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As Maine Republican officials made their case for voters to support Sen. Susan Collins in her 2020 reelection campaign, they highlighted her bipartisan and thoughtful approach to working in Washington.
Now it appears that some in the party want to censure her, basically for proving them right.
In September, Maine GOP Chair Demi Kouzounas applauded Collins’ “unwavering bipartisanship.” She also commended Collins a year ago for her vote to acquit Donald Trump in his first impeachment trial “after following the careful and thoughtful process she has always followed.” Collins followed that same process in Trump’s second impeachment trial, and reached a different conclusion last week.
Collins was one of seven Republican senators who voted on Saturday to convict president Trump of inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. This principled vote may have been the politically unpopular decision among her fellow Republicans, but it was supported by overwhelming evidence. Collins thoughtfully explained her decision, part of the most bipartisan presidential impeachment in U.S. history, in a floor speech on Saturday. Trump was acquitted as 43 Republicans voted not to convict him.
These realities haven’t stopped chatter among Maine Republicans about potentially censuring Collins for the vote, echoing the censure culture that is taking over state and county GOP organizations around the country. Maine party officials have now sent her a strongly worded letter.
Five of the six other senators who voted to convict Trump have already faced some sort of censure in their home states. While there has been talk in Utah about censuring Sen. Mitt Romney, the state party there has refreshingly responded by emphasizing the “danger of a party fixated on ‘unanimity of thought.’”
For a window into the minds of the state and county officials involved in the censure efforts across the U.S., consider the remarks of a county chairman in Pennsylvania regarding the push to censure Sen. Pat Toomey.
“We did not send him there to vote his conscience. We did not send him there to do the right thing or whatever he said he was doing. We sent him there to represent us,” Washington County GOP Chairman Dave Ball told Pittsburgh-area TV station KDKA.
That message is bad enough, but it’s even worse when applied to Collins. When the most bipartisan senator joins the most bipartisan impeachment in history, that’s not really a surprise. Neither is a thoughtful lawmaker taking a thoughtful approach after a literal attack on American democracy. If anything, this is an affirmation of the campaign pitch Collins and Maine Republicans made to voters this past year. It’s a confirmation of the OpEds, letters to the editor and endorsement that ran in this paper highlighting the independent thinking and bipartisanship Collins demonstrates in Washington.
Plenty of Republicans around the state clearly disagree with Collins’ impeachment vote. They don’t have to suddenly change their mind about Trump’s actions based on Collins’ perspective. They can write to her expressing their displeasure, as more than 30 party leaders did this week.
Threats of a censure, however, basically amount to trying to punish her for being who she said she is, and who the Maine GOP said she has long been in the Senate.
“When people in Washington want to solve a problem, they turn to the senior United States Senator from Maine, Susan Collins,” reads her bio on the Maine GOP website. “First elected in 1996, Senator Collins has earned a national reputation as an effective legislator who works across party lines to seek consensus on our nation’s most important issues. For the past five consecutive years, Senator Collins has ranked as the most bipartisan member of the U.S. Senate by the Lugar Center and Georgetown University.” She’s now been ranked as the nation’s most bipartisan senator for seven years.
That’s the Susan Collins who showed up to work during the impeachment trial. It would seem that the Maine GOP is upset about being right.
Collins has responded to the criticism by stressing her oath to do impartial justice in the trial.
“This is an oath I took very seriously, just as I did when I voted to acquit President Trump in the 2020 impeachment trial,” Collins said in a letter to the state officials. “The decisions I made in both trials were based on the Constitution and the evidence before me, not on my membership in a political party or any other external factor.”
She has also stressed the importance of refocusing and growing the Republican Party around ideas rather than one individual, and has pointed to the fact that she is now the only Republican in New England elected to federal office. She won reelection in 2020 while Mainers chose Democrats for president and both congressional seats.
If the Maine GOP is accepting any unsolicited advice, we’d suggest spending less time trying to reprimand Collins for fulfilling her oath to be an impartial juror and more time listening to her about how to win elections.