How McConnell, Kavanaugh and Trump affect Susan Collins

Despite her past big wins, if Sen. Susan Collins runs for reelection, she won’t really be running on her own. Instead Mainers will judge Collins in part by her links to three powerful men. 

One she voted to lead her party in the Senate. Another she voted to put on the Supreme Court. And the third she refused to endorse or vote for in 2016, but hasn’t said if she’ll support in 2020.

Each of these men — Mitch McConnell, Brett Kavanaugh and Donald Trump — are not only controversial on their own. They also have records that conflict with Collins’s stated objectives and values.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, right, watches as retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, ceremonially swears-in Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, as President Donald Trump looks on, in the East Room of the White House on Oct. 8, 2018. Ashley Kavanaugh holds the Bible and daughters Margaret, left, and Liza, look on. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Take Sen. McConnell. One thing Collins has repeatedly said she cares about is a Senate that operates well, that uses “regular process.” A Senate of that type would use its committees to their fullest and would work with the House of Representatives when they pass bills.

But how has Majority Leader McConnell run the Senate? He’s used a “just say no” strategy, even taking on the moniker “the grim reaper” for killing legislative efforts on all sorts of policies.

After the Senate Intelligence Committee, on which Collins sits, issued a bipartisan report about Russia’s past and ongoing attempts to interfere with our elections, McConnell refuses to let the Senate vote on legislation on election security. 

And McConnell also broke a promise to Collins to allow a vote on a health policy fix, a promise she said had been made for her vote on the Trump tax bill. As one political analyst characterized it, “Collins gave away the valuable thing she had and didn’t get what she wanted in return.”

Despite McConnell not keeping his word and his history of undermining Senate operations, just last week Collins said she would vote for McConnell for majority leader again. Her backing of McConnell, who is seen favorably by about one in four voters in the country, could come back to haunt her.

And then there’s Kavanaugh. Collins built a reputation as a moderate, in large part because of her advocacy of the right to choose.

In one of her most contentious votes, Collins voted for Kavanaugh to hold a lifetime position on the nation’s top court. Her speech announcing this vote suggested that abortion rights are safe because Kavanaugh supported the decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which came after Roe v. Wade.

But in fact, the Casey decision gave states greater ability to put their own restrictions on abortion, as long as the Supreme Court did not determine they posed on “undue burden.” In the years since that ruling, states have added rules that make it harder for women to get abortions, making it the main strategy to undermine reproductive rights. 

Sen. Angus King recognized what Collins did not, that Kavanaugh “subscribes to an overly rigid judicial philosophy (as demonstrated by his longtime membership in the Federalist Society) which would allow the states great leeway in narrowing the personal liberty protections afforded by a long line of Supreme Court cases, including Roe v. Wade.” King concluded that while Kavanaugh “may not vote directly to repeal Roe . . . but he will almost certainly vote to whittle away its protections, leaving not much more than a hollow shell.”

While Collins portrayed women’s stories about Kavanaugh sexually portraying them as misrepresenting, recently journalists Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly corroborated some details and note that the FBI’s investigation was limited.

How Justice Kavanaugh rules and what more is learned about him will affect how Mainers evaluate Collins. 

And then there is Trump, whose trade policies have harmed the Maine lobster market, as the deficit rises to the highest in seven years, and he focuses his attention on personal slights and fights. Trump brags that he has remade the federal courts and his appointments are strongly anti-choice and against environmental protection. 

On many positions and certainly when it comes to temperament, Collins’ stated positions are quite different from Trump’s but she has declined to say whether she’ll endorse Trump for 2020. She was to face a primary challenger from her right before party pressure drove him to quit that contest.

No person runs for office completely alone, and Mainers will take into account their views of the majority leader, the justice and the president, as they decide how well Collins has done.


Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.