By Ken Dixon, 10/31/2022, CT Insider
From one end of the state to another, second-term U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s daily schedule is packed with public events that during an election year has combined campaigning and his daily job representing Connecticut in Congress.
But even in non-election years, it’s the same frenetic daily pace, with the former 20-year state attorney general pushing for legislation in one town, announcing federal grants in another, using decades of statewide and local contacts to make high-profile declarations of intent, results and criticism. And if there is a local parade, chances are Blumenthal will be there.
It took 10 years for Blumenthal and fellow Democrats to finally gain a nominal, tight 50-50 Senate majority, a House majority, and a Democratic president, after the 2020 election. And the upcoming mid-term balloting will determine what President Joe Biden and Democrats might accomplish in the next two years.
On Friday, with only 11 days before the election and five days before the only debate of the election season with Republican challenger Leora Levy, Blumenthal had three scheduled events. Starting at 9:30 a.m. at UConn’s Avery Point campus in Groton, discussing Connecticut’s climate-change strategies 10 years after Superstorm Sandy with state officials including UConn President Radenka Maric and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes, while highlighting the $50 billion budgeted in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that was a major legislative victory this year.
From there it was on to Putnam in the northeast corner of the state, where he joined in a groundbreaking ceremony for a new Connecticut National Guard training center. At 2, he met college leaders and U.S. Rep. John Larson at a ribbon-cutting in East Hartford for Goodwin University’s new cooperative that will provide free food, clothing, personal hygiene products and diapers for students there and at nearby magnet schools.
The day before, Blumenthal’s public day started at 10 a.m. in East Hartford. There he joined local officials including Police Chief Scott M. Sansom to highlight the upcoming National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, offering people safe drop-off sites Saturday for unused prescriptions at a time when overdose deaths rose in the state by 11 percent between 2020 and 2021, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that most people who misuse medications get them from a family member or friend.
Then it was on to a 12:30 event in an Enfield auto parts facility where five percent of the 430 employees have disabilities and where Blumenthal, now 76, was visiting to highlight a recent grant that made Connecticut one of 10 states awarded millions of dollars from the U.S. Department of Education to prepare people with disabilities as well as their potential employers.
Attacking the issues
This year Blumenthal, who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, has been in the field underscoring the infant formula shortage back in the spring; pushing for the bipartisan gun-safety legislation that passed in June; and calling President Joe Biden’s trillion-dollar infrastructure bill “transformative” back in August. It includes provisions that will cut prescription drug costs and cap monthly insulin prices for seniors at $35.
When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the abortion rights codified for 50 years in Roe v. Wade, Blumenthal was quick to react to the new limitations on reproductive health from the conservative court majority and has continued to underscore the issue.
“We must trust women to make their own decisions about whether & when to have children, not politicians,” he recently tweeted from rural Kent, at a rally for reproductive rights. His Twitter feed provides the broad brushes of the senator’s packed schedule.
When Saudi Arabia announced it was cutting back on oil production, Blumenthal, using social media, warned that it was helping Russia in its war with Ukraine. “This move will fuel global inflation, raise U.S. gas prices, & provide Russia with windfall profits,” he tweeted. “This unnecessary, self-destructive cut should spur a prompt far reaching review of our relationship w/Saudi Arabia. Over & over, Saudi Arabia has broken its promises—siding with Russia & violating human rights. We must stop enabling this bad behavior & reset our one-sided relationship.”
Blumenthal serves on the Senate’s Committee on the Judiciary; Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation; Committee on Armed Services; Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and Special Committee on Aging. As chairman of the a Commerce subcommittee whose purview includes the health and safety of U.S. Olympic and amateur athletes, he recently criticized the ownership of women’s professional soccer after a report showed widespread harassment and abuse.
“Years of complaints about sexual misconduct, verbal abuse, and other completely inappropriate conduct against female soccer players were met with little to no action from teams, the league, or the federation,” said Blumenthal, who plans congressional hearings. “We must ensure those responsible are held fully accountable and that our athletes are protected.”
More recently, he was among 31 senators who asked for more federal emergency energy relief for low-income state residents under Congress’s continuing budget resolution (CR) approved in early October. “Given the alarming increase in energy costs that is forecast for this winter, we worked to secure an additional $1 billion in emergency funding,” Blumenthal, Sen. Chris Murphy and others wrote to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “It is critical that this funding, as well as the significant base funding available under the CR, is distributed as quickly as possible so it reaches these households in time for the winter heating season,” said the lawmakers.
After M&T Bank’s started terminating employees of the former Bridgeport-based People’s United Bank, Blumenthal asked for details on the takeover. “The recent news reports of layoffs of People’s United employees, low rehiring numbers of People’s United employees to new M&T positions, and complaints that some employees have been ‘pushed into lower-pay positions’ are deeply troubling,” he wrote to M&T officials.
When the water company Aquarion sought a three-year, 25-percent rate hike, Blumenthal warned that a wide spectrum of state residents, including the elderly, disabled and those with low to middle-incomes, could be negatively impacted. “Water is an essential resource, like food or shelter,” he said. “Yet, significant increases in water rates could result in substantial limits on consumers’ water use.”
Carrying a lead
While polls show Blumenthal with a double-digit lead over GOP challenger Leora Levy of Greenwich, he doesn’t acknowledge the Republican National Committee member by name. The son of a father who fled Nazi Germany at age 18, and a mother who was a social worker, Blumenthal was an honors graduate from Harvard, editor of the Yale Law School Review and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves in 1970, attaining the rank of sergeant before his honorable discharge in 1976.
After serving in the state House and Senate, Blumenthal won five consecutive four-year terms as attorney general, where he focused on consumer safety issues, including the historic 1998 settlement with the tobacco industry.
During his first campaign for the Senate in 2010, wrestling executive Linda McMahon of Greenwich seized on verbal misstatements Blumenthal made about serving in Vietnam, for which he apologized. In recent years, they resurfaced during public feuds under President Donald Trump, who tauntingly referred to Blumenthal as “Da Nang Dick” amid the public debate over the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. Levy has revived the pejorative, adding “Dishonest Dick” in a campaign that has been mostly limited to emails and social media with very few public events or news conferences.
“My opponent would be a reliable 51st vote for (Senate Republican Leader) Mitch McConnell and his efforts at a national abortion ban and ripping apart Social Security and Medicare,” Blumenthal said in an interview on Friday.
A proven vote-getter, back in 2010, Blumenthal defeated McMahon, with 636,040 votes to 498,341. In that election Dannel P. Malloy won his first term as governor with 567,278 votes. In 2006, when wildly popular Gov. M. Jodi Rell easily won reelection with 710,048 votes, Blumenthal was reelected attorney general with 782,235 ballots, the most of any statewide candidate.
Blumenthal acknowledged that many of his goals for a third term hinge on Nov. 8. “What I am able to do depends on whether Democrats can control the Senate,” he said. “Generally, I want to make Connecticut more affordable and safer. I will fight to protect and restore freedoms and rights, like a women’s right to decide when to have children.”
On Wednesday night, he and Levy are scheduled for their first and only televised campaign debate on WFSB Eyewitness News 3 in partnership with CT Insider.
While Congress and the president have taken steps toward lowering medical costs, it’s only a start, he said. “We’ve begun the fight against climate change but there’s a lot more that needs to be done, too,” he said. The CHIPS and Science Act signed into law by Biden in August, is aimed at shortening the supply chain and supporting computer-chip manufacturing in the United States.
“I’d like to see tax cuts such as the child tax credit that helped families avoid the crushing cost of child care,” Blumenthal said, criticizing Trump’s tax cuts targeting the wealthy.
“At the top of my list, we implemented effectively and promptly the care and benefits for veterans who were exposed to burn pits and toxic chemicals in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Blumenthal said over the phone on his way to an event on Friday.
Building on the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the first major gun safety law in decades, is another goal that Blumenthal shares with Murphy, one of the bill’s drafters. He warned that the U.S. Supreme Court needs “structural reform” at a time when voting rights and gay marriage are threatened by the conservative-dominated high court.
“Overall, I’d like to help bring the country together and do more to work in a bipartisan way,” Blumenthal said. “I am focused on healing divisions, not hurling insults. I want to work with partners on the other side of the aisle to make our nation more-affordable and safer.”