Collins, a moderate Republican in a state that leans Democrat, is in the most difficult reelection battle of her career. Maine is a state Republicans are desperate to hold as they’re forced to defend seats in Arizona, Colorado and North Carolina, and it’s one Democrats would need to flip to take over the Senate.
Collins has long promoted herself as a rare moderate voice in Congress. Her support for abortion rights and pro-LGBT issues has made her an ally for Democrats on the GOP side of the aisle during many social issue debates.
But when Collins voted in 2018 to confirm Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, liberal activists mobilized against her.
That vote led her state Planned Parenthood organization to endorse her Democratic opponent in a sharply worded op-ed. The group had stayed neutral in Collins’s last reelection race. The organization announced its decision over the weekend in a blow to her moderate credentials just as the Senate impeachment trial forces her to pick sides in another highly partisan fight.
Despite Collins’s record as an abortion rights Republican and defender of federal funding for Planned Parenthood, her critical vote on Kavanaugh lost her the trust of Maine’s Planned Parenthood campaign arm, wrote Margot Milliken, chairwoman of the state chapter, in an op-ed for the Portland Press Herald on Saturday.
“It’s clear that Sen. Collins is not the leader she once was, particularly when it comes to reproductive health and rights,” Milliken wrote. “In this increasingly partisan environment, Sen. Collins is choosing to prioritize her party, her colleagues and judicial nominees whose primary qualification for lifetime appointments is allegiance to a political agenda.”
Kevin Kelley, a spokesman for Collins’s campaign, responded, “Senator Collins hasn’t changed, but leadership at Planned Parenthood certainly has. It is now being run by far left activists who would rather divide than work together on good, bipartisan policies.”
Abortion rights advocates like Milliken — who has donated the maximum amount to Collins’s Democratic challenger, Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon — point to efforts in 17 conservative states to restrict or ban abortions. With the Supreme Court agreeing to hear a major abortion case this year, advocates worry that Kavanaugh’s presence on the court will result in decisions that weaken abortion access. They blame Collins.
Videos from the Women’s March on Saturday in Portland showed marchers chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho! Susan Collins has got to go!”
It’s a far cry from where Collins was in 2017 when she was celebrated by Democrats for helping to kill the GOP’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That year, Planned Parenthood Federation of America awarded her its Barry Goldwater Award, which honors a Republican who supports reproductive health care.
“Throughout this year, women’s access to health care was truly on the line, and Senator Susan Collins never wavered,” said Cecile Richards, then-president of Planned Parenthood. “We are forever grateful for Senator Collins’s leadership.”
Then the heightened passions of the Kavanaugh confirmation damaged her image with Democrats, though earned her new reverence among Republicans, including President Trump, who tweeted, “I agree 100%” in response to a tweet from Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) praising her “unbelievable courage” on the Kavanaugh vote and urging support for her reelection.
Now, all eyes are once again on Collins and whether she will side with Democrats on calling witnesses in the Senate trial and where she will fall on whether to convict Trump. Collins has signaled she is likely to support hearing from witnesses once both sides have laid out their case.
Democrats have criticized Collins for being noncommittal, comparing her hedging to her full-throated support for more witnesses during the Clinton impeachment.
“Prior to hearing the statement of the case and the Senators asking questions, I will not support any attempts by either side to subpoena documents or witnesses,” Collins said in a statement on Friday. “When we reach the appropriate point in the trial, I would like to hear from both sides about which witnesses, if any, they would like to call.”