Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Friends And Enemies

Sen. Collins has garnered a fair amount of national attention for her ludicrous phone-a-friend approach to the New START treaty.

It might surprise some readers to know that I think there's a good chance she'll actually support the treaty if it comes up for a vote. Why? Because Collins' behavior here hews to the game plan that she virtually always follows when it comes to popular proposals that happen to be championed by Democrats: There's incoherence, dithering, a barrage of non-sequiturs and then a hop off the fence, to one side or the other, at the last possible moment.

In fact, in the scheme of things, the vote itself is almost always less important than a key imperative: not stepping on the argument, or undermining the political position of, her Republican colleagues.

Specifically, what Collins never does--and I'm pretty sure I mean never--is get out front on an issue where she disagrees with the GOP. No matter the salience. No matter what's at stake for the public interest.

Sen. John McCain used to do that. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) is doing it right now. Heck, even a hard-right conservative like Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has done it occasionally. But not the junior senator.

Sure, Collins might support the repeal of "don't ask don't tell" in theory. But not when its passage clashes with the agenda of her GOP allies. Sure, she'll quietly support the idea of climate change legislation. Just not the proposal that's actually up for discussion. (Or, incidentally, one that has any chance of passing.)

She might even swing to supporting a depression-averting stimulus bill at the last minute after bad-mouthing and diluting it. But she won't champion the bill, or adopt the kind of aggressive posture that might risk subverting the position of her friends in the GOP.

And what she absolutely won't do is allow her centrist street cred to be used as a wedge or lever to help advance an initiative that's a Democratic priority.

(If anyone is ready with counterexamples, I'm all ears.)

And yet: Isn't this kind of friend-or-enemy approach to substantive issues pretty much the definition of "playing politics"? Isn't this exactly the kind of blinkered, home team approach that the junior senator suggests is at the root of the country's problems?

That Collins would engage in misdirection and bad faith isn't news. But it is amazing that people continue to fall for it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Quote of the Day

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL):

The failure of the United States Senate to ratify the START treaty immediately is going to pose a danger to the United States and its security.

And let me give a historical analogy. It wasn't that long ago that a Republican president appealed to Congress on a bipartisan basis--it was President George W. Bush after 9/11--to rewrite the architecture of our intelligence agencies with a new Department of Homeland Security.

Senator Susan Collins, the chairman of the committee at that time and a Republican, Senator Joe Lieberman, a Democrat, got together and did it. They constructed this new scenario that has made us safer as a nation and they did it during a lame duck session.

There is no excuse for us to, to ignore this responsibility and to say we'll wait several months.
UPDATE: It doesn't change the underlying point. But Sen. Lieberman (I-CT) was actually still the committee chairman during the 2002 lame duck session, when the Department of Homeland Security was created. Collins took over a few weeks later.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thought of the Day

Imagine the incensed editorials we'd be seeing from the Maine press if Democrats were engaged in a politically-motivated effort to block the ratification of a nuclear arms treaty that Sens. Snowe and Collins supported.

Kyl Gets Grilled

Via Steve Mistler. Watch the whole thing:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Sen. Kyl (R-AZ)--the GOP point man on New START--is almost as eager to avoid a substantive discussion of the treaty as Sen. Collins has been. And that's really saying something.

Question of the Day

During her fourteen years in office, has Sen. Collins ever leveraged her centrist street cred to influence the debate over--and help advance--an initiative that happened to be a priority of a Democratic president?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ceding Authority

Remember during the 2008 campaign when Sen. Collins said she'd do the right thing as long as both former presidents with the last name "Bush" asked her to?

Me neither:

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has reserved judgment on how she will vote until the resolution comes to the floor, said it could make a difference if Obama could get George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, both former presidents, to appear with him in support of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START...

"It would be wonderful if President [George H.W.] Bush would come out for the treaty. That would be so powerful and definitely help," Collins said in a telephone interview last week.
If the junior senator is looking for guidance from GOP foreign policy bigwigs, then she might take note of the fact that Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Colin Powell--each of them a former secretary of state--and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen--yes, that William Cohen--have all come out strongly in favor of the treaty.

Instead, she's looking for new hoops for the Obama administration to jump through. And resorting to almost comically vapid, substance-free statements in the process. (Though she does get points, here, for originality.)

It seems pretty clear that this is just another excuse for Collins to continue her GOP-friendly intransigence on a treaty that is, let's remember, about containing the threat of nuclear arms.

Shameful. And shocking. But not surprising.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Via Brad DeLong:

Video Cafe:

AMANPOUR: And, again, as Admiral Mullen said, it's not just a nice treaty with a foreign country. It is about Russia's cooperation on all the issues that the United States needs, whether it's Afghanistan, Iran, and all the rest of it. Plus, I don't know what you think, but some are saying that this could give rise to the hard-liners in Russia again, who just do not want to -- who just don't want to deal with the United States.

LUCE: Oh, absolutely. I think it's -- it's a dream -- if you picked two countries that would like to see a failure of [START] ratification, it would be North Korea and Iran. And I think that -- if that argument doesn't work with the Republicans, that sort of basic elemental national security argument doesn't work, nothing is. There's -- there's a greater hatred of Obama than there is a love of American national security.

To The Brink

From NumbersUSA ("For Lower Immigration Levels") on the DREAM Act:

Sen. Susan Collins -- She voted YES in 2007. But her statements this week lean toward NO. You have driven her to the brink of a good decision; help her do it right.

Sen. Olympia Snowe -- She voted YES in 2007. But she is up for re-election in 2012. She has seen some other ensconced high-seniority Republicans nearly lose or lose to Primary challengers this year. A vote for amnesty now could make her a real target. It is a good sign that she hasn't declared herself a YES yet.

Quote of the Day

Norman J. Ornstein on the DISCLOSE Act:

Where are the previous champions of campaign finance reform? Where is Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose greatest legislative accomplishment was given a sharp stick in the eye by a 5-4 decision on the Supreme Court?

Where are previous supporters of reform--and professed supporters of disclosure--such as Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Scott Brown (Mass.)?

And most important, where is Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who has always been an independent voice, whose Snowe-Jeffords amendment to the campaign reform law was the provision most assaulted by the Citizens United case, who stood up to immense pressure from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Republican leaders in 2002 to do the right thing?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Quote of the Day

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) on New START:

"We're talking about thousands of warheads that are still there, an existential problem for our country...To temporise at this point I think is inexcusable."
I had to look up temporise. But yes, it means what you think it means.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Questions of the Day

Will any major Maine media outlet move beyond respectful pleading and actually call out Sens. Snowe and Collins for their dangerous intransigence on the new START treaty? And if not, why not?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

And Now For Something Different

There are two pieces in today's Sun Journal worth flagging, both by Steve Mistler.

First, Mistler write about the ambiguous positions Sens. Snowe and Collins have staked out on the New START treaty. In the process, he extracts information--weak rationalizations, really--from both senators on an issue they'd clearly prefer not to discuss. In the Maine media, that's an exceedingly rare occurrence.

The second piece is about the decision of both senators to sign an amicus brief arguing that the new health care law is unconstitutional. Here, Mistler draws attention to Snowe's vote for the bill in committee, and tries to get some answers reconciling what seem like contradictory positions.

In both articles, Mistler rejects the template Maine reporters almost always use for these kinds of stories: He doesn't simply chop up and regurgitate press releases or allow himself to be used as a megaphone. Instead, he asks commonsense questions an informed person couldn't help but want answered. And he provides relevant context, even when it doesn't reflect well on one or both of the senators.

It takes nothing away from Mistler's work here to note that this kind of reporting isn't exactly heroic. (Though it is more difficult than stenography.) It's what reporters are supposed to do on a daily basis. And it doesn't--or shouldn't--require a Herculean effort.

What it does require--maybe more than anything else--is seeing Sens. Snowe and Collins as accountable public officials worthy of scrutiny rather than royalty who deserve to be puffed up and celebrated.

That, and respect for readers.

Quote of the Day

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) on his GOP colleagues and the New START treaty:

Every senator has an obligation in the national security interest to take a stand, to do his or her duty...Maybe people would prefer not to do his or her duty right now. Sometimes when you prefer not to vote, you attempt to find reasons not to vote.

Friday, November 19, 2010

At All Costs

Does Sen. Collins have serious, substantive objections to the New START treaty?

Objections that haven't been--or can't be--answered by supporters like former Secretary of Defense William Cohen? Or former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger? Or George Schultz? Or Brent Scowcroft? Or James Baker? Or Colin Powell?

Or is this just about wounding the President?

Anyway, it's a good thing we're not talking about something with high stakes--like loose nukes and the threat of nuclear terrorism.

More seriously: Once upon a time, some of us were surprised--even stunned--to find the junior senator breaking with precedent to vote against extending unemployment benefits with an unemployment rate hovering around ten percent.

But these days, that kind destructive pandering is pretty much expected.

I guess it was time to raise the bar again.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Dirigo Blue covers the Paycheck Fairness Act vote.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Times Record: Collins' Silence "Perplexing"

An editorial:

Our country's national security shouldn't be subject to political gamesmanship. But that's exactly what's happening in the U.S. Senate, where the Republican leadership has been using lame excuses to hold up the ratification vote on the New START nuclear arms control agreement with Russia that would reduce both countries' deployed strategic nuclear warheads from 2,200 to 1,550 by 2012...

Given that the New START agreement has the unanimous support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and other key Pentagon leaders, it shouldn't have been difficult to gain the eight Republican votes needed to reach the 67 votes required for ratification. Previous nuclear arms control agreements, initiated by Republican presidents, had received close to unanimous bipartisan support in the past...

The silence of our two U.S. senators on this treaty is perplexing, given that both Sen. Olympia Snowe and Sen. Susan Collins have supported earlier arms control agreements negotiated by Republican presidents.

We encourage them to speak up for national security and urge their Republican leaders to stop the politicking and ratify this treaty.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Work For Hire

Mike Tipping notices that Sen. Collins has hired Matt Gagnon, editor of Pine Tree Politics, to work in her DC office.

Tipping suggests that Gagnon, "will still retain ownership over the site."

Glad to see that the revolving door between the Collins staff and the Maine print media--a feature of the state's political landscape with a long, rich history--is making the leap to the digital world.

And yet: Are there any Maine editors out there hardy enough to resist the junior senator's entreaties?

Thursday, November 11, 2010


She keeps bringing it:

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the lack of female representation in her party's leadership is a big problem.

"It does concern me that there are not more women in leadership positions," Collins said, "that I do think is disappointing."

She suggested that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell should at least consider informally including a woman in his leadership deliberations.


A spokesman for McConnell said the elected leadership will not include a woman, but it is possible he may in fact bring a female senator in informally.
(Emphasis mine.)

I'd love to know how that "informal inclusion" gets worked out in practice.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Flashback: Collins on Palin

The junior senator praised Palin upon her selection as GOP vice presidential nominee, gushed about the excitement she was bringing to the ticket and called her a "great choice" on national TV.

Quote of the Day

Sen. Collins on Sarah Palin:

“I think she likes being a celebrity commentator for Fox and a speaker and being able to provide for her family,” Collins said. “I think that life appeals to her. It’s a lot easier to charge people up than to actually govern.”
UPDATE: As I alluded to on Twitter, Collins' comment will likely be seen through the prism of ideology--as a moderate lashing out at a conservative.

But that misses the point. Collins considers Karl Rove an old friend. She raised money for incoming Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) and gave money to incoming Gov. Paul LePage.

So this isn't about a moderate going after a conservative. It's about a creature of the GOP establishment going after an outsider.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Collins Wants Estate Tax Back

News to me:

Collins is proposing that...that lawmakers pass some level of estate tax.

"There has not been any estate tax at all this year," she said. If the tax were to continue at 2009 levels, it would bring in an estimated $26 billion.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Collins Iffy On Benefit Extension


About 2,000 Mainers were notified this week that their unemployment benefits have maxed out. But whether Congress will extend those benefits any further is an open question.

Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins says she needs to be convinced to support another extension. "I'll have to look at the circumstances at the time, as far as the unemployment rate, the number of people who would be affected in Maine and nationwide whose benefits have expired or would expire, and whether or not it is paid for by cuts," she told Capitol News Service.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


From MTM:

Another result [of the election] is that Maine's two Republican U.S. senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, "will have increasing roles because their votes become more important," said Marvin Druker of USM's Lewiston-Auburn college. Democrats are clinging to a narrow majority in the Senate.
Got that?

When the GOP is in charge, the conventional wisdom in Maine is that it boosts the clout of Sens. Snowe and Collins. And when Democrats are just short of a 60-seat super majority, the Maine media also touts the increasing influence of the home state senators, because their votes are needed to avoid filibusters.

And sure enough, even now, with Democrats needing a whole bunch of Republican votes to achieve cloture--and no obvious new lever of power for either woman--the power of Maine's senators is still said to be on the upswing.

You almost get the sense that, when it comes to coverage of Snowe and Collins in the Maine press, the state's senators can't lose.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

About Last Night

Andrew Ian Dodge of the Maine Tea Party Patriots on what the midterms mean going forward:

I think the fact the Senate stayed Dem is a good thing for the tea party movement as a whole. The Republicans need to pay attention to us in order to retain the house in 2012.
Snowe is going to have a primary fight no matter what happened last night...2012 is going to be very interesting in Maine.