(An earlier version of this blog post misstated the age of Sen. Susan Collins. She is 59, not 61.)
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) cast her 5,000th consecutive vote Thursday, earning her the third-longest consecutive-vote streak of any senator in U.S. history.
Standing at her desk shortly after 2 p.m., Collins beamed before her name was called on a vote to table a proposal on tax cuts for small businesses.
“No,” she said, before sitting down.
Ask Collins, 59, about the milestone and she’s quick to note that not only is her vote streak consecutive, but it accounts for every vote held in the Senate since she joined the chamber in January 1997.
Though impressive, Collins’s record is nowhere near the top. The all-time consecutive vote record holder is former Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.) who answered 10,252 consecutive roll calls between April 20,1966, and Oct. 18, 1988. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) maintains the longest streak of current senators, having cast roughly 6,450 votes since 1993. To date, Grassley has cast almost 11,000 votes and has missed only 35 votes over the course of his Senate career.
In anticipation of the big vote, 2chambers spoke with Collins earlier this week about the feat. A transcript of the exchange, edited for length and clarity, appears below:
2chambers: When did you make the decision to try to make every vote?
Collins: At the end of my first term — and I was sworn in January 1997 — so in December 1999, I realized that I had completed the first Congress without missing a vote and I started thinking about my hero, Margaret Chase Smith, the legendary senator from Maine, and the fact that she was known for her diligence as a senator and compiled a record of voting consecutively without missing a vote for 13 years, until she was forced by surgery to miss a vote.
I’ve been blessed with good health, so that has enabled me to achieve that goal, but it also has required some sacrifices along the way. But I think it’s important at this time, when public confidence in Congress is very low, to demonstrate to my constituents that I really care about doing a good job for them.
Well, what kind sacrifices have you made in order to maintain your voting record?
I go to Maine virtually every weekend and instead of coming back on Mondays in order to be here for the usual 5:30 p.m. vote that we have on Monday nights, I virtually always come back on Sundays just to make sure that I’m here, because Maine — particularly Bangor, where I live — is a sufficient distance and the flights are sufficiently scarce that I don’t want to take the chance that there’s a canceled flight or a snowstorm that delays me and causes me to miss a vote.
A specific example dates back to my 2008 campaign. During that campaign, which was a vigorous contest — where the Democrats’ top candidate, Tom Allen, was running against me — I managed to secure an endorsement from the Democratic mayor of Maine’s second largest city, which is Lewiston. And the Democratic mayor was going to do his endorsement at this big reception for me that was on a Friday night.
I’ve always suspected that [Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), then the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee] got word of that, so for whatever reason, we had unusual votes that Friday night and I completely missed the major press event at which the Democratic mayor of the second largest city of Maine announced that he was endorsing me over my Democratic opponent. This was a big deal politically and I completely missed the entire event, because the votes were late enough that there was no way I could make it to Lewiston.
Wasn’t there also a separate incident where you accused Harry Reid of trying to end your streak?
This was during the 2008 election year. The fact that I had a perfect voting record and my opponent had missed over 100 votes was an issue in the campaign. [At a markup of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee] we had finished all of the major bills on the agenda, but as is usually the case, we had some smaller bills we were finishing up.
And [committee chairman Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.)] had his office call the Cloak Room and they assured him that the vote was going to be held. And I watched the minutes ticking away and became increasingly uneasy and so I whispered to Joe that I just didn’t dare take the chance and that he could finish the markup without me and I ran to the floor. I literally twisted an ankle along the way and just made the end of the vote. I was the last person to vote and it was after the question was asked – the last thing before the gavel comes down.
Then in the next 15 to 20 minutes, the rest of our committee came on to the floor and discovered that they had missed the vote and were very unhappy about it. I remember because Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) missed her first vote that day and there was a huge debate on the Senate floor on the issue, which ironically took far longer than the vote had been held and I remember Sen. Byrd objected to reopening the vote, which had been one suggestion that was made because of the misinformation.
The other bit of irony there is that Sen. Reid said that one senator missed “her” first vote. Everyone thought it was me, but it was Claire. So people kept coming up from me and saying oh, that’s so awful, but I said I didn’t miss it.
Any other near-misses you recall?
I believe in March of 2010 both cloak rooms had signaled no more votes and Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and I were all flying to Boston, we had left and had gone to the airport. And we were literally boarding the shuttle to Boston when all of us got these emergency calls and the U.S. Airways flight attendant came running after us and said ‘Don’t leave on this plane! A vote has been called.’
And all three of us raced back to the Capitol. That was a very near-miss, because we literally, literally were boarding the plane and starting to sit down on the plane.
Trying to maintain this record must wrack your brain and wreak havoc on your schedule, no?
I can only do my best and take every precaution, but ultimately some day I realize that either due to illness or a family emergency or some other valid reason I will miss a vote. But I’m proud of the fact that I’ve gone 15 and a half years without missing one and I believe it reflects the seriousness with which I take this job and the fact tha ti consider it an honor to represent the people of Maine. And I know that they’re very diligent about showing up for work and that the people of my state had a great work ethic and I’ve tried to mirror that.
Growing up, did you have a perfect attendance record in school?
I do not believe that I did, but one of my classmates e-mailed me or did an online comment, saying “You were always like that in school too. You never missed school.” But I don’t think that’s the case.
But I do tell students that it’s like going from kindergarten through High School without missing a day of school. And their teachers always thank me for stressing the importance of attendance.
That’s actually pathetically true, because I wanted to get married during the July 4th recess, but you may recall that last year, that Sen. Reid truncated the July 4th recess, which I believe altered the wedding plans of Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.). So I just did not dare schedule it for the July 4th Recess for fear that something would happen to me.
And I don’t think my fiancé would understand being left at the altar so that I wouldn’t miss a vote. I think that would damage our relationship.
So are you making plans to curtail your honeymoon, just in case?
I’m not going to answer any questions about the honeymoon. [Laughter]
Your consecutive streak is impressive, but ranks second to Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). Have you ever tried to knock him at the knees or do anything else to break his streak?
I have respect that his streak is longer than mine — but unlike me, he was forced to miss some votes at the beginning of his career. I have never missed a vote, whereas he has missed some votes early on, even though he’s got a longer streak than I.
And neither of us will ever come close to William Proxmire’s streak, since I can’t imagine serving here for six terms.
Do you remember which was your first vote?
My memory is Bill Cohen. That was obviously a very hightly significant vote for me, because I worked for Bill for 12 years and we’re dear friends, but I may be remembering wrong.
(Editor’s Note: The Senate Historian’s Office and Collins’s aides later clarified that her first vote was to confirm Madeleine Albright as secretary of state. Collins voted to confirm Cohen as defense secretary an hour after the Albright vote.)
Does the voting process feel any different today than it did 15 years ago?
I would say that there was more respect for individuals who did not necessarily vote the party line all the time back then. There’s nothing that’s changed about the way people do it. Occasionally we have a very important vote where we vote from our seats, but that’s unusual now. We’re racing off and moving on to the next thing.
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