Susan Collins’ Opposition to Barrett Confirmation is a Weak Ploy for Reelection
Updated: Oct 4, 2020
Previously beloved by Mainer's across party lines, Sen. Susan Collins (R) has faced widespread disdain in recent years. Though re-elected for her fourth term in 2014 with 68% of the vote (1), her approval rate has since plummeted to a mere 7% of constituents (2). This shift can in part be traced back to 2018, when Collins backed the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh as Supreme Court justice. Last week, however, she announced her opposition to confirming Judge Amy Coney Barrett as a replacement for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (3). Her statement comes amidst her race for reelection against Maine House Speaker Sarah Gideon (D). Given Collins’s increased partisanship over the past three years, this is clearly a last-ditch effort to win back voters put off by her recent track record.
Ditching Reproductive Rights
Before Trump, Collins was known for her centrism and Democrats and Republicans alike supported her prioritization of Maine before national politics. Though a fiscal conservative, she made women’s reproductive rights a central part of her platform in the early 2000s (4). In 2002, The Planned Parenthood Action Fund backed Collins for reelection.
Her progressive record on reproductive rights made it a shock to constituents when she voted in favor of Kavanaugh’s appointment in 2018. Given Kavanaugh’s record of voting in favor of strict abortion regulations and multiple sexual assault allegations made against him, Collins’s decision marked a clear shift away from an issue-by-issue approach and towards a blindly partisan approach to political decisions.
As Judge Barrett is set for a Supreme Court appointment in the coming weeks, there is no evidence that Collins’ opposition stems from more than pure political strategy. Collins actually voted to appoint Barrett to her current position as a federal judge in 2017 (5). Ironically, Planned Parenthood had granted her the Barry Goldwater Award for her progressive work as a Republican on reproductive health and rights earlier that same year (4).
It is clear that a Kavanaugh-Barrett Supreme Court will not work for women, and Collin’s recent support for both figures makes it difficult to believe that her current opposition indicates a genuine concern for the future of reproductive rights. A more likely explanation is that she is trailing behind Democratic challenger Sarah Gideon in Maine election polls, whose solid progressive platform includes an unhesitating, pro-choice stance on women’s health.
Beyond Reproductive Rights
Reproductive health is not the only issue on which Collins has changed her tune. Whereas she voted against President George W. Bush's plan to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling in 2002, she recently voted for that measure under Trump, as part of a tax cut bill which she supported (4). Collins has lost the backing of progressive organizations that previously supported her, in addition to that of her constituents. Previous supporters have criticized her sharply for succumbing to the will of Trump and his allies while neglecting her own, independent principles.
Now, Collins is in a bind. Speaking out against appointing a new Supreme Court Justice before the election or in a lame duck session is clearly a political manoeuver to win back constituents. But it also alienates her from fellow Republicans, jeopardizing the support she may have garnered from political allies. Regardless, one thing is clear — Collins’ political decisions have become increasingly motivated by reputation rather than moral standing over the course of her most recent term.
Photos: Sara Gideon, Sara Gideon for Maine / Susan Collins, Mark Vogelzang/Maine Public
This makes Sara Gideon, a fresh face with clear, Democratic values and a focus on putting Maine first; a more appealing pick in an increasingly polarized state and nation.