Snarky liberal blog Wonkette has developed something of a crush on Maine Senator Susan Collins, raving late last week about “the best and the brightest of all the GOP senators.” That site wasn’t alone; anti-Trump observers of various political stripes are smitten. Harry Enten of fivethirtyeight dubbed Collins “The Real Republican Maverick.” The Boston Globe ran an article calling her “unafraid to oppose Trump.”
Collins is enjoying a moment as the left’s favorite Republican—at least, outside of Maine. Inside… well, that’s a complicated issue.
National Collinsmania reached a frenzy after a Wednesday appearance on Maine Public Radio, in which she seemed to endorse the idea of the Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenaing Trump’s tax returns as part of its investigation into ties with Russia.
Those undisclosed tax returns have been the anti-Trump crowd’s Holy Grail; for them, it was a pure dopamine rush to hear a Republican member of the Intelligence Committee talk about securing their release, as part of an aggressive probe into possible wrongdoing related to Russia involvement in the 2016 election.
And that came after a series of other examples of Collins stepping up as one of the few Republicans—and in many cases the only one—to break from Trump and the party.
Collins spoke out against Trump’s travel restriction Executive Order, calling it likely unconstitutional. She also told Maine Public Radio that Trump advisor Steve Bannon should not have been on the National Security Council principals committee. She voted against the confirmation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt.
She’s clearly doing enough to infuriate national conservatives, one of whom called for her defeat from the stage at last week’s Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference.
So, you can see why Trump opponents have gotten giddy. But, that optimism requires a considerable amount of selective amnesia.
Wonkette, fivethirtyeight, and the Globe all failed to mention in the above articles that Collins almost single-handedly assured the successful confirmation of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General. Collins not only endorsed him, but personally spoke on his behalf before the Judiciary Committee, attesting to his integrity and lack of prejudice or bigotry. Collins also joined other Republican Senators in voting to silence Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren during the floor debate over the Sessions nomination.
The committee testimony, coming from a moderate, northern woman gave cover to other Republican Senators, to vote in favor of Sessions—who has been driving the left crazy of late. He was reportedly behind the administration retracting support for transgender students use of their preferred bathroom. He has signaled an intent to crack down on federal marijuana prohibition in states that have legalized its use. He reversed an Obama administration plan to discontinue use of private prisons. And, Sessions has refused to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s investigation into potential Russia ties in the Trump campaign, with which he was intimately involved.
Collins has gone along with Trump, and Republicans, in other ways, too. And, her acts of defiance have mostly been arguably less than they’re made out to be. On subpoenaing Trump’s taxes, Collins made clear that she would leave that up to Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr, who has no interest in doing so. (The committee would almost certainly not release anything in those taxes publicly even if it did obtain them.) She voted against Pruitt, but did not speak up with Democrats asking to delay the confirmation vote for a few days, to see emails being released by a court showing Pruitt’s communications with oil and gas executives. Her vote against DeVos came only after Collins helped vote that nomination favorably out of committee.
Back home in Maine, where Collins made appearances during last week’s brief Senate recess, she’s been getting considerable grief from the left for not doing enough to stand up against Trump—and for not holding townhall meetings.
Collins cares enough about that criticism to have visited the progressive “Mainers For Accountable Leadership last week. But it’s a very tricky task, trying to calculate which way Collins would be politically wise to move.
Collins is not up for re-election to the Senate until 2020. But, there is considerable speculation that she will run for Governor of the state next year—speculation she didn’t quash last week when asked during a radio interview, saying only that she is “not ruling it in and not ruling it out.”
Meanwhile, Maine’s conservative voters continued to show their strength in November, 2016, winning one of the state’s two districts for Trump, and returning Republican Bruce Poliquin to a second term in Congress.
That comes after the state twice elected Trump-loving Tea Party conservative Paul LePage as Governor—and which might have LePage, who is prevented by term limits from running again for Governor, challenging Independent Angus King for Senator in 2018.
So, if you’re Collins, do you need to shore up your right flank, to avoid trouble in a primary? Or give up on the conservatives and play for anti-Trump support?
Those are tough questions for the tough Senator from Maine. Even tougher, is seeing a way to turn the current national liberal love into something useful for her, politically, in Maine—when it’s likely to fade fast next time she sticks with the Republican party line.
Trump's Cabinet: Where NE Senators Came Down
In January, five of Trump’s nominees came to a vote in the Senate. They received a total of nine votes against them, from New England’s 12 Senators. In February, nine nominees have received an average of nine “no” votes from the same dozen.
That change is due in large part to the individuals nominated, but probably at least in part to pressure from the left to be more aggressive in opposition to the President.
February’s votes included both of Collins’s no votes, against DeVos and Pruitt. She voted in favor of the other 12 nominees so far. Her colleague from Maine, former Republican Angus King, has been the next most accommodating to Trump’s choices, voting yes on eight and against six.
Senators from several New England states have thus far voted in tandem. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire have both voted in favor of the same seven nominees, and against the other seven together. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse have voted identically, matching on six yeas and eight nays. Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy have differed only on John F. Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security, with Murphy approving and Blumenthal dissenting. On the others, they both voted in favor of the same five and against the same seven—and both were unable to vote on Mike Pompeo for CIA director, due to bad weather.
Vermont Senator Pat Leahy, however, has voted in favor of six nominees, unlike Bernie Sanders, who has approved of only three. There’s a similar split in Massachusetts, with Elizabeth Warren voting yes on three, and Ed Markey yes on five.
Eight cabinet-level confirmation votes remain, including picks for Energy, Labor, Commerce, Interior, and Housing and Urban Development.