Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Quote of the Month

Sen. Susan Collins on changing the Senate rules to prevent filibusters of Supreme Court nominees in the context of sub-60 vote support for Judge Neil Gorsuch:

If it's necessary in order to get him confirmed I may have to vote that way, but I certainly don't want to.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Wobble Much?

March 8, 2017:

Consider the Congressional Review Act vote to repeal BLM's venting and flaring rule. The oil and gas industry hates it, the House passed it and President Trump would love to sign it...The measure is facing push back from moderate Republicans, including Maine’s Susan Collins. "I do not," she said, when asked if she supported the measure.
March 21, 2017:
Some Republican senators are coming out against a resolution that would repeal an Interior Department regulation governing oil and natural gas drilling on federal land. The rule is designed to cut down on the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas...Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said..."I have not made a final decision."

Sunday, February 12, 2017

New Normal?

It was a pretty awful week for Sen. Susan Collins. For the first time in years, she lost the public relations battle to her critics not once but twice--even as those same critics became louder and their ranks grew.

First, Collins's vote against the confirmation of Education Secretary Besty DeVos, after she backed DeVos in committee, seemed to satisfy no one--the reversal was widely panned on the Maine left as a hypocrisy-masking bit of political theatre and it also drew criticism from Republican Maine Governor Paul LePage.

Collins's tone deaf, borderline-incoherent attempt today to explain the flipflop by appealing to principle seemed destined only to elicit more ire: If DeVos was sure to receive consideration from the full Senate regardless of the outcome of the committee vote, as Collins maintains, then why did believing that every senator should "have a voice" on the nomination require Collins to support DeVos's nomination in committee, as she also maintains?

(Politico's report that Collins decided to oppose DeVos only after Republican had gathered enough votes to assure her confirmation only added to the sense that Maine's senior senator was engaged, here, in political gamesmanship rather than principled behavior.)

Second, Collins sided with her GOP colleagues in ejecting Sen. Elizabeth Warren from the Senate floor for reading a letter Coretta Scott King had written in opposition to Attorney General Jeff Sessions's failed 1986 judicial nomination--a move widely perceived as reflecting a double standard, especially after Warren's male colleagues were permitted to read the very same letter on the Senate floor without incident.

The upshot of these two miscues seems to be, just maybe, that it's not as easy as it used to be for Collins to control the conversation. I can think of several reasons why that might be true:

--More Mainers are paying attention to Collins's acts than at any time in the last 10 years.

--In an ever-more-polarized political environment, it's harder than ever for a pol like Collins to use soothing rhetoric and symbolism to massage the perception around her unpopular votes.

--Fewer Mainers than ever are relying exclusively or even predominately on the mainstream outlets that have historically been all too willing to cheerlead for Collins--or serve as her megaphone--rather than functioning as something more akin to a referee. Instead, Mainers are hearing about Collins's acts from politically active friends on social media, where she's less likely to be given the benefit of the doubt and where her power doesn't win her automatic deference.

It will be interesting to see whether this is a brief blip--whether Collins is soon able to regain her footing and get back in control of her message--or whether this more contested state of affairs represents a new normal.

I suspect the answer will have to do, more than anything, with how Collins navigates through the coming months--in particular, whether and to what extent she helps advance the more extreme parts of the GOP's agenda.

Monday, January 30, 2017

1,200 Rally in Portland to Press Collins

A large group of Maine protesters took to the streets Sunday, calling out Sen. Susan Collins for her stances and pressing her to push back against Trump administration excesses.

As a rally targeting a single Maine representative to Washington, it was an unprecedented gathering--at least as far as we can recall.

Link roundup:

Dan Lampariello of WGME. (Here's video.)

Portland Press Herald.


Maine Beacon.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Collins Votes to Kill ACA For Real

With no Republican sponsored replacement on the table and after intimating that she would do otherwise, Sen. Susan Collins voted late last night to start the process of repealing Obamacare.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Susan Collins in 2017

After every federal election, pieces inevitably crop up in the Maine press explaining why the result was good news for Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME): Republicans win big? That must mean Collins's star is on the rise. The GOP loses seats? Maine's senior senator is bound to see her clout increase.

The "heads she wins, tails she wins" media reflex is one I've mocked over the years: A bias toward framing all events as empowering Collins (something which, not incidentally, plays into her own preferred narrative) speaks to broader, systemic problems with how Collins is covered by local and national reporters.

That said, there's a strong case that something really has changed this time around. I'd argue that Collins has never been more powerful or more important. Consider:

--Taking bold stances that shape the debate has never been a part of Collins's playbook. Instead, her influence has always flowed from the ability to cast a vote that puts a bill over the top or, alternatively, blocks legislation unless and until her priorities are adhered to. (See e.g. Collins's tie-breaking vote for the third Bush tax cut, on the one hand, and her cloture-defeating move to block the DISCLOSE Act on the other.) With a 52-48 Senate as the chokepoint for legislation in the next Congress, that "on the bubble" leverage will only increase.

--Because 60 votes are required to break a filibuster, any Collins defections will inevitably give cover to the red state Democrats needed to reach that magic number, making her cooperation a threshold condition for passing most major GOP legislation. On appointments and other items where a bare majority is needed, her backing may be even more critical.

The counterargument to the above is that Collins faced much the same situation during parts of the George W. Bush administration--and instead of leveraging her potential influence, she played the role of loyal Bush ally, blending into the GOP woodwork. But Collins is a more self-possessed senator in 2016 than she was in, say, 2006. (It's difficult to envision her speaking this bluntly against a GOP colleague eight or ten years ago, for example.)

The steady erosion of the GOP's left flank also means that Collins has more status than ever with the centrist-enamored beltway press--something that at least has the potential to embolden her, especially when GOP goals clash with the interests of her Maine constituents (a dynamic that's currently playing out around Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.)

But there's a second, more fundamental set of reasons that the Bush-era parallel doesn't hold up: This time around, Collins didn't vote for the GOP president. In fact, she publicly repudiated him.

There hasn't been much post-election discussion of this salient fact in the Maine press. But one inevitable upshot is that the senior senator's pool of potential supporters--for a future run for Senate or any other office--has shifted permanently and perceptibly to the left: There are thousands of Trump-admiring GOP voters who simply won't forgive Collins for that act of apostasy. (Collins was famously booed at an October Trump rally in Maine when Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) mentioned by her name).

An electoral coalition discernibly more liberal than it was prior to August 8, 2016 will be looking for Collins to live up to her moderate branding and be a check on Trump--and the constituent-minded senior senator may feel pressure to oblige.

The prospect of a Collins gubernatorial bid means that she'll be under more scrutiny from such voters than might normally be the case, at least until she rules out a run.

And finally, the advent of ranked choice voting--should it survive an expected legal challenge--means Collins will be incentivized even more than usual to avoid association with stances Mainers regard as extreme. That becomes doubly true if a primary challenge and/or tepid support on the right leads Collins to consider running as an independent, a prospect once considered far-fetched but that now seems increasingly likely.

To be clear, the early signs are mostly bad: Notwithstanding Collins's encouraging comments about the dangers of ACA repeal, she's been effusive in her support for the Sessions nomination; said glowing things about the prospect of Ben Carson heading HUD; and has remained silent about the prospect of climate change denier Scott Pruitt leading the EPA.

But as pressure ratchets up on Collins from all sides, there's at least some reason to think that the potential upside of checking GOP power could weigh more heavily in her calculus than it did the last time there was a Republican president with Republican legislative majorities.

Of course, how that calculus plays out will also depend on whether--and how loudly--those hoping Collins lives up to her moderate reputation are engaged in the political conversation.