Senator Susan Collins
Susan Collins, U.S. Senator, (R.-Maine), U.S. Senate speaking at Fortune's Most Powerful Women summit. Photograph by Stuart Isett/Fortune Most Powerful Women

If Susan Mar­garet Collins, six­ty-five, of Cari­bou, Maine, the senior U.S. Sen­a­tor for the Pine Tree State, was ever real­ly a “Rock­e­feller Repub­li­can”, she isn’t anymore.

In a care­ful­ly chore­o­graphed, metic­u­lous­ly planned, lengthy floor speech, Collins made it abun­dant­ly clear that she fierce­ly sup­ports Don­ald Trump’s extrem­ist pick to fill the vacan­cy left by the retire­ment of Jus­tice Antho­ny Kennedy.

And although she did not say so, it is evi­dent from her remarks that she has sup­port­ed Brett Kavanaugh all along, despite pre­tend­ing to be unde­cid­ed and uncom­mit­ted. The only rea­son she con­cealed her fer­vent sup­port for this nom­i­na­tion was so that she could ride in at the eleventh hour and deliv­er the biggest shot in the arm pos­si­ble to Mitch McConnell and Don­ald Trump.

Like the head of her par­ty, Collins is a con artist.

The speech Collins gave was not the kind of speech giv­en by a sen­a­tor who was ever con­flict­ed about their vote. It was a speech of a true believ­er — some­one who wants to see decades of prece­dent upend­ed to advance right wing causes.

And yet, instead of com­ing clean and admit­ting that she ful­ly sup­ports the right wing’s decades-long ini­tia­tive to seize con­trol of Amer­i­ca’s judi­cia­ry and rad­i­cal­ly reshape case law, Collins lame­ly attempt­ed to argue that Brett Kavanaugh pos­es no threat to wom­en’s repro­duc­tive rights, mar­riage equal­i­ty, or checks and balances.

In essence, Collins tried to accom­plish two con­flict­ing objec­tives with her speech: mount a full-throat­ed defense of Brett Kavanaugh, a man who isn’t qual­i­fied to sit on any bench any­where, let alone the Supreme Court, and square that posi­tion with her prized image as an inde­pen­dent-mind­ed “Rock­feller Republican”.

Actions speak loud­er than words, though, and most of the words that Collins spoke today were emp­ty and not defen­si­ble. For exam­ple, she said:

Despite the tur­bu­lent, bit­ter fight sur­round­ing his nom­i­na­tion, my fer­vent hope is that Brett Kavanaugh will work to lessen the divi­sions in the Supreme Court so that we have far few­er 5–4 deci­sions and so that pub­lic con­fi­dence in our Judi­cia­ry and our high­est court is restored.

No rea­son­able observ­er of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, what­ev­er their ide­o­log­i­cal lean­ings, could pos­si­bly say with a straight face that Brett Kavanaugh­’s con­fir­ma­tion will mean less divi­sions on the Unit­ed States Supreme Court.

Kavanaugh is arguably the most par­ti­san, unsta­ble nom­i­nee the Sen­ate has con­sid­ered in decades. His dis­turb­ing tes­ti­mo­ny in front of the Sen­ate Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee last week is proof enough of that.

Jus­tice John Paul Stevens cit­ed that tes­ti­mo­ny when he spoke to a group of retirees in Boca Raton, Flori­da, say­ing that Kavan­u­agh should­n’t be con­firmed. (It is extreme­ly unusu­al for a retired Supreme Court jus­tice to express a view­point on whether a nom­i­nee ought to be con­firmed or not.)

“They sug­gest that he has demon­strat­ed a poten­tial bias involv­ing enough poten­tial lit­i­gants before the court that he would not be able to per­form his full respon­si­bil­i­ties,” said Stevens. “And I think there is mer­it in that crit­i­cism and that the sen­a­tors should real­ly pay atten­tion to it. For the good of the court… it’s not healthy to get a new jus­tice that can only do a part-time job.”

Collins also pre­pos­ter­ous­ly tried to have it both ways with respect to the alle­ga­tions against Kavanaugh: on the one hand, she said she believed Dr. Ford, but on the oth­er hand, she said she took Kavanaugh­’s denials at face value.

The facts pre­sent­ed do not mean that Pro­fes­sor Ford was not sex­u­al­ly assault­ed that night – or at some oth­er time – but they do lead me to con­clude that the alle­ga­tions fail to meet the “more like­ly than not” stan­dard. There­fore, I do not believe that these charges can fair­ly pre­vent Judge Kavanaugh from serv­ing on the Court.

Collins cit­ed due process, pre­sump­tion of inno­cence, and fair­ness as her grounds for giv­ing the incred­i­bly enti­tled and very arro­gant Brett Kavanaugh the ben­e­fit of the doubt. But if she real­ly believes in those prin­ci­ples, why did she call for Al Franken to quit the Sen­ate before the alle­ga­tions against him had even been investigated?

Susan Collins had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be a hero, but as it turns out, she was nev­er inter­est­ed in pur­su­ing that path. Unlike Lisa Murkows­ki, who lis­tened to her con­science and vot­ed accord­ing­ly, Collins para­chut­ed in at the very end not to save the day, but to become the chief apol­o­gist for a man that thou­sands of law pro­fes­sors urged her not to put on the Unit­ed States Supreme Court.

Susan Collins would like every­one to believe she’s not like every Repub­li­can: that she does­n’t blind­ly fol­low Don­ald Trump, that she thinks for her­self, that she parts ways with her par­ty on a host of issues. But in real­i­ty, she is a will­ing enabler of Don­ald Trump’s admin­is­tra­tion and a will­ing col­lab­o­ra­tor of Mitch McConnell’s.

There will be con­se­quences. Collins may, as many peo­ple have sus­pect­ed, may have a deal with Mitch McConnell to sup­port Trump’s judi­cial nom­i­nees. She may think that she can get reelect­ed with McConnel­l’s help in spite of her vote for Kavanaugh.

If she does think that, pro­gres­sive groups say she’s sore­ly mistaken.

“Susan Collins has betrayed the peo­ple, and espe­cial­ly the women and sur­vivors, of Maine,” said the orga­niz­ers of Be A Hero Team, Maine Peo­ple’s Alliance and Main­ers for Account­able Lead­er­ship in a state­ment. “Thou­sands of Main­ers wrote, called, vis­it­ed, protest­ed, begged and plead­ed with Susan Collins to do the right thing — to be a hero — and vote no. She ignored them.”

“Maine deserves a Sen­a­tor who would recoil at the idea of con­firm­ing a proven liar, an emo­tion­al­ly unsta­ble par­ti­san, to the Supreme Court,” they added. “Maine deserves a Sen­a­tor who will believe sur­vivors, who will lis­ten to their sto­ries, and who will rep­re­sent them with hon­or. Susan Collins is no longer capa­ble of that.”

The three groups have for the last sev­er­al weeks been col­lect­ing pledges for a fund that is to be turned over to who­ev­er the Maine Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty nom­i­nates to run against Collins in 2020. The fund was only to be acti­vat­ed in the event that Collins vot­ed for Kavanaugh. Now that she has com­mit­ted to do so, she is guar­an­teed to have a Demo­c­ra­t­ic oppo­nent who receives a mul­ti-mil­lion dol­lar war chest upon the com­mence­ment of their gen­er­al elec­tion campaign.

Collins is aware of the fund and has dis­dain­ful­ly char­ac­ter­ized it as a bribe.

Once again, she is wrong. The fund is a threat, not a bribe. The groups behind it could have sim­ply secured pledges for Collins’ 2020 oppo­nent as a show of force with­out any con­di­tions, but they made the pledges con­di­tion­al on Collins’ vote to give her the ben­e­fit of the doubt, because they tru­ly want­ed her to “be a hero”.

Collins has cho­sen to be an enabler rather than a hero. As far as we’re con­cerned, in the words of Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell, she just made a career-end­ing move.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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