No, Susan Collins Is Not a Trumpist Stooge

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) arrives for the hearing of Eugene Scalia to be secretary of Labor before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill, September 19, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
The Lincoln Project attacks the Maine senator — and fails to engage with the facts of her career.

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE T hose responsible for the new Lincoln Project ad taking aim at Senator Susan Collins (R., Maine) either don’t know what “never” means, or don’t believe that you do. Collins “never stands up, never speaks up, never does what a Maine leader should do,” the ad’s narrator confidently asserts, his voice dripping with disgust, as a graphic citing an ABC News report — “Collins votes with Trump/McConnell 67.5 percent of the time” — flashes across the screen. The incongruence between the ad’s claims and the actual facts makes it all the more important to detail Senator Collins’s unusual record of independence and bipartisanship in the upper chamber of Congress.

Collins was first elected to the Senate in 1996. For the duration of her tenure, she has distinguished herself as one of its most independent, least partisan members. As a relatively liberal member of the Republican caucus, Collins makes no secret of her pro-choice inclinations, was endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign in 2014 for her support of the LGBT community, and joined only a handful of other Republicans to vote to confirm both Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court.

On other issues, Collins fits the milieu of a traditional Republican. She voted for both the Bush and Trump tax cuts, opposed the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration, and has in the past (with the exception of the 2013 Gang of Eight immigration bill) voted against comprehensive immigration reform proposals that would provide illegal entrants a pathway to citizenship.

Collins, then, is a centrist. Her centrism has helped her forge a reputation as a bipartisan leader to such an extent that the Lugar Center — whose Bipartisan Index measures the efforts of legislators “to broaden the appeal of their sponsored legislation, to entertain a wider range of ideas, and to prioritize governance over posturing” — named Collins the most bipartisan Senator of 2019, as well as of the three Congresses preceding the 2018 midterm elections.

According to her critics, Collins abandoned her independent streak when President Trump took office. But in fact, Collins’s voting record over the last three and a half years mirrors that of her preceding twenty years in the Senate. On presidential nominations to Cabinet roles and the Supreme Court, Collins has shown a general deference toward the president’s picks, but opposes those that she feels are particularly unqualified. Following this principle, she supported the vast majority of nominees named by both Barack Obama and Donald Trump, but voted against Chuck Hagel in the case of the former and against both Betsy DeVos and Scott Pruitt in the case of the latter.

Her approach to immigration issues in the Trump era has also remained unchanged. Throughout her career, Collins has supported border-security measures while also opposing the exercise of executive power to achieve the ends of either party. For that reason, Collins called Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) “a huge mistake” and voted to condemn and overturn Trump’s emergency declaration on the southern border.

Collins has broken with Trump on a multitude of other issues. She introduced an amendment to protect transgender service members from Trump’s ban. She voted against an administration-led effort to lift sanctions on Russia in 2019. She supported a bill that would have reinstated Obama-era net neutrality rules. She opposed every attempt by the GOP to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act in 2017.

For 24 years, Collins has exasperated conservatives and liberals alike. Many have wished they could exercise the control over her vote that the Lincoln Project ascribes to Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell. No one ever has. Those who want her fourth term in the Senate to be her last should find a different line of attack. Susan Collins’s independence is uncommon, enraging, and undeniable.

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