Greg Nash

In praise of Susan Collins’ persistent bipartisanship — The Hill

In praise of Susan Collins’ persistent bipartisanship — The Hill


After Susan Collins, the veteran Republican senator from Maine, cast the decisive vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in October 2018, she instantly became the target of angry Democrats across the country determined to defeat her in 2020. Yet despite a tidal wave of activism, outside money and an impressive opponent, State House Speaker Sara Gideon, against her, Collins was reelected comfortably to a fifth Senate term, by nine points, even as Joe Biden won Maine by the identical margin. In a bitterly polarized America, where ticket splitting had become a thing of the past, Maine was the only state that produced such a divergence between the presidential race and the Senate.

The notoriously independent Maine voters got it right. Collins immediately repaid Maine’s voters, and the country, by spearheading a group of moderate senators — Democrats, Republicans and independent Angus King(Maine) — to produce a $900 billion coronavirus relief package, breaking the months- long stalemate that inflicted suffering on millions of Americans and threatened to derail any economic recovery. This year, Collins plunged back into the bipartisan effort to produce the largest piece of infrastructure legislation ever passed.

This is nothing new for Collins, who first came to Capitol Hill at the age of 21 to work for Congressman William Cohen (R-Maine), who served on the House Judiciary Committee considering the impeachment of Richard Nixon. Collins later worked for Cohen as a Senate staffer through 1986, and then returned to Maine to join the cabinet of Republican Governor John “Jock” McKernan. When Cohen unexpectedly decided to retire from the Senate in 1996, Collins upset Maine’s former Governor Joe Brennan (D) to win the Senate seat. Understandably elated to be a senator, Collins was struck by how much more partisan the Senate had become in the ten years since she left Capitol Hill.

From her arrival, Collins has tried to help recreate the Senate in which she came of age: a Senate based on trust and mutual respect, which could legislate through principled compromise and bipartisanship. She has also been determined to serve Mainers, and the country, as an independent player doing what she thinks is right.

In 2009, Collins defied great pressure from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to become one of only three Republicans who made it possible to enact President Obama’s economic stimulus legislation. In 2017, she joined John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in thwarting McConnell’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. In 2020, Collins was the only Republican to vote against the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrettrammed through the Senate in the closing days of the presidential campaign. She later became one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial.

Other senators have stepped forward to work for a more bipartisan Senate — most notably, Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), but also Mark Warner (D-Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), King and Murkowski. This year, Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has been a tireless architect of the bipartisan infrastructure effort.

The emergence of this group is heartening; as Warner put it after the strong Senate vote to advance the legislation: “Everybody knows what people’s strengths and foibles are. If this group of people had not worked together before, I don’t think we would have gotten there.”

But Collins was playing the independent, bipartisan role long before the others came to the Senate, and those decades of experience and accomplishment count. She was among the first Republican senators to congratulate Biden on his victory, stepping forward as others stayed silent, allowing Trump’s lies about election fraud to spread. Her friendship with Biden, grounded in 12 years in the Senate together and a similar approach to legislating, has been critical to legislative accomplishments since the election.

Collins cast the decisive vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh based on reasoning that was unpersuasive. And Collins undoubtedly regrets her naïve expression of confidence that Trump learned something from his first impeachment. But men and women who spend their lives in what Teddy Roosevelt memorably called “the arena,” should not be judged against some standard of perfection. Every person who has ever been in politics (with the possible exception of Lincoln) has made mistakes, or taken decisions that they later regret. It is Collins’ overall record that distinguishes her. America has been in a long period of poisoned, polarized politics, during which the Senate, which depends on bipartisan comity, has spiraled downward.  Against that fierce tide, Collins has managed to be a real senator, putting country over party, and a positive force for good for America.

I was a Senate insider once, but that period ended 35 years ago. In writing about the contemporary Senate, I have chosen not to speak to current senators, including Collins (a friend from our Senate staff days). I rely on public sources to assess what senators and the Senate have said and done, or have not said and done. Having an idealistic view of what senators can accomplish and what the Senate should be, I was shocked and angered by the failure of McConnell’s Senate to perform the fundamental responsibility that our founders gave it; checking a renegade president whose abuses of power threatened our democracy, and whose irrational behavior caused several hundred thousand Americans to die needlessly.

It falls to this Senate, led by Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), to work with Biden and the Democratic House to bring back our country. I have no doubt that Collins and the bipartisan group that has emerged will continue to play a crucial role.

Ira Shapiro, the author of “The Last Great Senate: Courage and Statesmanship in Times of Crisis and Broken: Can the Senate Save Itself and the Country?” is completing his Senate trilogy with a book about the Senate during the presidencies of Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

Illustration by The New York Times, Photograph by Saul Loeb/Getty Images

How Joe Manchin Could Make the Senate Great Again — The New York Times

How Joe Manchin Could Make the Senate Great Again

The United States urgently needs a functioning Senate, which operates, in the words of the former vice president and senator Walter Mondale, as “the nation’s mediator.” Unfortunately, what we have instead is a body that, among other things, cannot pass a bill to create an independent commission to examine the Jan. 6 insurrection or to defend national voting rights.

Senators must confront what has proved to be a debilitating obstacle: the legislative filibuster — more precisely, the minimum 60-vote supermajority requirement for most legislation.

This problem has fallen to Senate Democrats, who hold a narrow majority, and Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia will be a decisive vote for any reform of the arcane rule. Mr. Manchin has defended the need for the filibuster, often citing the legacy of his predecessor Robert C. Byrd.

Mr. Byrd was the keeper of the Senate flame: The longest-serving senator and its foremost parliamentarian and historian, he never stopped believing that the Senate was “the premier spark of brilliance that emerged from the collective intellect of the Constitution’s framers.”

He might be an inspiration to senators like Mr. Manchin as they consider the filibuster, but that inspiration should push against devotion to an outdated, often abused and damaging rule. The filibuster should not shape the workings of the Senate, but the other way around. For Mr. Byrd and other senators of his era, the overriding goal was to ensure not that certain rules were respected above all else but that the Senate could deliver for the nation — even if it meant reforming rules like the filibuster.

The arc of Mr. Byrd’s half-century career in the chamber is instructive. In the deliberations around the 1964 Civil Rights Act, he conducted one of the most disgraceful filibusters in Senate history, joining a two-month effort by Southern senators to derail the landmark legislation. But about 13 years later, Senate Democrats showed their confidence in his changed attitude by making him majority leader. He repaid their trust by becoming one of the greatest leaders in Senate history (and later expressed regret for that filibuster).

Mr. Byrd once said that “filibusters are a necessary evil, which must be tolerated lest the Senate lose its special strength and become a mere appendage of the House of Representatives.” But his later actions clearly demonstrated a changed view of the uses and potential abuses of the filibuster. The nightmare scenario of a paralyzed Senate that could not pass urgent legislation was always on his mind.

When he became Senate majority leader in 1977, Mr. Byrd confronted an ingenious form of obstruction utilized by Senator Jim Allen, a conservative Democrat from Alabama — the postcloture filibuster. Mr. Allen found a way to delay the passage of bills by filing numerous amendments and requesting attendance calls even after 60 senators had agreed to invoke cloture, meaning that debate was coming to an end.

Mr. Byrd recognized this obstruction as a mortal threat to a functioning Senate. Working with Vice President Walter Mondale, who was presiding in the Senate, Mr. Byrd moved forcefully to crush the next post-cloture filibuster in 1978 (this time brought by two liberal Democrats).

At the beginning of the next Congress in 1979, Mr. Byrd and the minority leader, Howard Baker, created a bipartisan group that worked out a major revision of the rules to curb the use of postcloture filibusters. In the 1980s, Mr. Byrd orchestrated a series of parliamentary rulings to further restrict the filibuster.

Filibusters used to be real but rare, reserved for truly major issues. The constant use of the filibuster as a partisan weapon is a product of the past two decades, particularly the last 12 years, correlating with the Senate’s downward spiral into bitterness and gridlock. When the Senate was at its best — from the 1960s through the 1980s — it regularly had intensive debates and passed major legislation without filibusters. The Senate often approved landmark legislation with fewer than 60 votes, including the loan guarantees needed to rescue New York City in 1978 and the Chrysler Corporation in 1979. Each passed with 53 votes, because the senators were satisfied that the issues had been debated fully.

It is fundamental to the distinctive nature of the Senate that the minority party must have its rights protected. But the best way to do that is through regular order — a legislative process that involves public hearings, committee work in which bipartisan understanding of issues develops and principled compromise occurs, and a vigorous amendment process and serious debate on the Senate floor, leading to a final vote, with the majority prevailing.

Moreover, there is no convincing rationale for establishing two classes of legislative action. It should be unacceptable that the $2.1 trillion tax cut in 2017 or the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act could be done by majority vote (through reconciliation) but that 60 votes are required before helping the Dreamers, requiring background checks for guns, combating climate change or protecting the right to vote.

A Senate that operates by majority vote empowers Mr. Manchin and other dealmakers from both parties because their votes become decisive. A minimum 60-vote requirement empowers obstructionists, particularly one named Mitch McConnell, who has turned the Senate into a partisan instrument to block Democratic presidents from governing.

This year, Mr. McConnell disabused any naïve observers who thought his long relationship with President Biden would change his behavior, getting every Senate Republican to oppose the president’s popular American Rescue Plan. Mr. McConnell more recently stated that he was “100 percent focused” on stopping the Biden administration. He deserves to be taken at his word but not permitted to hold the Senate, and our country, hostage.

Today’s Senate includes many able public servants on both sides of the aisle. They should give themselves the opportunity to work with the Biden administration to hammer out the laws that America needs rather than lock themselves into preordained paralysis and failure.

Ira Shapiro, a former Senate staffer, is the author of “The Last Great Senate: Courage and Statesmanship in Times of Crisisand “Broken: Can the Senate Save Itself and the Country?

End this calamitous presidency now — The Hill

End this calamitous presidency now — The Hill

In an opinion column that ran on the day the United States reached three million coronavirus cases, I urged our governors to call for the resignation of Donald Trump. I contended that the nation, already crippled by disease and economic disaster due to mishandling the pandemic, could not have additional damage that he would inflict until the inauguration of the new president. The governors hold the credibility and stature, based on their frontline battle with the coronavirus, to end this incredible failure.

Now, one month later, the United States has hit five million coronavirus cases. Trump, after a moment of sound judgment in which he canceled the Republican convention in Florida, went back to attacking his public health officials, urging governors to reopen schools while the pandemic runs rampant across the nation, praising his wonderful leadership, and renewing his prediction that the coronavirus will simply disappear.

Trump has also ramped up the efforts to suppress the vote and call into question the election, including suggesting that it might be delayed and undermining the ability of the Postal Service to handle mailed ballots. He sent federal officers to “dominate” the streets of Portland and threatened other cities. Legal scholars and political observers started talking about the options if Trump refuses to leave office if he loses the election.

We have a president who denies responsibility for fighting the pandemic that has killed more than 160,000 Americans and plays no useful role for negotiating a relief package, but he appears ready to disrupt the election results, militarize the streets, and seize on the moment of tackling racism to foment civil war. What justification is there for giving Trump more than five additional months to wreak further havoc across the country?

While I believe the Senate failed the country in the impeachment trial, I saw some merit in the argument by Lamar Alexander that impeachment had mirrored our deep partisan division, and that removing Trump under those extreme circumstances would only “rip the country apart and pour gasoline on the fires of cultural division that already exist.” Because this was an election year, voters must pass judgment on the president.

But that was before his utter failure to deal with the coronavirus crisis. If there was any evidence that Trump knew his mistakes, felt some remorse, accepted responsibility, and was changing course, there would be some reason to wait for the election. However, there is no such evidence of any of this. Instead, we have an increasingly unhinged president desperate to avoid being a “loser” and in fear of possible criminal indictments.

Some argue that his supporters will only accept his leaving office if he is defeated in the election. But there is no evidence that his base, including those who oppose a mask mandate and believe the nation is on the right track, will ever accept his leaving office, unless he does the unexpected by leaving with some grace. Waiting for their approval is fruitless.

If a bipartisan group of governors called for Trump to resign, the Business Roundtable, the American Bar Association, and countless more prominent organizations would quickly follow suit. Even Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leaders in Congress, might climb on board. No one ever thought Richard Nixon would leave office voluntarily in 1974. But he resigned within days when his political support had collapsed.

Public health and economic experts tell us that the months between now and January are likely to be one of the darkest periods in our history. We have to prepare for the difficult time ahead and be heard in the election. The one certainty is that the country could come through it better, with fewer deaths and less division, if Trump were no longer president.

Ira Shapiro is a former staffer on Capitol Hill and former trade ambassador under President Clinton. He is the author of “Broken: Can the Senate Save Itself and the Country?” 

As COVID cases top 3 million, it’s past time to end the catastrophic Trump presidency — USA Today

As COVID cases top 3 million, it's past time to end the catastrophic Trump presidency

We can't afford to wait for Joe Biden. Governors have the experience, credibility and stature to end a presidency that is literally killing America.

Our country is living through a tragedy of unthinkable magnitude.

COVID-19 has hammered the world, but America — with 4.25% of the world’s population — has suffered a quarter of its cases and fatalities.

Other developed nations, such as Italy, Spain, France and the United Kingdom, have suffered greatly but have now managed to control the spread of the virus. Here, though we have the world’s most advanced economy and medical and scientific capabilities, COVID continues to run rampant. On Wednesday, led by surges in Texas, Florida, Arizona and California, America officially passed 3 million cases.

It is no secret why. America’s tragedy results from the largest failure of presidential leadership in our history. Donald Trump threw out the pandemic response playbooks left by his predecessors; weakened the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; refused to acknowledge the seriousness of the virus; promised its early disappearance; fantasized about miracle cures; and then, after a series of uninformed television briefings, chose to declare victory and pronounce the problem over.

He defied the warnings of public health experts and showed contempt for social distancing and wearing masks. He has created misunderstandings and sowed division by encouraging Americans to rebel against the reasonable public health measures put in place by their governors and mayors. He's trying to end insurance coverage for millions, and on Tuesday, as America set a record for new daily cases, he began to officially withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization.

An unhinged leader at a time of crisis

If that record of misjudgment, negligence, incompetence and lying was not enough, in his recent rallies in Tulsa and Phoenix, Trump knowingly exposed thousands of Americans to disease and death so that he could receive their applause. He acts more like the leader of an apocalyptic cult than a president.

America faces the gravest possible challenge, with an increasingly unhinged leader. Along with most other Americans, I have tried to comfort myself knowing that the election is coming and that Trump is virtually certain to be defeated. But it will be more than six months until former Vice President Joe Biden is sworn in as president. Having seen the past six months, it is frightening to contemplate how much more damage Trump would do in his final six.

We are not bound to stand by while thousands of Americans get sick and die, and our country goes down the drain. To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, the Constitution is not a "suicide pact."

Spiking across America:Trump's 'mission accomplished' moment is premature and deadly. We have not defeated COVID.

A bipartisan stand by Congress could put pressure on Trump to leave office, but there is no reason to believe that Senate Republicans, even after disgracing themselves in the impeachment trial, will break with Trump in an election year. The 25th Amendment specifies how the Cabinet can remove a president whose disability makes him incapable of doing his job, but a Cabinet led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr will not put “country first” any time soon.

Time to End McConnell’s Reign — Newsmax

Time to End McConnell's Reign

On March 13, following the U.S. House of Representatives passage of emergency relief legislation to support those most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., recessed the Senate so he could fly to Louisville to celebrate the installation of one of his proteges, 37 year old Justin Walker, as a federal judge in Kentucky.

McConnell's cavalier act, at a time when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was warning people against flying, pretty much captures the priorities and the arrogance of a leader who has been in power much too long.

It's impossible to overstate the breadth and depth of the damage that McConnell has done to our country and our democracy.

He rose to power as the leading opponent of campaign finance reform legislation, later becoming the defender of undisclosed "dark money" which has polluted our political system. In 2009, he led the Republican opposition to the economic stimulus desperately needed to bring the country back from the financial crisis then spiraling out of control.

He championed the relentless opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which he was nearly able to repeal with Republican votes alone.

He was the single strongest opponent of Obama’s efforts to combat climate change, mobilizing against the Clean Power Act, and denouncing the Paris Climate Agreement.

Of course, McConnell broke all precedent to block Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court for nearly a year.

He spearheaded the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and remade the federal judiciary, by expediting the confirmation of Trump nominees, who now hold nearly one-third of all federal judgeships.

McConnell rammed through the 2017 Trump tax cut, heavily weighted to benefit corporations and the richest Americans, on a straight party vote.

He has opposed every gun control measure, and even delayed criminal justice reform legislation which won the support of 90 senators. He turned the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump into a disgraceful farce by blocking witnesses and documents.

McConnell prevented a bipartisan statement acknowledging Russian interference in 2016 and legislative measures to prevent interference in the 2020 election, earning his nickname "Moscow Mitch."

If power is the ability to achieve your objectives and prevent your opponents from achieving theirs, no one has been more powerful than Mitch McConnell.

While Trump dominates the political landscape, we are living in McConnell’s America, where healthcare benefits are never secure, corporate tax cuts are never deep enough; guns are never restricted; environmental regulations are gutted; and the integrity of our national elections is not safe from foreign manipulation.

With his success has come great arrogance. He is increasingly Trump-like in expressing contempt for his opponents. Exulting after the confirmation of Kavanaugh, McConnell labeled those who opposed the nomination as "the mob."

He memorably promised to block any progressive programs, calling himself "the grim reaper," and bragging, "None of that stuff is going to pass."

Recently, in a characteristic display of audacity and disingenuousness, McConnell declared, "I think President Obama should have kept his mouth shut . . .  I think it's a little bit classless, frankly, to critique an administration that comes after you."

We have come to expect this sort of Trump-surrogate behavior from McConnell.

As the fatalities from COVID-19 mounted and the economic damage ravaged our country necessitating federal support for the states, McConnell condemned "blue state bailouts," declaring, "I would certainly be in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route."

In the face of withering criticism, he later stepped back from that position.

More recently, he was forced to apologize, admitting that he was wrong in saying that the Obama administration had not left a pandemic playbook for the Trump team.

It's said that as people age, they become more themselves, and in McConnell’s case, that likely means more arrogant, more cynical, and even more ruthless in clinging to power.

McConnell would shed few tears if Trump were defeated; he doesn’t relish playing golf with Trump the way Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul do.

What matters to him is winning a seventh, six-year term and maintaining the Republicans majority in the Senate.

Being known as "the grim reaper"during a pandemic is probably not the path to re-election.

Consequently, McConnell will bob and weave, throw red meat to the Republican base while claiming credit for relief legislation forced upon him by the emergency and Democrats. Of course, that type of positioning is fair game in politics.

But no one should be under any illusions about what McConnell will do if re-elected.

His long record shows that he is only interested in maintaining his power and pleasing the Republican donor base.

Kentuckians, like millions of other Americans, need economic opportunity and security, and healthcare they can count on, rather than McConnell's agenda of tax cuts for the rich and extreme, right wing judges on the federal bench for life.

Ira Shapiro is a former Senate staffer and Clinton administration trade official, is the author of " Broken: Can the Senate Save Itself and the Country?" and “The Last Great Senate: Courage and Statesmanship in Times of Crisis” You can follow them on Twitter: @ShapiroGlobal and @richarenberg