US Senate candidate Christina Nolan talks about the issues

Christina Nolan, photographed in Burlington on March 12, 2020, declared last week she’s throwing her hat in the ring to replace outgoing U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Vermont’s former U.S. attorney, Christina Nolan, declared Tuesday she’s throwing her hat in the ring to replace outgoing U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. She was not available for an interview the day she made her announcement, but she talked to VTDigger later in the week to discuss where she stands on the issues.

Nolan, a Republican, has promised a “fresh perspective” and argued that, instead of looking at the “R” next to her name on the ballot, Vermonters should trust her to be an independent thinker willing to break with her party and work across the aisle.

“I will always do the right thing, and I will not work for a party or an ideology,” she said.

She called herself an environmentalist who believes in climate change and said as a gay woman, she cares a great deal about marriage equality and gay rights. Nolan said she would break with her party if it meant getting a deal on paid family leave.

“As a woman, I want to do everything I can to support women in the workforce,” she said.

But Democrats, and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., who will likely face off against Nolan in the general election, have argued that party matters a great deal. Moderate or not, with the Senate split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, they say a vote for Nolan is ultimately a vote to hand control of the chamber back to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. 

So, would she vote for McConnell as majority leader? Nolan declined to say.

“I’ll vote in a way that I think is best for Vermonters, and so I'm not going to engage in hypotheticals. I'm going to see what the options are,” she said.

The filibuster in the Senate requires generally 60 votes to pass legislation, although both parties have pushed to use — or create — exceptions to pass priority bills or confirm judicial appointments. Leahy, who has long defended the filibuster, recently backed a failed attempt to amend these rules to pass voting rights legislation. 

The voting rights bill in question attempted to restore voting rights protections lost following a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2013. That decision eliminated “preclearance,” a requirement that states with a history of racially discriminatory voting practices submit new election rules to federal officials for review before they could take effect. Racial justice and civil rights advocates have argued the decision has opened the floodgates to state-level efforts to suppress the vote in communities of color.

Nolan said she wanted to keep the filibuster as-is and argued that it forced both parties to compromise instead of relying on razor-thin majorities to force legislation through. And she dinged Republicans and Democrats for being willing to change the rules once in power.

“I'm not going to change my position on that depending on who's in the majority or who's in the minority,” she said.

As for the voting rights bill championed by Leahy, she said she was more inclined to leave it up to the states.

“I think that deciding how to make the ballot accessible to the maximum amount of people — how to best do that — is driven by local considerations. Like in Vermont, I think we do it very well, and we don't need a federal bureaucratic, standardized solution for the whole country,” she said.

In his campaign, Welch wholeheartedly endorsed Medicare for All, the signature issue for Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Unsurprisingly, Nolan said she’s not interested in health care reform that eliminates private health insurance, but she said she wanted to explore Medicare “for all who need it,” which she described as a public option for higher-risk, sicker individuals with pre-existing conditions. 

“Could we get that and then drive down prices in the private market by covering those folks? That's the sort of idea I'm interested in proposing to both parties once I get to Washington,” she said.

On gun control, Nolan did not foreclose outright the possibility of voting to support new restrictions. But she expressed very little appetite to do so.

“I would focus on enforcing the gun laws on the books — and always keep an open mind, but I think that that, right now, is the way to balance the needs of public safety with the Bill of Rights,” she said.

Nolan said she would not have supported the Build Back Better spending package championed by President Joe Biden and Vermont’s congressional delegation. 

“I think it was too big,” she said, adding that she worried it would have “exacerbated the inflation crisis.” 

But she said she would have worked to salvage some of its components, including the expanded child tax credit and significant infusion of cash for universal pre-kindergarten and child care. 

Nolan was appointed Vermont’s top federal prosecutor by former President Donald Trump and served in that capacity from 2017 to 2021. But did she vote for the man who gave her that job?

“It is a secret ballot. I voted for a lot of different people. And who I am is not defined by who I voted for,” she said. “And I want the public to know that everything we did at the U.S. attorney's office under my tenure was non-partisan. And so I think I can leave it at that.”

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Lola Duffort

About Lola

Lola Duffort is a political reporter for VTDigger, covering Vermont state government, the congressional delegation and elections. She previously covered education for Digger, the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire and the Rutland Herald. She has also freelanced for the Miami Herald in Florida, where she grew up. She is a graduate of McGill University in Canada.

Email: [email protected]

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