The contention -- and the number -- seemed startling.
On Equal Pay Day, Democrats said Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte had not only voted against equal paychecks for women, but she had done so multiple times.
Both Governor Maggie Hassan, who is challenging Ayotte for her Senate seat, and the New Hampshire Democratic Party, blasted Ayotte in dual press releases on April 12, 2016.
"It is extremely troubling that Kelly Ayotte has voted four times against the federal Paycheck Fairness Act, which would help ensure that women can earn equal pay for equal work." Hassan said in the release.
Ayotte also put out out a statement about equal pay on the same day in April, which is the date that women, on average, have to work into the following year to make as much as men. In 2016, that date was April 12.
Given that Ayotte has sponsored and promoted her own bill calling for equal pay, called the GAP Act, we decided to check it out.
About the bill
The bill in question is called the Paycheck Fairness Act, which according to its official legislative description "amends the portion of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) known as the Equal Pay Act to revise remedies for, enforcement of, and exceptions to prohibitions against sex discrimination in the payment of wages."
Perhaps the strongest tool in the bill is the provision to "make employers who violate sex discrimination prohibitions liable in a civil action for damages." This language has inspired the most Republican opposition, including from Ayotte.
She believes it exposes employers to frivolous lawsuits and other problematic litigation and could restrict merit pay, among other reasons, according to her office. She has therefore voted for a number of amendments and alternatives to the largely Democratic-backed bill.
She’s currently supporting a piece of legislation called the GAP act, which "makes it clear that employers must pay women and men equal wages for equal work, while still preserving the ability to award merit pay and allow for flexible schedules," Ayotte and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito wrote in an op-ed for the Concord Monitor.
The issue has taken on special resonance in Ayotte’s Senate re-election race, since she’s facing off against New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, who supports the act.
So let’s look at the four votes. Hassan’s campaign and the state party pointed them out to us. (The same votes were mentioned in an April 12 press release from EMILY’s list, a group that seeks to elect pro-abortion-rights women running as Democrats.) The votes were held on June 5, 2012; April 9, 2014; Sept. 15, 2014; and March 24, 2015.
The first three were procedural votes, known as cloture. These are votes meant to cut off debate on a bill and bring it to the floor of the Senate for a vote. While an actual bill can pass with a simple majority in the U.S. Senate, it takes 60 votes to invoke cloture, meaning that as a practical matter, Senate passage requires a bill to have 60 votes rather than just a simple majority. Republicans often refuse to end debate on bills favored by Democrats, and vice versa.
So, although Ayotte opposed the bill being debated and has said so repeatedly in public, it’s not entirely accurate -- at least in three of these cases -- to say that she voted against the paycheck bill itself. She was casting a procedural vote in these three cases, which is not exactly the same as up or down votes on the legislation.
In addition, the final vote listed by the Democrats was for an amendment offered by Sen. Barbara Mikulski addressing the issue. Ayotte voted against the amendment, though she did vote for an alternative Republican amendment.
The biggest omission by Hassan’s camp is leaving out a vote from Sept. 10, 2014, when Ayotte actually called for ending debate on equal pay legislation. She was one of 73 -- including a number of Republicans -- to cast votes doing so. According to her office, Ayotte hoped to change the bill but was denied the ability to do so by Harry Reid.
Hassan said that "Kelly Ayotte has voted four times against the federal Paycheck Fairness Act."
Hassan glosses over some nuances -- most of the votes were procedural rather than substantive, and she leaves out a vote in which Ayotte cast a procedural vote in favor of advancing the bill. And it’s worth noting that Ayotte’s opposition to the bill doesn’t mean she’s an opponent of equal pay for women; rather, she and most Republicans have a substantive disagreement over the means to that end.
Still, Hassan made her assertion specific -- Ayotte’s record on this particular piece of legislation -- and it’s clear that Ayotte has a longstanding record of opposing this bill. We rate the claim Mostly True.