Kelly Ayotte

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Kelly Ayotte
Kelly Ayotte, Official Portrait, 112th Congress 2.jpg
United States Senator
from New Hampshire
Assumed office
January 3, 2011
Serving with Jeanne Shaheen
Preceded by Judd Gregg
Attorney General of New Hampshire
In office
June 15, 2004 – July 17, 2009
Governor Craig Benson
John Lynch
Preceded by Peter Heed
Succeeded by Mike Delaney
Personal details
Born Kelly Ann Ayotte
(1968-06-27) June 27, 1968 (age 48)
Nashua, New Hampshire, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Joseph Daley (2001–present)
Children 2
Alma mater Pennsylvania State University, University Park
Villanova University
Religion Roman Catholicism[1]
Website Senate website

Kelly Ann Ayotte (/ˈɒt/ AY-ot;[2] born June 27, 1968) is an American politician and the junior United States Senator from New Hampshire, serving since 2011. A member of the Republican Party, she is the second-youngest of the 20 female senators, and the twelfth-youngest overall.

Born in Nashua, New Hampshire, Ayotte is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University and Villanova University School of Law. She worked as a law clerk for the New Hampshire Supreme Court before entering private practice. She also worked as a prosecutor for the New Hampshire Department of Justice, and briefly served as the legal counsel to New Hampshire Governor Craig Benson, before returning to the Department of Justice to serve as deputy attorney general of New Hampshire. In June 2004, Governor Benson appointed Ayotte as attorney general of New Hampshire, after the resignation of Peter Heed. She became New Hampshire's first female attorney general, serving from 2004 to 2009, after she was twice reappointed by Democratic governor John Lynch. In July 2009, Ayotte resigned as attorney general to pursue a bid for the U.S. Senate, after three-term incumbent Judd Gregg announced his retirement from the Senate.

In September 2010, Ayotte won a close victory over lawyer Ovide M. Lamontagne in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. She then defeated Democratic congressman Paul Hodes, with 60% of the vote in the general election, and was later sworn into the U.S. Senate as a member of the 112th Congress, on January 3, 2011. Ayotte was mentioned as a possible running mate for Republican nominee Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election.[3][4][5] An August 2013 cover story by Newsmax magazine named Ayotte No. 1 among the 25 most influential women in the GOP, calling her “an emerging force in Congress.”[6]

Early life, education, and career[edit]

Ayotte was born in Nashua, New Hampshire, on June 27, 1968, the daughter of Kathleen M. (née Sullivan) and Marc Frederick Ayotte. Her father's family is of French-Canadian descent.[7] She attended Nashua High School. She received a B.A. from Pennsylvania State University in political science.[8] While a student at Penn State, Ayotte was initiated into the Delta Gamma sorority.[9] In 1993, Ayotte received a J.D. from Villanova University School of Law, where she had served as editor of the Environmental Law Journal.[10]

Ayotte clerked for Sherman D. Horton, associate justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, for one year. From 1994 to 1998, she was an associate at the Manchester law firm of McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton.[11]

In 1998, she joined the office of the New Hampshire Attorney General as a prosecutor. In 2003, Ayotte became legal counsel to Governor Craig Benson. Three months later, she returned to the attorney general's office as deputy attorney general.[12] In June 2004, Ayotte was appointed Attorney General of the State of New Hampshire by Governor Benson following Peter Heed's resignation.[13]

New Hampshire Attorney General[edit]

Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England[edit]

In 2003, the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire found the New Hampshire law requiring parental notification of a minor's abortion, the Parental Notification Prior to Abortion Act, unconstitutional and enjoined its enforcement. In 2004, New Hampshire attorney general Peter Heed appealed this ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which affirmed the district court's ruling. In 2004, Ayotte appealed the First Circuit's ruling to the Supreme Court, over the objection of incoming Democratic Governor John Lynch. Ayotte personally argued the case before the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court unanimously vacated the ruling by the district court and remanded the case back to the district court, holding that it was improper for the district court to completely invalidate the statute instead of just severing the problematic portions of the statute or enjoining the statute's unconstitutional applications.[14]

In 2007, the New Hampshire Parental Notification Prior to Abortion Act was repealed by the New Hampshire legislature, mooting the need for a rehearing by the district court.[15]

In 2008, Planned Parenthood sued to recover its attorney fees and court costs from the New Hampshire Department of Justice.[16] In 2009, Ayotte, as attorney general, authorized a payment of $300,000 to Planned Parenthood to settle this lawsuit.[17]

Prosecution of murder cases[edit]

As assistant attorney general, Ayotte prosecuted two defendants for the 2001 Dartmouth College murders in Etna, New Hampshire. After she became attorney general, she prosecuted the high-profile 2006 capital murder of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs. It resulted in a conviction and death penalty sentence.[18] Members of the slain police officer's family praised her leadership in television ads for her 2010 Senate campaign.[19][20]

New Hampshire Institute of Politics[edit]

Ayotte served as a board member of the Public Advisory Board at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College while Attorney General.[21] She has returned to the Institute since being elected Senator. She made a visit in March 2011 to talk to political science students.[22]

On May 28, 2013, she attended a forum at Saint Anselm College to explain the "Never Contract With the Enemy Act" (S. 675), which she co-sponsored with Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).[23] She was accompanied by Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen. They addressed military contractor fraud and how to prevent funds paid to military contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq from winding up in the hands of parties hostile to the United States.[24]

U.S. Senate[edit]

2010 election[edit]

Ayotte campaigning in Amherst, New Hampshire on Independence Day 2010

Incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Judd Gregg decided to retire, instead of seeking re-election in the 2010 senate election in New Hampshire. Ayotte resigned as attorney general on July 7, 2009 to explore a run for U.S. Senate in 2010.[25][26] Ayotte was recruited by the National Republican Senatorial Committee to enter the race.[27][28] On September 14, 2010, Ayotte defeated lawyer Ovide M. Lamontagne, businessman William Harrison Binnie and Jim Bender in the Republican primary. In the general election, Ayotte ran against Democratic nominee U.S. Representative Paul Hodes, Libertarian nominee Ken Blevens, and Independent Chris Booth. Ayotte won with 60 percent of the vote.[29]


Ayotte was endorsed by John McCain, Sarah Palin, John Thune, Tom Coburn, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Haley Barbour, and Rick Santorum.[30] According to one senior GOP aide, "The addition of a Republican woman from New England who’s young, who’s a mom … all of these things broaden the Republican party’s appeal and say to different segments of the population, 'This party has folks in it that are just like you.'"[30]

2016 election[edit]

Ayotte is running for re-election to her U.S. Senate seat in 2016. No candidates filed against her for the Republican primary election, which took place on September 13, 2016. The lone Democrat to file for election is Maggie Hassan, the current Governor of New Hampshire.[31]

In February 2016, the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity announced that Ayotte was the lone vulnerable Republican U.S. Senator the group would not be supporting in the 2016 election cycle, saying Ayotte was too moderate to warrant the conservative group's financial backing.[32]

On May 4, 2016, an Ayotte spokeswoman said Ayotte "intends to support the Republican nominee" for U.S. President, but does not plan to make an endorsement.[33] In October 2016, after lewd sexual comments made by Republican nominee Donald Trump in a 2005 video came to light, Ayotte said she would be writing in Mike Pence for president.[34]


Ayotte was appointed counsel to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in January 2013, which is considered a leadership position.[35] She has been visible on national security matters as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.[36]


Ayotte has sponsored 217 bills, including:[37]

112th Congress (2011–2012)[edit]

  • S. 944 and S. 982, bills to keep the Guantanamo Bay detention camp open, to prohibit prisoners held there from being released back to their country of origin, and to prohibit the construction or modification of any facilities used to house any individual under detention at Guantanamo, introduced May 11 and 12, 2011
  • S. 1704, a bill to reduce the number of strategic airlift aircraft used by the United States Air Force from 316 to 301, introduced October 13, 2011
  • S. 1996, a bill to require the Congressional Budget Office to release macroeconomic reports alongside its budget reports for major bills and resolutions (which the bill defines), introduced December 15, 2011, reintroduced in the 113th Congress as S. 184
  • S. 2320, a bill to treat Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Republic of the Philippines as a permanent military cemetery in a foreign country under the purview of the American Battle Monuments Commission, and to have the Commission restore and maintain the cemetery, introduced April 19, 2012. While this bill did not become law, an agreement has since been made between the U.S. and Philippine governments to do what the bill intended.[38]

113th Congress (2013–2014)[edit]

  • S. 31, a bill to permanently ban state and local governments from imposing taxes on the access to the internet and on goods sold by means of the internet, introduced January 22, 2013.[39]
  • S. 263, a bill to prohibit federal agencies from hiring more than one employee for every three full-time employees who leave employment from that agency until the Office of Management and Budget determines that employment in that agency is at least 10% less than it was previously, and to prohibit members of Congress from receiving a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in their pay in years in which the federal government has a budget deficit, introduced February 7, 2013.[40]
  • S. 862, a bill to allow certain individuals to be exempted from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's minimum essential health care coverage requirements if one's religious beliefs would cause them to object to medical care provided under any of the requirements, introduced May 6, 2013.
  • S. 1406, introduced July 31, 2013, a bill to permit the Secretary of Agriculture to issue regulations for the issuance of permits for people hired for the management of horse shows, exhibitions, auctions, and sales, requiring all such individuals to be qualified to identify instances of soring. Individuals receiving the permits must be cleared of any potential conflicts of interest and preference is to be given to accredited veterinarians. The bill further makes it a crime for any person to sell, auction, exhibit, or race any sore horse, and bans Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking horses, and Spotted Saddle horses from being sold, auctioned, exhibited, or raced if they are equipped with any action device (which the bill defines) or equipment that would alter the gait of the horse. A companion bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives as H.R. 1518.[41]
  • S. 1764, a bill to prohibit the Department of Defense from retiring the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II until a sufficient number of Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs have been constructed to replace the existing A-10s, introduced November 21, 2013.[42]
  • S. 1869, a bill to repeal the provision of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 that reduces the COLA to the retirement pay of members of the Armed Forces under age 62, and to require individuals claiming the refundable portion of the child tax credit to include their Social Security number on their tax returns, introduced December 19, 2013. The first part of this bill is identical to another bill, S. 1963, sponsored by Senator Mark Pryor.
  • S. 1977, which has the same provisions as S. 1869, but also requires the name and Social Security number of the qualifying child of the individual claiming the tax credit to be on the tax return, introduced January 30, 2014.
  • S. 2355 and S. 2377, bills to exempt from the federal income tax any benefits received from a disability program for public safety officers if such disability was acquired as a result of an injury sustained in the line of duty, introduced May 20 and 21, 2014.

Committee assignments (114th Congress)[edit]

Political positions[edit]

Ayotte has been described as both a conservative Republican and a centrist. After her 2010 election, the Associated Press referred to Ayotte as "a conservative Republican" and two years later, NBC News described her "unique identity in the Senate as a Northeastern conservative Republican woman."[43][44][45][46] Since her election she has demonstrated more centrist tendencies in her voting record, including working with Democrats on some issues.[47][48][49] The Lugar Center at Georgetown University ranked Ayotte as the 11th most bipartisan member of the U.S. Senate during the 113th Congress.[50]

Immigration policy[edit]

Ayotte voted for the comprehensive immigration reform bill (the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013) brought forward by the bipartisan Gang of Eight, calling it a "a thoughtful, bipartisan solution to a tough problem."[51][52] Ayotte's support for the legislation was criticized by the conservative National Review.[53]

Economic policy[edit]

Minimum wage[edit]

Ayotte opposes increasing the minimum wage,[54] and opposes federal legislation to index the minimum wage to inflation, reflecting adjustments in the cost of living.[55]

Social Security[edit]

In 2010, Ayotte said she was open to raising the Social Security retirement age for younger workers.[55]

Labor issues[edit]

Ayotte opposed passage of the Employee Free Choice Act ("Card Check"), which would have amended the National Labor Relations Act to allow employees to unionize whenever the National Labor Relations Board verified that 50% of the employees had signed authorization cards, therefore bypassing a secret ballot election.[56]

In April 2014, the Senate debated the Paycheck Fairness Act. The bill would have punished employers for retaliating against workers who share wage information and put the justification burden on employers as to why someone is paid less while allowing workers to sue for punitive damages of wage discrimination.[57] Ayotte said that one of her reasons for voting against ending debate on the bill was that Majority Leader Harry Reid had refused to allow votes on any of the amendments that Republicans had suggested for the bill.[57]

Ayotte voted in April 2014 to extend federal funding for unemployment benefits. Federal funding had been initiated in 2008 and expired at the end of 2013.[58]

In March 2015, Ayotte voted for an amendment to establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund to allow employees to earn paid sick time.[59]

Fiscal policy (taxes and spending)[edit]

Ayotte favors passage of a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.[60] She has advocated for such a constitutional amendment as a member of the Senate Budget Committee.[61]

In 2010, Ayotte criticized the 2008 bailouts, saying "I wouldn't have supported the TARP or the bailouts...I do not think we should have bailed out the private sector."[62]

Ayotte has called for federal budget cuts to reduce the federal debt and deficits, proposing in 2010 that every government department cut its budget by 20 percent from current levels, though "some may cut more, some may cut less."[62]

Ayotte favors the permanent repeal of the estate tax and has co-sponsored legislation to repeal the tax.[63][64]

During the standoff over increasing the national debt limit in 2011, Ayotte pushed for greater cuts in government spending and voted against the eventual deal.[61]

Ayotte has pushed to end congressional earmarks, and has co-sponsored legislation that would permanently ban the practice.[65]

Financial regulation[edit]

Ayotte opposed the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Ayotte said that the legislation failed to directly address problems with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and that the Act imposed additional regulatory burdens on community banks.[66]

Climate and energy[edit]

In 2010, when asked about climate change, Ayotte acknowledged that "there is scientific evidence that demonstrates there is some impact from human activities" but stated that "I don't think the evidence is conclusive."[62][67] She opposed both a cap-and-trade system and a carbon tax to reduce carbon emissions.[62] In 2011, she voted to limit the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.[68] In 2012, Ayotte voted with four other Republican senators to defeat a proposal to block the Environmental Protection Agency from promulgating the first federal standards regulating air pollution from power plants.[61] In 2013, she voted for a point of order opposing a carbon tax or a fee on carbon emissions.[69]

Ayotte was one of two Republican senators to vote against a Republican measure, introduced by Roy Blunt, that sought to block President Obama from negotiating an international agreement on climate change.[67] She voted to fast-track approval for the Keystone XL pipeline project.[67]

In October 2015, Ayotte became the first congressional Republican to endorse a measure by President Barack Obama dubbed the Clean Power Plan, a measure would see a 32 percent cut in the power sector's carbon emissions.[70][71][72] That same year she was one of five Republican senators to vote to pass a non-binding amendment stating that "climate change is real and human activity significantly contributes to climate change."[71][72]

Health care[edit]

Ayotte supports state-administered healthcare programs such as SCHIP and federal tax credits that serve to reduce the number of uninsured.[73] In November 2013, amid growing concerns over the launch of, particularly relating to delays associated with initial online signups for health coverage, Ayotte called for a "time-out" on the Affordable Care Act during a televised interview with CNN, suggesting instead to "convene a group of bipartisan leaders to address health care concerns in this country because this is not working."[74]

Ayotte was given the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's Congressional Award in recognition of her support for increasing mental health resources.[75]

Ayotte has advocated for passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which is intended to address opioid abuse. The bill would increase funding for treatment of addiction and allow nurses and physician assistants to treat addicts with medication, which Ayotte says would increase the treatment options available.[76]


Ayotte joined with the rest of the Senate Republicans in refusing to hold a hearing on the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.[77][78]

Social issues[edit]

Abortion and reproductive rights[edit]

Ayotte is opposed to legalized abortion, and believes that abortion should be prohibited except in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the life of the mother.[79]

She voted to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood and divert the funds to community health centers, but opposed an attempt to shut down the federal government over the issue.[80][81]

Same-sex marriage and LGBT rights[edit]

In her 2010 U.S. Senate campaign, Ayotte said she personally opposed same-sex marriage and legal protections for the adopted children of same-sex couples, but that she thought states should decide those issues.[82][83] Gay marriage and adoption by gay parents are both legal in New Hampshire.[84] Speaking about gay marriage, Ayotte said: "Ultimately I do think this is a matter for the states and states should decide how to define marriage. New Hampshire’s already made that decision and I respect the decision."[85] In 2015, Ayotte was one of eleven U.S. Senate Republicans who voted to extend Social Security and veterans' benefits to all legally married same-sex couples.[86]

Violence Against Women Act[edit]

Ayotte voted for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2012.[87] In November 2013, Ayotte was one of 10 Senate Republicans who voted in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act,[88] which passed by a vote of 64–32.

Gun policy[edit]

Ayotte supports an individual's Second Amendment right to bear arms.[79] Ayotte supported the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in McDonald v. City of Chicago and District of Columbia v. Heller, which invalidated strict gun laws in Chicago and Washington.[56] In 2006, Ayotte opposed a Republican-backed bill that would have established a castle doctrine for New Hampshire.[89]

In 2013, Ayotte opposed legislation offered by Sens. Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey to mandate background checks for all commercial gun sales.[90] According to the Washington Post, Ayotte's vote resulted in a coordinated effort by gun-control groups to turn her vote into a political liability.[91] Following her nay vote, Ayotte was confronted by the daughter of one of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting at a town hall meeting in Warren, New Hampshire.[92] During the subsequent congressional recess a woman whose husband was killed by gun violence in 1994 invited Ayotte to dinner to discuss the issue; Ayotte's office declined, citing scheduling conflicts.[93] Ayotte experienced a drop in her approval rating, particularly among Democratic voters, immediately following the vote, according to the Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling.[94] As part of the debate over Manchin-Toomey, Ayotte voted for an amendment which would have increased access to mental health records for background checks and provided funding to prosecute background check violations. The amendment did not pass.[95]

In June 2016, Ayotte voted against an amendment by Senator Chris Murphy which would have required background checks for gun sales at gun shows, over the internet, and between friends and family. She voted for an amendment to increase funding for the background check system and enhance the definition of "mental competency" for purchasing firearms. She also voted for two amendments to block or delay the sale of firearms to known or suspected terrorists. All four amendments failed.[95]

Foreign policy[edit]

Ayotte has positioned herself as a foreign policy "hawk" and frequently aligns herself with fellow Republican Senators John McCain (of Arizona) and Lindsey Graham (of South Carolina).[96]

In July 2012, Ayotte said "The president's first major foreign policy speech in Cairo was to apologize for our country." PolitiFact rated Ayotte's statement "false" and wrote that it was a debunked talking point, noting that although President Obama had referred to U.S. support for the 1953 Iranian coup d'état in his speech, he never apologized or expressed regret for U.S. foreign policy.[97]

Israel-Palestinian conflict[edit]

In October 2014, Ayotte wrote an op-ed in The Hill criticizing Mahmoud Abbas, writing that the Palestinian Authority president "has embarked on a destructive course harmful to the prospects for rebuilding Gaza and achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace."[98]

Defense spending[edit]

In October 2011, Ayotte sponsored a bill with Senator John McCain to control costs associated with major defense acquisition programs.[61] Ayotte opposes the Defense Department's wishes to retire the U.S.'s fleet of Cold War-era A-10 Thunderbolt II jets and redirect those funds elsewhere. Ayotte argues that there is no adequate replacement for the plane and citing her husband's experiences flying the A-10 while in the Air Force.[99]

Iraq, Syria, and ISIL[edit]

Ayotte has criticized President Obama for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011.[96]

In July 2016, Ayotte called for a "more aggressive" campaign of U.S. airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.[96]

Guantanamo Bay prisoners[edit]

Ayotte has fought attempts by the Obama administration to try terrorism suspects in civilian federal courts.[61] She opposes the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and introduced a bill in the Senate that would block the closure of the prison and ban any transfer of detainees to the United States.[100]

Ayotte criticized the August 2015 transfer of 15 prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay detention camp to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), saying that she believed the released prisoners had dangerous ties to terrorism and would return to terrorist activity. She said that the Pentagon told her in 2015 that 93 percent of the detainees in Guantanamo Bay were considered "high risk" for returning to terrorist activities.[101][102]

Ayotte authored and released an unclassified report that summarized information about the 107 original detainees at Guantanamo Bay, including the detainees' affiliations and terrorist activities prior to their detention. Ayotte has pushed for the Pentagon to publicly disclose more details about the detainees; the Pentagon currently releases only detainees' names and countries where they are transferred.[102]

Personal life[edit]

In 2001, Ayotte married Joseph Daley, an Iraq War veteran and former A-10 pilot who flew combat missions in Iraq.[103] Daley works for the Air National Guard. The couple has two children.[104]

Electoral history[edit]

U.S. Senate Republican primary election in New Hampshire, 2010
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Republican Kelly Ayotte 53,056 38.21%
Republican Ovide Lamontagne 51,397 37.01%
Republican Bill Binnie 19,508 14.05%
Republican Jim Bender 12,611 9.08%
Republican Dennis Lamare 1,388 1.00%
Republican Tom Alciere 499 0.36%
Republican Gerard Beloin 402 0.29%
U.S. Senate election in New Hampshire, 2010
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Republican Kelly Ayotte 273,210 60.09%
Democratic Paul Hodes 167,545 36.85%
Independent Chris Booth 9,194 2.02%
Libertarian Ken Blevens 4,753 1.05%


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