WEST ENFIELD, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins decried the politicization of the Supreme Court on Friday while acknowledging her decision to break with President Donald Trump and fellow Republicans on a pre-election nominee “may well” cost her among conservative voters.
The fourth-term senator, who is in the most competitive reelection campaign of her career and has narrowly trailed House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, in public polls this year, spoke with reporters about the court after touring Pleasant River Lumber in central Penobscot County.
Trump and Senate Republicans have pushed forward with nominating a justice to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away last week. Collins and Senate Democrats have objected, pointing to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to block the confirmation of a justice nominated by President Barack Obama in 2016.
A strong majority of Mainers in a Colby College poll released on Friday agreed with Collins that Trump should not confirm a justice before the election, but 70 percent of Republicans said Collins should back one with conservatives nearing a generational goal of controlling the court.
The episode puts Collins in a bind with the potential of eroding conservative enthusiasm for her candidacy in the high-profile race while she is getting little credit from Democrats all-in on ousting her in 2020. Only one other Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, shares her stance, leaving McConnell with enough votes to move a nomination forward.
Collins said Friday that each senator “has to make his or her own decision” on whether to approve the nomination. She acknowledged that her decision to oppose Trump’s nominee “may well” cost her support among conservatives on whom she has increasingly relied as Democrats soured on her after her vote to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.
“That is not how I make decisions,” Collins said. “I make decisions based on what I think is right for Maine and for America. I do not weigh the political consequences.”
The senator continued by saying she would have accepted “the bribe” — referencing a $4 million crowdfund organized by progressives for Collins’ eventual opponent ahead of the Kavanaugh vote — if she made decisions based on politics. That money went to Gideon in July after she won a primary, joining independents Max Linn and Lisa Savage on the ballot with Collins.
The senator has faced criticism from conservatives in the past week, including Trump, who said she would be hurt “very badly” for the move, though he has backed Collins and told reporters on Thursday that he hopes she “does well” in the election. His son, Donald Trump Jr., shrugged off her opposition to the nominee in Auburn, saying Republicans did not need her vote.
Gov. Paul LePage, a beloved figure in Maine’s Republican grassroots who has criticized Collins in the past but supports her now, told WGAN on Thursday that his phone “rang off the hook” this week with conservatives saying they cannot support her anymore. However, he said those people should “pinch your nose and vote for her.”
“It’s bigger than Susan Collins. It’s bigger than us,” LePage said. “It’s about the United States Senate. We need to have her back.”
Like Collins, Gideon has criticized the politicization of the court, saying Thursday that she objected to proposals floated by some Democrats to add justices to the high court in response to Republicans’ confirmation of a conservative justice to replace Ginsburg.
BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.