April 07, 2020
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What Susan Collins and Angus King signaled with their first Trump trial questions

Jacquelyn Martin | AP
Jacquelyn Martin | AP
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, points toward the elevator as she arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington for the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: “You can stand on the beach and see that island,” said Maine labor historian Charlie Scontras of the island where fishermen in 1636 led the first labor strike in the modern-day United States. “With a strong arm and a rock in your hand — and a strong wind — you could strike that island. It’s hard to believe it’s so rich with memories.”

What we’re watching today

Maine’s Republican senator got the first question in the impeachment trial and stumped the defense later on. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who may be the most closely watched senator during President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, had a few pointed questions for the Republican president’s counsel as the question-and-answer portion of the trial began on Wednesday. It will run through today.

Along with Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Collins asked White House lawyers whether the president had mentioned former Vice President Joe Biden in the context of investigating corruption in Ukraine prior to Biden’s April announcement that he would run for president. Trump’s legal team said in response that they couldn’t cite specific conversations, though they cast blame on the House Democrats for limiting their investigation scope.

Collins and Murkowski’s question attracted significant buzz as the pair of moderate senators will be key players in the Senate’s vote over witnesses. The question, along with another that the pair asked with Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, signaled an interest in acquiring additional facts and exploring the political nature of the president’s inquiry into Ukraine.

The questions asked by Maine’s junior senator looked oriented toward an eventual vote to convict. Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, asked the House managers and the president’s counsel whether they thought former White House national security adviser John Bolton should testify in front of the Senate. King hasn’t said how he will vote on removal, but he has said acquittal would shift power to the president for generations.

It allowed both sides to frame up preferred paths for the trial. Jay Sekulow, a Trump attorney, said that it would not be right for the House managers to call a witness they want while Trump’s defense team did not get to bring in its own witnesses. 

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, one of the House managers, said the president’s team should be allowed to bring in any “relevant” witnesses — phrasing aimed at excluding testimony from individuals such as Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, who some Republicans have suggested calling, particularly if Bolton is called.

King’s office released a full list of questions that he hopes to ask, including critical ones about how Trump’s executive privilege applies to certain documents and comparing the provision of evidence by the president and other parts of the proceeding to normal criminal trials.

The Maine politics top 3

— “How Maine could emit zero carbon by 2050 with more energy spending,” Michael Shepherd, Bangor Daily News: “[Richard] Silkman’s plan requires massive grid upgrades and a shift to electricity from fossil fuels, relying on a market phase-out of heating oil and gas-powered vehicles. Silkman, a Yale-trained economist who was director of the State Planning Office under former Republican Gov. John McKernan and now runs a Portland energy management company, pitches a proposed spending level of roughly $2 billion annually for 30 years.”

— “These young activists want Maine to take bolder action on climate change,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “Members of the Maine Youth for Climate Justice want Maine to aim bigger. At a time when young activists including Sweden’s Greta Thunberg are pushing sweeping climate action, they want the state to strive for zero emissions by 2030, which would go far past a state goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050.”

— “Hydro-Quebec pays $35K ethics fine stemming from effort to save Maine corridor,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “It is the largest campaign finance fine since 2017, when backers of a failed casino referendum were initially fined $500,000 over late reports, though the penalty was later reduced to $100,000.”

Ad wars in the Maine Senate race

Collins’ 2020 re-election race has been the subject of more advertising purchases than any other Senate race in the country so far. The Wall Street Journal, in a piece focused on the impeachment dilemma faced by Maine’s senior senator, notes that the more than $10 million in TV and radio advertising focused on her 2020 re-election race is more than any other Senate campaign in the nation to date.

Maine looks well on its way to the unprecedented $55 million in ad spending on the race projected in a July analysis by media-watching firms that expected another $13 million focused on the presidential race. We’re already at nearly $2.2 million there, according to FiveThirtyEight.

None of this may be a surprise to anyone who has turned on a TV here lately. Here’s your soundtrack.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email clumm@bangordailynews.com (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

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