The Collins Conundrum

What a week it’s been!

We started out on Monday joining the national outcry against having hearings for nominees who hadn’t completed ethics reviews, with a focus on the nominees Collins can vote out of committee, and saw some immediate progress:

On Tuesday, Collins introduced an amendment with four other Republican Senators to buy more time on the ACA repeal bill (until March 3rd instead of January 27th) to allow Republicans to come up with “at least a detailed framework [of]…where we’re headed” for an ACA replacement, though she said ideally “we would repeal and replace Obamacare simultaneously.”  She also reiterated that her top concern is “that we not create a gap in coverage for individuals who are currently insured [via the ACA exchanges].”

Then late Wednesday night, Collins curiously withdrew that amendment and went on to vote with her party to allow them to go ahead and plow forward with the original bill and the (non-binding) January 27th deadline.  Rand Paul (R-KY) was the only Republican to break ranks; the entire Democratic caucus (including Angus King!) remained unified in opposition.

In other Collins news this week, Collins made the mistake on Tuesday of personally introducing Attorney General nominee Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III in his hearings before the Judiciary Committee.  The endorsement seemed to be based entirely on her personal familiarity with Sessions, having come into the Senate with him in the same class 20 years ago, but she clearly did not expect that Mainers would be lining up at her state offices in protest her endorsement.  This was a day after over 100 protesters had shown up at her Portland and Augusta offices to protest climate-change deniers among Trump’s nominees.  She is not accustomed to constituents watching her and pressuring her this closely, nor is she accustomed to getting portrayed in such a negative light.

So what the heck is going on?  Though Collins is saying positive things about the ACA, at the end of the day she’s still being a team player and allowing ACA repeal to move forward, seemingly hoping that her colleagues will find the magical unicorn of an actual ACA replacement plan that has eluded them for seven years.  She has made so many recent statements about the need for continued coverage for the 84,000 Mainers on the ACA exchanges that there seems a good chance that she will vote against the repeal bill in the end, but she clearly needs our help in understanding that a “detailed framework” for an ACA replacement is nowhere near good enough for her constituents, whether they’re using the exchanges for their health care, or are simply enjoying the protections for employer-based coverage that the law affords (no preexisting conditions, no gender discrimination, kids <26 on parents’ plans, etc.).  We need to push her towards a full-throated endorsement of the ACA, and a commitment to defend and improve it, not dismantle it.  So with that, I’m changing our action item back to opposing repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Thought it was disappointing to see Collins fall in line for the latest ACA vote, there’s every reason to believe that our calls are having an impact.  Since the election she has been unusually outspoken in the media in sharing her concerns about ACA repeal.  The constituent pressure on Sen. Collins–from us and many, many others–is huge and completely unprecedented.  And now that she’s alienated the Trump/LePage wing of Maine Republicans, she’s dependent on getting substantial support from Maine Democrats for winning any future elections.  We are influencing her already.  We just need to keep calling and recruiting others to our cause so she has no politically viable option BUT to move in our direction.

Keep the faith, and keep calling!

–Paul (@pj_maine)

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