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September 18th, 2013
05:31 PM ET

Senator Ayotte: A standalone mental health bill can easily pass

Before he was the Navy Yard killer, he was just another contractor with a security card. But Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte wants to know how did a man with a laundry list of red flags, a man who heard voices and had a history of violent outbursts, get that kind of clearance?

Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced Wednesday that the committee will launch an investigation of security clearances. Ayotte said she welcomes that move, and also wants the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee to hold a hearing.

"The issue is one of safety in terms of the security clearances for individuals who are contractors that come in sensitive areas like the Navy Yard and other facilities across our country, we need a thorough review to make sure that people aren't getting through that should not be receiving these kinds of security clearances," said Ayotte.

Ayotte is pushing bipartisan legislation on strengthening mental health coverage in the U.S., and has a bill with Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska.

"Our bill would deal with making sure we detect signs of mental illness at an early stage and other bills that deal with how do we deal with intervention, training for law enforcement, and making sure that we see the signs early on and get treatments for the individuals who are mentally ill before they commit these kinds of acts," said Ayotte.

Ayotte and Begich's bill was tied to – and died with – gun control legislation, but has not been introduced as its own standalone bill.

"It can be taken up separately, and easily passed," said Ayotte. "Most of the mental health provisions got over 90 votes in the Senate, and very little gets 90 votes around here."

The country is 12 days away from a potential government shutdown, and a month away from another fiscal cliff.

Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday that House Republicans would pass a short-term government funding bill, and do everything they could to repeal Obamacare.

"This week, the House will pass a C.R. that locks the sequester savings in, and defunds Obamacare," Boehner said at a press conference. "The law is a train wreck."

But Ayotte said shutting down the government would not be productive.

"We should make every effort we can to make sure that we stop this law but I don't believe we should shut down the government to do so," said Ayotte. "I don't think that’s a strategy that is good for America."

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