7 Ways Lincoln Chafee Wants to Change the US, and the World

The metric system? Warming up to Venezuela? The '16 candidate has big ideas.

June 3, 2015, 8:56 PM
PHOTO: Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, waves after announcing his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination during a speech at George Mason University in Arlington, Va., June 3, 2015
Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, waves after announcing his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination during a speech at George Mason University in Arlington, Va., June 3, 2015
AP Photo

— -- And then there were four.

Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee Wednesday became the fourth Democrat to officially announce his campaign for president during a speech about foreign policy at George Mason University in Virginia. Chafee has migrated over his political career from a Republican to an independent to, as of 2013, a Democrat.

From today’s announcement it seems he will largely focus his campaign on global affairs and use his record on Iraq to distinguish himself from front-runner former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Chafee was one of 23 senators to vote against the war in 2002, and he was the only Republican senator (his party affiliation at the time) to do so.

Hillary Clinton voted in favor of the war, which she has since said was a mistake, and Chafee wasted no time in drawing that distinction.

"My colleagues failed to do their homework," he said.

A former blacksmith from a political family, Chafee was first elected mayor of Warwick, Rhode Island, in 1992, and served until 1999 when he took over his father’s seat in the U.S. Senate after his father died. He served one term in the Senate but lost his reelection in 2006 to Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.

He enters the 2016 race as a longshot.

"I enjoy challenges, and certainly we have many facing America," Chafee said, calling for the United States to "carefully extricate ourselves from expensive wars. Just think how better this money could be spent."

But Chafee, 62, brings some big ideas into the presidential race. Some of them are nearly unheard of in mainstream politics. Here are some of the ways Chafee said he'd change the country as president:

1. He Wants to Go Metric

In his announcement speech, Chafee called for the United States to adopt the metric system.

"Let’s join the rest of the world and go metric," Chafee said. "It's easy...it doesn't take long before 34 degrees is hot."

2. End Capital Punishment

"Let’s join the many countries who have banned capital punishment. Congratulations to Nebraska for your leadership," Chafee said.

3. Bring Snowden Back

Chafee said it's time to "allow Edward Snowden to come home."

4. Integrate Russia

Citing tension between Russia and Europe, Chafee suggested "strong efforts should be made to encourage Russian integration into the family of industrial nations."

5. Ban Ambassadorships for Sale

President Obama's administration has garnered media attention for posting campaign supporters and major donors in ambassadorships, a common political practice that has led to some public embarrassment for Obama.

Chafee wants to do away with that.

"As president, I would institute a ban on ambassadorships for sale," he said.

6. Warm Up to Venezuela

After the Obama administration's Cuba rapprochement, Venezuela is America's most aggressive rival in the hemisphere. Chafee said he wants to repair that relationship.

"I would repair relations with Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador," he told the crowd at George Mason.

7. Stop Drone Strikes

"Extrajudicial killings by drone strikes are not working, and many blame them for the upheaval in Yemen," Chafee said, referencing the U.S. government's practice of killing suspected terrorists via drone strikes without judicial proceedings.

"They are not worth the collateral damage and toxic hatred they spread," Chafee said.

Chafee was elected governor of Rhode Island as an independent in 2010 and became a Democrat in 2013. He chose not to seek re-election in 2014. As an independent, he voted for Obama and in 2012 served as Obama’s campaign co-chair.

Unlike other democratic challengers, Chafee has not hesitated to criticize Hillary Clinton directly.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley took subtle jabs at Clinton last week during his campaign kickoff event, hinting at what he sees as her close relationship to Wall Street. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has gone to pains to avoid saying anything about Clinton at all, instead focusing on his populist message about income and wealth inequality and money in politics.

Earlier this month Chafee told ABC News about the Iraq vote, “When you hear these candidates talk about basing their decisions on faulty intelligence that is completely inaccurate. There was never any intelligence at all, never mind faulty intelligence. It was all rhetoric about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”

“Don't forget that probably the biggest reason that Senator Obama, at the time, defeated Hillary Clinton in '08 was because of the Iraq war vote. That was the issue,” Chafee said on CNN in April. “And that's my big issue here, because we are dealing with [the] ramifications of that huge mistake that Senator Clinton made in 2002, which I did not make, but we live with it today.”

According to a recent ABC/Washington Post poll, Chafee only registered about 1 percent support among voters who are Democrats or lean Democratic compared to other candidates. He heads to New Hampshire Thursday for an event with local Democrats.

This story has been updated to reflect that Chafee won his 2006 primary but lost his general election to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.

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