ROCKLAND, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins has frustrated her fellow Republicans at times lately on Capitol Hill, killing two of their plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act since July.
You wouldn’t know that from how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, reacted to her Friday announcement that she won’t run for governor in 2018. He issued a statement noting Maine’s “Dirigo” motto — Latin for “I lead” — and her perfect Senate attendance record.
“Her decision to remain in the Senate is important not only for the people of Maine, who she serves so well, but for the nation as a whole,” McConnell said.
The fourth-term Republican from Maine isn’t always a reliable vote, but Collins may be the only one in the party who can reliably hold her seat — which she last won in 2014 with 67 percent of votes — in a swing state. Many Democrats also want her around if they want to cut deals in chamber where Republicans have only a 52-48 majority.
After Collins announced that she’d stay in the Senate at a gathering of business leaders in Rockport on Friday, she noted some deal-making successes, including as part of a group that ended the 2013 government shutdown.
“I like playing that role and there seem to be fewer senators who enjoy playing that role,” she said.
All of this explains the glowing statements that landed in reporters’ inboxes on Friday. Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats and was urging Collins to not leave the chamber, said the decision “reflects her commitment to putting Maine people first.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia, called Collins “an essential voice in our conference” and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, who co-chairs the Senate Aging Committee with Collins, praised “her courage to rise above partisan politics.”
McConnell is under siege by some in his party after Collins’ September opposition helped kill the Graham-Cassidy bill to repeal the health care law. Stephen Bannon, the former counselor to President Donald Trump, is trying to oust McConnell from leadership by pushing Trump loyalists to run for Senate. He wants Maine first lady Ann LePage to take on King in 2018.
But Geoffrey Skelley, an associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said from McConnell’s perspective, having Collins in the Senate “upsets things the least and make things more predictable” to keep the Senate majority.
And for Democrats, Skelley said Collins’ tendency to craft deals makes her “a very attractive friend” to Democrats like McCaskill in Republican-leaning states.
“She’s someone that they feel comfortable working with,” he said. “They know that she’s definitely moderate and is open to discussing things and trying to hammer out deals.”
Collins’ move won approval from another moderate Republican — former Maine Sen. William Cohen. She worked for him for 12 years, then won the 1996 election to replace him.
Cohen said before a Friday event at the University of Maine in Orono that he didn’t talk to Collins about her decision “to make sure I didn’t have any undue influence on her.”
“But I think from her perspective, what she said today is the right decision for her,” he said. “She has had a long and very productive career.”
BDN writer Lauren Abbate contributed to this report.