Susan Collins’s Reputation as a Moderate Is On the Line

Susan Collins’s Reputation as a Moderate Is On the Line

Susan Collins’s Reputation as a Moderate Is On the Line

She says she’s pro-choice, so how can she justify voting for Brett Kavanaugh?


My husband’s curious affection for Senator Susan Collins used to be a joke around our house. “My Susie,” he sometimes called her. But as we watch the Brett Kavanaugh nomination unfold, he’s finally coming round. Collins sure seems reasonable and pleasant on TV. She’s not a religious fanatic or a libertarian weirdo. She says she’s pro-choice. I like her scratchy voice and that scrunched-up way she smiles. But face it, she is not going to save us from a Justice Kavanaugh. (“Are you sure?” my husband interjects at this point. “You shouldn’t write your column as if you know.” OK, fine. Prove me wrong, Senator Collins!)

It’s not as though people haven’t tried to persuade the Maine Republican to vote against him. “There has been a huge campaign organized by the Maine Women’s Lobby,” writes a longtime friend in the state. “But my guess is that she just dismisses it as people who are Democrats, to whom she seems to pay no attention. Our previous Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Bill Cohen, while conservative, at least responded to constituent mail.” The Hill reports that activists have sent Collins’s office more than 3,000 coat hangers to jog her memory about the terrible days of illegal abortion. Ady Barkan, a progressive activist who is dying of ALS, has started a campaign to raise money for whomever Collins’s opponent is in 2020; as I write, it’s reached over $1.1 million in pledges, to be activated if she votes to confirm. In a statement to conservative website Newsmax, Collins perplexingly denounced Barkan’s campaign as an effort to “bribe” her, even though nobody is offering to give her money for anything.

Collins claims she’s received personal assurances from Kavanaugh that he regards Roe v. Wade as “settled law.” But just a few days ago, a 2003 e-mail came to light in which Kavanaugh points out, correctly, that “settled law” might not be as settled as all that, “since [the] Court can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so.” None of this seems to have changed Collins’s mind.

I don’t understand why we’re even having this conversation about whether Kavanaugh would vote to overturn Roe. Here’s what we know: He has called birth control “abortion-inducing drugs.” That’s pure “pro-life” language based on the falsehood that the IUD and hormonal contraception, including the pill, prevent implantation (which the anti-choice movement equates with abortion). Based on that belief, Kavanaugh could easily apply to contraception whatever restrictions he applies to abortion. Then too, he dissented from a ruling permitting “Jane Doe,” a 17-year-old undocumented immigrant held in detention in Texas, to have an abortion. Doe had already fulfilled every legal requirement the state imposes on minors who lack parental consent. She had gotten a judicial bypass to prove she was mature enough to make the decision; she had a court-appointed guardian. Still, despite the fact that she was in the middle of her second trimester, Kavanaugh wanted her to wait in order to find a “sponsor” who would stand in lieu of her absent parents—even though the whole point of the judicial bypass is to exempt a teen from parental consent. So much for “settled law.”

Kavanaugh will uphold making legal abortion as hard to get as possible and will ignore whatever laws and precedents—and science—get in the way. We know that because he has already done that. So when Collins declares herself satisfied with his “settled law” statement, what she’s really saying is that it’s fine with her if the Supreme Court decides you can have an abortion, but first you have to swim the English Channel and kill a tiger with your bare hands.

Collins—and Lisa Murkowski, the other Republican senator who could sink the Kavanaugh nomination—only look like moderate Republicans because the GOP has gone full batshit sexist. Once upon a time, there were plenty of pro-choice Republicans: Nelson Rockefeller, Bob Packwood, Lowell Weicker, Millicent Fenwick, Connie Morella. As governor of California, Ronald Reagan signed what was then the nation’s most liberal abortion law. Five of the justices who supported Roe were nominated by Republican presidents. Those days are long gone. The party is all tribal now, and the chief of the tribe is Donald Trump.

That is true even for Republicans who bemoan the many disastrous aspects of Trump’s presidency. Senator Ben Sasse called the 2016 election a “dumpster fire” and claimed he thinks about quitting the GOP “every day.” What’s stopping him? Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker regularly deliver high-minded rebukes of Trump and then vote for everything he wants. They’re both retiring, so it’s not as though they would suffer if they demurred. In the end, I bet all three will vote for Kavanaugh, thus placing on the Court a justice who has signaled that presidents should be immune from criminal charges while in office and who has refused to say whether it would be illegal for a president to direct the Justice Department to go after his enemies.

Which brings us to the anonymous White House official who declared in a recent New York Times op-ed that “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.” Rest easy, America. While the president is “not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making,” and while he is “anti-democratic,” “impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective,” powerful staffers are doing their best to undermine his worst impulses. “There are adults in the room.”

It’s nice that someone is trying to prevent Trump from starting World War III, but notice that Anonymous likes much of what Trump has done—humongous tax cuts for the rich, a super-bloated military budget, the gutting of regulations. Nor does Anonymous mention what would seem to be Exhibit A of Trump’s impulsive amorality: the shameful separation of families at the border, with over 400 children still in detention. Unlike Bob Woodward, whose new book Fear portrays a totally shambolic White House and who has urged people to “wake up,” Anonymous’s op-ed is less a call to action than an invitation to relax. Behind the scenes, the “steady state” is in control.

That’s the whole problem right there.

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