LEWISTON, Maine — House Democrats are nearly certain to impeach President Donald Trump this week. Senate Republicans — barring a major shift — would acquit him. Few have as much riding on the proceedings as two Mainers with mirroring political problems in 2020.
Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, is set to stand for a fifth term in a nationally targeted race in a Democratic-leaning state. Rep. Jared Golden, a freshman Democrat, must run for re-election in the 2nd Congressional District — won easily by Trump in 2016. Votes with their parties could alienate majorities. Votes against them may dampen support in potentially close races.
It’s a unique situation for two politicians from different parties and the same state. There may be no good political choice. Both have careful approaches and the faith of former Maine Sen. William Cohen, a Republican who cast a key vote on a House panel against President Richard Nixon during similar proceedings in 1974 and has called Trump’s conduct impeachable.
“I have great faith in Senator Collins and Congressman Golden as do the people of Maine,” Cohen said in an email. “Whatever decision they reach will be based on their careful review of the facts and their own good judgment.”
Golden voted with his party in October to endorse the process, though he says he has not decided how he will vote in the end. He must decide this week, when House Democrats are expected to approve two impeachment articles. Collins has largely declined comment on the process, citing an eventual role in a Senate trial on removal, which would take a two-thirds vote.
The articles revolve around the July call between Trump and the Ukrainian leader, in which the U.S. president mentioned aid to the European nation and his desire for it to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, the leading Democratic candidate to face Trump in the 2020 election.
Golden said in October that he’ll be focused on Trump’s intent in his evaluation of impeachment — whether the president put “personal gain above the best interest of the country” or if he believed “this was what he should be doing” to further U.S. foreign policy interests. He is one of 60 House Democrats who have not said how they will vote, according to The Washington Post.
The nuance in Golden’s stated position has not mattered to three of his Republican opponents, who have hammered him on his October vote and raced to embrace Trump. Two of them appeared at a Wednesday anti-impeachment rally outside Golden’s office in Bangor.
Collins will face her biggest vote since backing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. That vote motivated Democrats to prioritize her seat in 2020. Republicans, including those who hit her after 2017 moves to preserve the Affordable Care Act, rallied around her. Of her four Democratic opponents, only one, lobbyist Betsy Sweet, has called for Trump’s removal.
In 1999, Collins was one of four Republicans who voted to acquit former President Bill Clinton on two impeachment articles, calling removal “an extraordinary action” reserved for when a president “so injures the fabric of democracy” that there is no other option.
For Golden, an impeachment vote will send Republicans into overdrive to label him an obstructionist. He may face a tougher vote than Collins because he is more undefined. She is already in a race with an unprecedented level of advertising so early in a Maine campaign.
But Ray Richardson, a conservative radio host and self-described “Trumpster” from Westbrook, had a permissive stance on Collins’ decision, citing her vote on Kavanaugh as an example of how she “stood strong and did what she thought was right” under heavy pressure.
“If I respected her for that, then I have to respect her for whatever decision she makes here,” he said.
Golden, he said, is in a “no-win situation.” Richardson said an impeachment vote would likely cost him his seat, which “may or may not be fair, but that is an unabashed Trump district.”
Linda Homer of Southwest Harbor, a member of the progressive group Indivisible MDI, doubts Collins will vote to convict because of past votes with Trump. If she did, Homer said the vote would likely be calculated with top Republicans and “really wouldn’t matter.”
She said she’s holding Collins and Golden to the same standard on the matter, which she said comes down to a simple question: whether it’s wrong to ask a foreign power to investigate a rival. In Golden’s case, she said the answer shouldn’t come down to the lean of his district.
“This one, I don’t think, is up to the constituents,” Homer said. “This is him and his oath, and I hope he will do the right thing.”
Among the breakfast crowd at Simones’ Hot Dog Stand in Lewiston on Friday was former Lewiston city councilor and police officer Nelson Peters, who said Collins was “doing this” on impeachment, licking a finger and holding it in the air. Golden is doing the same, he said.
Peters, a Republican, said he would probably vote for Collins regardless of her choice. “She sways” on issues, he said, but he added that “maybe she has to in order to stay elected.”
Bob Couture of Lewiston said Trump should be impeached and while Golden might be toeing a careful line to in a nod to his district, politicians “should be able to tell the truth.”
“I’d be pissed off” if Golden doesn’t vote for impeachment, Couture said. “Trump hasn’t done the right thing. It’s the moral, obvious thing to do.”