée, a Turkish citizen.

Kuster took particular issue with President Trump’s reaction to the international incident, which he called “a very bad original concept” and “the worst cover-up ever” on Tuesday.

Trump has also voiced concern about punishing Saudi Arabia for the alleged attack because of a multi-billion dollar arms deal with the U.S. military, which the kingdom has yet to pay in full. And he has speculated that Khashoggi’s death, which reportedly involved 15 Saudi operatives — including an autopsy expert armed with a bone saw flown in on a royal Saudi aircraft — was simply the result of a “fistfight” gone awry.

“First of all, let me say that I’ve been shocked by the president’s response,” Kuster said. “To me, the First Amendment and journalism is the cornerstone to our democracy, and that the idea that Saudi Arabia put out a hit to murder a journalist ... I think is abhorrent, and the entire world is responding to that.”

Kuster called for a House investigation that could involve examining the audio tape from Turkish officials that reportedly recorded the incident, as well as interviewing officials from the consulate.

After the meeting at The Sentinel finished, Kuster headed off to Keene State College to answer questions from students.

Jake Lahut can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or jlahut@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @JakeLahut.