Analysis Politics

As Susan Collins Waffles on Kavanaugh Vote, Mainers Show Signs of Disapproval

Katelyn Burns

Kavanaugh’s nomination represents a critical juncture in Sen. Susan Collins’ political career, and her vote on this nomination could be fateful for her 2020 re-election campaign.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), considered a potential swing vote on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, met with him on Tuesday as a new poll showed her approval rating among Maine voters plummeting.

Collins said in subsequent remarks to the press that their meeting covered a wide range of topics, including his judicial record on abortion-related cases, adding that Kavanaugh agrees with Chief Justice John Roberts on Roe v. Wade. “He said that he agreed with what Justice Roberts said at his nomination hearing, in which he said it was settled law,” Collins said. “We had a very good, thorough discussion.”

Her comments caused alarm among some reproductive rights advocates given Roberts’ repeated anti-choice decisions since his confirmation in 2005. “With all due respect to Senator Collins, ‘settled law’ means nothing. It is a bunch of code words, long used by many conservative judges, meant to hide their real beliefs and anti-choice record,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in a statement. “This Court, led by Chief Justice Roberts, has spent much of the last term re-litigating so-called ‘settled law’. Most troubling of all is Senator Collins’ reference to Roberts today. Roberts has voted in lockstep with anti-abortion forces on every vote since joining the Court.”

A Public Policy Polling (PPP) poll released Tuesday showed that only 35 percent of likely Maine voters approve of the job Collins is doing, a stunning figure for a senator who has held office for 21 years and handily won re-election in 2014 by a 37 percent margin over her challenger. The same PPP poll found that 49 percent of Maine voters already think Collins should reject Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. Only 42 percent of respondents said she should vote to confirm Kavanaugh.

The poll is a warning shot for Collins, who has not indicated how she will vote on his confirmation. She is not alone in deciding the fate of the nominee, but as one of only two ostensibly pro-choice Republicans in the U.S. Senate, she faces a tremendous amount of political pressure over her vote. If she and fellow GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski (AK) vote “no” on Kavanaugh, Republicans would have to persuade at least two Democratic senators to vote to confirm him. According to local advocates, Maine women are depending on Collins to vote “no” to protect choice.

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Despite being a member of the GOP, Collins has campaigned in the past on her pro-choice bona fides because it’s an issue that’s important to most Mainers“There’s a wealth of research around how Maine people feel about abortion and it’s really clear. They overwhelmingly support a right of a woman to make that decision,” said Nicole Clegg, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund in an interview with Rewire.News. “There’s a lot of anxiety and worry about the future of the Supreme Court and there’s real discomfort with Kavanaugh as the nominee.”

Letters to the editor regarding Kavanaugh have littered major Maine papers. Portland Press Herald Editorial Page Editor Greg Kesich labeled the nominee’s views on abortion a “red flag” for Collins in a column that ran in the publication this past Sunday. 

In a lot of ways, the fight over Kavanaugh’s nomination represents a critical juncture in Collins’ political career, and her vote on this nomination could be fateful for her 2020 re-election campaign. The “Be a Hero” campaign, organized by progressive activist Ady Barkan, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease, has raised more than $100,000 for potential 2020 election opponents of Collins. The campaign is unique in that it conditions the dispersal of funds on how Collins votes for Kavanaugh: A yes vote and the money will be donated to her opponent, a no vote means the money will be returned to donors.

“Basically what we’re saying is, this money will be sitting there waiting for the challenger, but if she announces a position on Kavanaugh and helps kill the nomination, we will refund the money,” Barkan told the Intercept. “So we’re trying to create good incentives for her and provide Democrats in blue states all over the country with a concrete way they can put pressure on her.”

But lying just below the national political forces working for and against Kavanaugh are the everyday Mainers who are frustrated with a senator who they say isn’t listening. “I think that her friendship with [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions and her [Education Secretary] Betsy DeVos vote did not cast her in a good light, but on women’s issues, we’re so hoping that she’ll stand with women,” Donna McNeil, a 70-year-old from Rockland, Maine, told Rewire.News in an interview. McNeil recently wrote a piece for the Press Herald recounting her pre-Roe-era abortion. “All we can do is give our voice and let her know what her constituents want and feel, and I think her constituents sorely want her to choose … a Supreme Court justice that believes in Roe v. Wade and the constitutional judgement around that.”

Beyond her decisions regarding the confirmations of Sessions to the U.S. Department of Justice and DeVos to the U.S. Department of Education, Collins also voted for Trump’s massive tax cuts for the wealthy under a paper-thin deal with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to back two pieces of legislation meant to infuse money into the health-care system in exchange for her vote. That promise was swiftly and foreseeably broken. Each of these decisions has steadily eroded the confidence Mainers have in their senior senator as she mulls over her vote for Kavanaugh. But for Maine women like McNeil, who is scheduled to personally meet with Collins on Wednesday, it’s all about the future of Roe v. Wade.

“I can only speak for myself and say that I don’t believe him [when he says he believes Roe is ‘settled law’]. I think he will pivot as soon as he can, I think he’s voted against women’s rights issues every chance he’s got, but I will let people closer to the politics of these issues speak to that and just relate my own personal story of what a horror show [that] pre-Roe v. Wade was like for women,” she said. “I think that certainly, the women in Maine count on Senator Collins to stand shoulder to shoulder with them in support of women’s issues. She has in the past, and we can only hope that she will now at a very critical juncture of a Supreme Court nomination for life.”

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