“[Senator Collins is] searching for compromise when she can, checking the president when she feels she must.”
Christian Science Monitor | Francine Kiefer
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“It was a somber scene in the GOP-controlled Senate. Republicans were set to blow up a historic Senate rule so they could bust through a Democratic blockade and confirm Neil Gorsuch for the US Supreme Court with just a majority vote.
“Rather than the usual milling around at vote time, when senators from both parties mix it up with slaps on the back and chitchat, many members began the series of votes on this April morning sitting quietly at their desks. Republicans on one side, Democrats on the other.
“Which is why Sen. Susan Collins stood out. Carrying a bright green folder, the Republican from Maine crisscrossed the chamber floor, quietly approaching her colleagues – placing her hand on a shoulder, bending down to whisper, then opening her folder.
“Even as the Senate was ‘nuking’ the 60-vote threshold for Supreme Court nominations – a high bar meant to forge consensus and protect minority-party rights – Senator Collins was gathering signatures for a bipartisan letter to the Senate leadership. The petition sought to preserve the chamber’s last supermajority threshold – not for court appointments but for passing legislation itself.
“This was classic Collins, ranked in 2015 as the most bipartisan of the Senate. Such moderation actually makes her a particularly powerful senator. In this increasingly polarized era, Collins is a crucial swing vote in a chamber where Republicans hold only a tenuous 52-to-48 majority, putting her in a position to help shape or stall the legislative agenda of President Trump…
“Susan Collins: Courting a moderate
“Collins is a fifth-generation public servant who draws inspiration from Maine’s first female US senator, Margaret Chase Smith, and from her political lineage. Both her parents served as mayor of her hometown of Caribou, on the northeastern tip of Maine, where her family runs a lumber business that dates back to 1844.
“The state has a tradition of sending independent-minded senators to Washington, and the moderate Republican carries on that tradition. It’s what makes her one of the most wooed members of the chamber.
“‘Not a day goes by that I do not hear from a colleague in the Senate, asking me to either join in an initiative, or what I will do on a particular issue,’ she says in an interview. ‘That’s very nice in some ways, but it puts a lot of pressure on me,’ especially now that the president is a member of her own party, she explains.
“Still, that hasn’t changed her approach to her work: searching for compromise when she can, checking the president when she feels she must.
“Though she did not vote for Mr. Trump in November, she stood with him on the Gorsuch nomination after having tried – and failed – to broker a bipartisan truce to avoid the explosive rules change. But she did not support Trump’s choice for Education secretary, Betsy DeVos.
“Collins has deep reservations about the GOP plan to overhaul Obamacare that narrowly passed the House May 4, saying it would hurt Mainers, particularly senior citizens. She and several other Republican senators have made it clear the bill will never survive the Senate intact. Their message helped stall it in the GOP-controlled House in March.
“Before the House even unveiled its plan, she and a Republican colleague, Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, a physician, wrote their own compromise bill: States that like Obamacare could keep it; those that don’t could use Affordable Care Act funds to develop a plan that covers more people. They've picked up four Republican co-sponsors and are reaching out to Democrats.
“Collins says the president called her about the bill. He found it intriguing and sent White House economic adviser Gary Cohn and an assistant to talk to her and Senator Cassidy about the specifics.
“In the end, though, the administration backed the House version. It aimed to pass it through a special budget maneuver that requires only a majority vote in each chamber.
“As a steadfast defender of the Senate’s deliberative traditions – Collins herself has never missed a vote in her 20-year tenure – she is skeptical of circumventing the normal legislative path for such big and complex issues as health care and tax reform. She prefers the committee process, hearings, and amendments in which the House and Senate have a chance to work their will and come to some kind of bipartisan solution.
“‘I don’t think this is a good way to proceed, and I would think we would have learned from [Obamacare] when President Obama jammed the bill through the Senate,’ she says.
“The GOP leadership in the Senate has meanwhile set up a working group of 13 Republicans to fashion the Senate's own Republican health-care bill. Neither Cassidy nor Collins is on it – and notably, no women either. At least one former Washington insider suggests that Senate leaders should consult closely with the even-tempered Collins, not just because she is a crucial swing vote, but because she also serves on some powerful committees, including appropriations.
“‘I used to work very closely with Susan every day. And the same thing with Olympia Snowe,’ says former Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R) of Mississippi, referring to Collins’s former colleague from Maine. ‘If you get them in on the takeoff, they’ll probably be there on the landing.’
“Yet there is some question whether Collins will even be in the Senate in a few years. She is weighing a 2018 bid for governor. The deciding factor, she has said, is where she can ‘do the most good’ for Maine.”
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