Republican Sen. Susan Collins addresses the room at the Decision Maine debate in Portland on Sept. 11. Credit: Brianna Soukup / Portland Press Herald

Good morning from Augusta. There are 43 days until Election Day. It is the 21st of September. Here’s your soundtrack.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “This is the single most important year that people can get the influenza vaccine,” said Dr. James Jarvis, who helps lead the coronavirus response at Northern Light Health, referencing fears of the coming flu season draining resources in the virus fight. “We don’t want to have this confusion and we don’t want to see people need hospital care for influenza when we’re expecting people to have COVID.”

What we’re watching today

Republicans want to push a Supreme Court justice through before the election, with Maine’s vulnerable senator opposed to the idea. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is one of only two senators from her party who has indicated opposition to confirming a nominee prior to the election after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a longtime liberal voice on the court who died Friday due to complications from cancer.

Within hours of Ginsburg’s death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated he planned to replace her as soon as possible. Democrats were quick to accuse him of hypocrisy, citing McConnell’s decision to block a vote on Merrick Garland, who was nominated in 2016 following the death of Antonin Scalia. But Republicans are in the majority in the Senate, and McConnell only needs 50 votes to get a justice through.

Collins wants the Senate to wait for a vote. The Maine senator said in a Saturday statement that she thinks the winner of the November election should pick the next Supreme Court justice, though she said she was open to the Senate beginning to hold hearings for a judge nominated by President Donald Trump.

The president, however, was quick to criticize Collins’ stance, saying on Saturday that he “totally” disagreed with her and this morning that she will be “very badly hurt” by her statement. Those are not the sort of comments Collins wants to hear from the president she has tried to largely avoid in the most competitive Senate race of her career.

Trump and McConnell have made clear what they prefer, putting Collins in a bind. The Senate could push through a nominee in the next six weeks before the election. Or it could wait until after the election, though that could result in a confirmation during a lame-duck session if Trump loses reelection or Republicans lose control of the Senate.

So far, it looks like McConnell may have the votes to act immediately. The president said this morning that he will announce his pick at the end of the week. At least two more Republicans would need to join Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to block any nomination.

Collins’ weekend statement did not address how she would vote if McConnell brought a nominee up for a vote in the Senate. Her vote to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 fueled progressive momentum against her and she has narrowly trailed House Speaker Sara Gideon, her Democratic opponent, in the polls for most of the year. 

Collins will be under pressure from Trump and Republicans to support his nominee. She will face pressure from the left and center to reject it, particularly if the president’s nominee seems hostile to Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion-rights case. That has been a stated benchmark for the Maine senator in past confirmation battles.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Mail delays sharply rose in Maine as Postal Service pursued savings, new data show,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “Local postal unions in southern Maine raised alarm about isolated incidents that delayed mail in August, while Mainers across the state reported unexplained delays. But postal data obtained by the Bangor Daily News in a Freedom of Information Act request are the first proof of a systematic decline in service in July and August compared to the same period last year.”

Since-dropped operational changes are one of the only explanations for the decline in mail service here. The coronavirus and natural disasters in the west and the Gulf of Mexico would explain some delays across the country, but not in Maine. Michael Plunkett, CEO of the Association for Postal Commerce, said it is “a reasonable assumption to think that this is a direct result” of cost-cutting changes by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy that sparked outcry this summer and have been scaled back.

— “Maine plans to avoid long waits for election results in November, but uncertainty remains,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “Most places in Maine expect results to take no longer than a day. Here, people typically learn outcomes on the night of the election after media outlets project them based on unofficial returns from local clerks. But races decided by ranked-choice voting must be confirmed by Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office in a process that typically takes about a week.”

— “How Maine’s US Senate candidates differ on climate change and the environment,” Piper and Michael Shepherd, BDN: “Collins and Gideon differ less on climate than most Republicans and Democrats do, though it is still a major campaign issue. The incumbent was an early backer of legislation to reduce emissions and stands out among Republicans on the issue, but environmental groups that supported her in the past now back Gideon over issues including judicial appointments.”

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd and Jessica Piper. 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.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...