U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine announced in a Tuesday floor speech that she will vote to acquit President Donald Trump on two impeachment charges, though the Republican said it was “wrong” for the president to call on Ukraine to investigate a political rival.
Collins’ decision to acquit is one of the highest-profile moves of her 23-year career as Democrats have made her one of their top targets in her 2020 bid for a fifth term. She won a landslide victory in 2014, but her approval rating has plummeted from 67 percent when Trump took office to 42 percent in a blue-leaning state late last year, according to Morning Consult.
The Maine senator refused to endorse Trump in 2016, but she has been forced into difficult votes during his tenure. In 2017, she opposed Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, frustrating conservatives assuaged after she backed the party’s tax-cut package later that year and voted for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.
They will be even more satisfied now, since Collins’ votes on acquittal likely mean Senate Republicans will stand united on Wednesday, when the chamber is expected to vote to acquit Trump, who could only be removed from office with two-thirds of Senate votes and will give his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night.
Watch: Local Republicans react to Collins’ impeachment decision
After House Democrats kicked off the impeachment process in September, Collins largely declined to comment on the proceedings, citing her role as a juror. She was one of just two Republicans who voted last week with Democrats in a failed attempt to hear from witnesses in a Senate trial that began last month.
Collins’ decision to acquit the president is likely to ramp up calls from liberal critics that she largely follows the party line. Voting in favor of either article could have rekindled anger in Maine’s conservative base and prompted a late-breaking primary challenge.
The articles of impeachment from House Democrats allege that the president abused his power by asking Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in 2020, and that Trump obstructed the House probe.
At the beginning of a floor speech on Tuesday, Collins said the record was clear that Trump’s actions were “improper and demonstrated very poor judgment” before laying out the reasons for her two acquittal votes.
She argued that Democrats didn’t demonstrate the actions underlying the abuse of power charge against Trump “warrants the extreme step of immediate removal from office.” She said the obstruction charge should have been reviewed by the courts. Instead, the House “substituted its own political preference for speed over finality,” she said.
“It is my judgment that, except when extraordinary circumstances require a different result, we should entrust to the people the most fundamental decision of a democracy, namely, who should lead their country,” Collins said.
A vote to acquit Trump may have always been the likeliest scenario for Collins, who voted in 1999 against her party’s bid to impeach President Bill Clinton, a Democrat. While she criticized Clinton harshly for writing “a shameful and permanent chapter” in U.S. history, she said impeachment should be reserved for cases in which the president “injures the fabric of democracy.”
Democrats are unlikely to see an analog between the two sets of votes after Collins’ support for Kavanaugh in 2018 kicked off unprecedented liberal mobilization against the Republican once seen as electorally bulletproof. She beat a Democratic congressman by 20 percentage points in that party’s wave year of 2008 and won reelection with two-thirds of the vote in 2014.
In a statement, Kathleen Marra, the chair of the Maine Democratic Party, said Collins was a “outspoken advocate for more witnesses and evidence” during the Clinton trial while she worked with Republicans to enable a “sham trial” with her vote on Tuesday.
“She has abandoned her commitment to the truth in favor of her pursuit of power and Mainers can see through her craven political charade,” Marra said.
After the Kavanaugh vote, however, progressive activists raised $3.8 million for the eventual Democratic nominee to face Collins. House Speaker Sara Gideon has consolidated support from national Democrats, while she is being opposed in the June primary by lobbyist Betsy Sweet of Hallowell, former Google executive Ross LaJeunesse and lawyer Bre Kidman.
Sweet ran to a third-place finish in the 2018 gubernatorial primary and is backed by some national progressive groups, while Green candidate Lisa Savage and three independents are gathering signatures in attempts to make the November ballot.
Collins’ vote prompted Gideon to say for the first time that she would have voted to remove Trump from office, saying the incumbent’s vote “reveals her commitment” to Republican leaders. Sweet called for Trump’s removal in early December.
Collins has already raised more money for the 2020 race than any politician in Maine history, though Gideon outraised her over the latter half of 2019. More than $10 million in advertising has already been dumped into the race, the most of any Senate campaign in the nation, with one group predicting $55 million on advertising alone will be spent before the election.