Vice President Mike Pence, not pictured, administers the oath of office to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, as her husband Thomas Daffron holds a Bible, during a reenactment ceremony in the Old Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. Credit: Kevin Dietsch / Pool via AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins saved her harshest words for President Donald Trump since the Capitol riot for a Bangor Daily News Op-Ed on Monday saying he incited it and gave a “terrible” response, but she has not said what she thinks the proper punishment is.

The account from the Republican senator came as House Democrats are preparing to vote for a second time to impeach the president on Wednesday, a week before President-elect Joe Biden takes over. Collins’ office is not responding to questions on that, citing a standard line that she used during Trump’s last impeachment between late 2019 and early 2020 — that she does not comment on a process ending with senators voting on removal.

Collins has not gone as far as fellow Republican senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who say Trump should resign. But while Collins’ carefully worded criticism is mostly buried in a narrative account of her experience, it uses language mirroring the Democratic impeachment article and is her first op-ed bluntly criticizing the president since she refused to endorse him in 2016. She mostly avoided him during her 2020 campaign.

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At the end of former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial in 1999, Collins voted to acquit him while setting a high bar for removing a president, saying it should only come when one “injures the fabric of democracy.” The Op-Ed suggests she saw an injury on two Trump-related fronts.

Collins faults Trump for his response to the riot.

In the Op-Ed, the Maine senator recounts being in the chamber as Congress met to affirm Biden’s victory as pro-Trump rioters progressed through the Capitol and neared the chamber. Senators were eventually ushered out and through underground tunnels to a secure room.

Collins said she soon “called and texted my closest contact at the White House” to urge Trump to tell rioters to go home. Hours after the attack, he urged the crowd to go home in a video but repeated his false claim that the election had been “stolen” and his supporters were “special.”

The senator called that “terrible, especially since he incited them in the first place.” This is not the first time that she has said the president incited the riot — she told Maine Public the same thing the night it happened — but her assessment of the response is harsh and clear. Even though Collins is not commenting on impeachment, it’s also clear she saw an injury to democracy — a word that appears six times in the column.

“There was no way I was going to let these thugs succeed in their attempt to disrupt the constitutional process and undermine our democracy,” she says, referencing Congress’ decision to finish declaring Biden the winner hours after the riot.

She again rebuts his claims about election fraud.

Collins said she knew “emotions were running high” heading into the day because of Trump’s claims that the election was stolen from him, but notes his campaign’s repeated failures in court, saying “approximately 90 judges, including the Supreme Court justices” ruled against him. The Maine senator never gave much credibility to Trump’s challenges to the election, saying he was entitled to sue in court but congratulating Biden shortly after most media outlets called the race.

In her Op-Ed, Collins also praises Vice President Mike Pence, who was criticized by Trump and his supporters for not stopping the Electoral College certification — something the vice president does not have the power to do. Collins said Pence “did a remarkable job fulfilling his constitutional duty.”

Collins was repeating this argument about Trump’s long odds while checking his assertion that the election was “stolen” from him after making it in a Thursday interview on WVOM, which has a conservative audience. She is one of the only big-name Maine Republicans making that argument even as she stays away from going fully into her stance on impeachment.

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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...