A Collins-Obama Story

Posted Feb. 20, 2009, at 5:15 p.m.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins told Ellsworth residents Thursday about her recent meeting with President Barack Obama. The cross-party encounter cast fresh light on the political skills of both of the senator and president

Sen. Collins, addressing a packed breakfast forum, recalled being invited to the White House at the height of tense negotiations over the $787 billion economic stimulus bill. She had met many times with presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and the Oval Office was always crowded with what she called “watchers” — aides who took notes, tried to keep the discussion on track and on schedule, and wanted to be in on the meeting.

This time, when the president escorted her into the office, no one else was there. It was just the two of them, and, in her account, they had a half-hour substantive discussion of how big the bill should be and what it should contain.

One more difference from her past Oval Office visits: President Obama had a big bowl of apples on the table where they sat and offered her one. She was tempted, but she quickly decided against sitting there and gnawing on an apple while talking serious business with the president of the United States. And she had one more concern: What would she do with the apple core?

The incident showed something of how President Obama could push through the stimulus plan by persuading three Republican senators to break ranks with their party and enabling the Democrats to gather the 60 votes to prevent a Republican filibuster. This president showed that he knew how to listen and how to compromise to win a tough case.

Sen. Collins, for her part, showed her wisdom and determination to help revise the plan to remove elements she could not have approved and to help get the compromise enacted. She rejected the path of going along with her party’s almost unanimous effort to kill the plan — and, evidently in some members’ minds, to make the new Democratic president fail in his first major legislative endeavor.

While she certainly didn’t convince all those in her audience who disapproved of the stimulus plan, the hearty applause showed that they appreciated her coming to Ellsworth on a snowy morning to explain in detail why she did what she did.

And she made it clear that she wasn’t going to sit there in that one-on one with the president while wondering what to do with an apple core.

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