Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, returns to the chamber as the Senate voted to consider hearing from witnesses in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Breaking with national Republicans, Maine Sen. Susan Collins said Monday it was “absurd” to say those who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, were engaged in political speech.

It came in response to the Republican National Committee’s Friday censure of two party members on a Democratic panel that is investigating the riots perpetrated by backers of former President Donald Trump. The censure said rioters engaged in “legitimate political discourse.”

Collins’ statement was one of the strongest from an elected Republican so far, even though it came more than three days after the censure. Her recent actions have looked to balance opposition to Trump’s actions with his effective role as her party’s leader.

In a statement, the Maine senator said Republicans started the year with an advantage on issues that will decide the 2022 elections and any moment relitigating their lost election or defending criminals “moves us further away from the goal of victory this fall.”

“Those who assaulted police officers, broke windows, and breached the Capitol were not engaged in legitimate political discourse, and to say otherwise is absurd,” Collins said.

Maine’s senior senator was one of seven Republicans to vote last year to convict Trump of a Democratic-led impeachment charge related to the riot, which came after the former president stoked false charges of a stolen election and led to the deaths of five people.

Collins refused to back Trump in the 2016 election. She did not say who she backed for president in the approach to a 2020 reelection campaign in which she won Trump’s endorsement. Last week, he called her “wacky” for her bipartisan effort to clarify Congress’ role in Electoral College count.

In an ABC News interview last week, Collins criticized the former president’s pledge to pardon rioters but did not rule out supporting him in 2024, only saying it was “unlikely” because of other potential challengers for the Republican nomination. Earlier this year, she used another interview to list four party members she would prefer over Trump for the nomination.

House Democrats moved forward with their own investigation of the Jan. 6 riots after failing to secure Senate Republicans’ support for a bipartisan commission. Collins was one of six Republicans who voted against party leaders in May to advance that measure, but it was not enough to overcome the Senate filibuster.

At its annual meeting in Salt Lake City, the Republican National Committee censured Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, the only two members of the party sitting on the Democratic committee investigating the riots. Other Trump critics in the party, including Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan condemned the language used to defend the rioters.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...