Time for a Town Hall, Senator.

After last week’s highly-contentious cabinet votes, Mitch McConnell is aiming to ram through as many additional nominees as possible this week, before the Senate adjourns for their “state work period” the week of 2/20.  It looks like McConnell’s plan is to vote Mnuchin (Treasury) in Monday, then Shulkin (Veteran’s Affairs), and McMahon (Small Business Administration).   They also want to vote on several others by the end of the week, though the order is unclear: Mulvaney (Office of Management and Budget), Ross (Commerce), Carson (HUD), Zinke (Interior), and Pruitt (EPA).  Of those, Collins is likely only gettable on Pruitt, but given that the Dems promised weeks ago full resistance on Mnuchin, Mulvaney and Pruitt, and have been getting pressured by their base to resist every nominee, it seems likely that the Pruitt vote won’t make Mitch’s end of week deadline.

Which brings us to next week’s state work period.  That week off from the legislative calendar is supposed to allow Senators to spend time in their home states to listen to constituents.  The problem is, as a matter of policy, Susan Collins doesn’t do town halls, only meeting with small constituent groups who have submitted a formal request and have been vetted by her staff.

It’s clear from the Senator’s statements that she has become woefully out of touch with her constituents, from implying that most opponents of ACA repeal were “paid activists,” to assuming that anti-Trump protestors were mainly unwilling to accept the election results vs. having a legitimate reason to protest his policies, to giving convoluted explanations to the media for her voting DeVos out of committee and voting to silence Elizabeth Warren.  She seems to expect her constituents to keep quiet between elections and just trust her do the right thing, without paying attention too closely.  Although that’s indeed what the vast majority of Mainers have done for the 20 years she’s been in the Senate, things are different now.  Mainers, like the rest of the country, are becoming more politically aware and engaged than ever before.  It’s time Sen. Collins heard directly from us.

So for this week’s action item we’re going to call on Collins to hold a public town hall next week.  You’ll be told that the Senator doesn’t do town halls, and prefers to meet with small groups of constituents, but please emphasize that all Mainers need to have a chance to speak directly to their Senator, not just those few who are granted an appointment.

For extra credit, you can participate in “open air” town halls being organized by the great folks at Mainers for Accountable Leadership.  The events will be held simultaneously near Maine Public Radio studios in Portland, Lewiston, and Bangor on February 22nd, when Collins is scheduled to be interviewed on the 1pm Maine Calling show.  RSVP here!  If you’re at the Portland event, I’ll be holding a small sign with a Calling on Collins logo on the back.  Please say hello!

And for extra extra credit, sign the petition here for Collins to hold a town hall.  Every bit helps!

Thanks for all you do,

Paul

 

Bummed about DeVos? Call on Price!

UPDATE: Alas, Collins voted to confirm Price in a strict party-line vote in the wee hours of the night Thursday.  A new action item will be posted Sunday night.

Sadly, Betsy DeVos became Secretary of Education yesterday, since no third Republican could be peeled off to stop the nomination, despite millions of calls to Senators across the country.

Calls from Mainers clearly had an impact on Collins in getting her to vote no in the final vote, which itself was a huge accomplishment.  But Collins could have had a much greater impact if she’d voted no on DeVos in committee, depriving DeVos of the committee’s recommendation.  The nomination would still have been taken to the full Senate, but a failed committee vote might have been enough to persuade another Republican to jump ship, or persuade DeVos to withdraw.  There were reports that Collins and Murkowski only decided to vote no when it was clear that there would still be enough firm votes to confirm her, allowing them both to appear moderate back home without seriously threatening the confirmation.

I want to try to avoid psychoanalyzing Sen. Collins on this site, so will leave discussions about her true motives in this case to others.  Regardless of what she really believes, more than anything, she is a politician whose driving objective is to look good to both Republican primary voters and the general Maine electorate.  For decades, she has gotten a pass as a moderate voice for common sense without the media or the public paying very close attention to her actions.  Our job now is to 1) pay attention to what she says and does, 2) let her know how we want her to act, 3) thank her when she does the right thing, and 4) call her out when she doesn’t.

With the Trump wing of the Maine GOP firmly against her, she will not win statewide office again without strong support from Dems and Independents, so she knows she can’t take us for granted.  We just need to train her to act consistently in a way that will earn our votes.  The Democratic caucus would do a good job of this if she ever decides to caucus with them, but until then, we’ll need to do the training, issue by issue.

Which brings us to Tom Price, whose vote is slated next, likely happening very early Friday morning.  He is one of the most fervent opponents of the ACA, Medicare and Medicaid, and so would be about the most dangerous person to be put in charge of running those programs, not to mention the concerns about his insider trading.  Collins has not made any statements about how she will vote on Price, but as Chair of the Senate Committee on Aging, she should have serious concerns about putting him in charge of Medicare.  And with the Dems seemingly unified against and Angus King announcing he will vote no, she may be gettable on Price.

So let’s give it a shot.  Call Collins Thursday to vote NO on Price!  We’ll switch back to Pruitt–where Collins seems much more gettable–next week.

THANK YOU for DeVos! How about Pruitt?

WE DID IT!  Today Collins unexpectedly announced that she would join the Democratic caucus in opposing Betsy DeVos when she comes up for a final vote in the Senate.  This is especially notable in that the announcement leaves time to influence other Senators before the vote, meaning Collins is sticking her neck out even though she may end up being the one personally blamed for sinking the nomination, vs. just quietly voting no while knowing the nomination would pass without her.  Collins’ announcement has already moved one other R Senator to vote no (Lisa Murkowski, her fellow moderate Republican also on the HELP committee), so now it will only take one more Republican Senator voting no to stop DeVos’ confirmation.

THANK YOU to all of you who called Collins about DeVos; your call, along with thousands of others from across the state, helped shake Collins from her vote-with-party default mode, and made her realize that Mainers actually care whether someone like DeVos is the top education official in the country.  Collins is already being attacked by Trumpists for her move, so it’s very important that we let her know that, now that she’s done the right thing, her constituents have her back.  Therefore, I’m revising the action item to be thanking Collins for her vote against DeVos, and (politely & respectfully) giving her the courage to do the same on Pruitt.

Thanks for all you do,

Paul

P.S. DeVos will still be confirmed unless one more R votes no.  We Mainers have done our part, but if anyone has friends or relatives in Nevada (Heller), Arizona (Flake & McCain), South Carolina (Graham), or Nebraska (Sasse), please ask them to call their Senators to join the bipartisan rejection of DeVos.

Let’s go for a DeVos/Pruitt Two-fer!

To start, it’s important to note again how extraordinarily rare it is for a cabinet nominee to fail a floor vote in the Senate; it’s only happened nine times in U.S. history and last happened in 1989.  This is due to longstanding bipartisan precedent that Presidents be given “considerable deference in the selection of Cabinet members regardless of which political party is in power,” as Collins herself explained in an interview today.  Sinking a cabinet nominee got even harder in the filibuster compromise of 2013, when it was agreed that cabinet appointments would not be subject to the filibuster, meaning a Cabinet nominee would only need votes from 50 Senators, plus the Vice President’s tie-breaking vote, to be confirmed.  So from the start, if ANY of Trump’s nominees get voted down in a final Senate vote, it would be a BFD.

This makes it all the more extraordinary that, after receiving unprecedented constituent pressure to vote against DeVos, Susan Collins is now saying that she “may not vote for [DeVos’] confirmation when it goes before the full Senate.”  What’s even more interesting is that Lisa Murkowski, arguably the only other moderate Republican in the Senate, has taken the same stance due to pressure from “thousands of Alaskans” calling and visiting her offices.  Though they both did vote with their party in committee this morning to send DeVos to the full Senate for a vote (again due to precedent), the fact that they both did so while telegraphing they might vote no in the full Senate is a BIG deal.  The Dem caucus is fully unified in opposition to DeVos, so if Collins and Murkowski vote no, it would only take one more Republican no vote to sink her.  Maybe Dean Heller (R-NV), who’s up for a tough re-election in a swing state in 2018, or one of the other 7 Senators that recently showed some spine in making statements opposing Trump’s executive order, like Jeff Flake (R-AZ, also up in 2018), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), John McCain (R-AZ), or Cory Gardner (R-CO).

In summary, DeVos is sinkable, but far from a sure thing.  At this point, it seems quite clear that she is the most likely Cabinet nominee to fail, and if we’re going to break precedent by sinking any of these nominees, we’ll need to start with the easiest one.  So the DeVos action item stays.

But what about all the other shockingly horrible nominees working their way through the system, you ask?

According to the two guidelines we set before about which issues to fight for with Collins, all cabinet nominees satisfy the requirement that she have control over it, since she will ultimately vote on all of them (unless withdrawn or killed in committee) on the Senate floor.  However, the second requirement of believing she can be persuaded rules out a couple who are fast approaching a Senate vote:

  • Rex Tillerson for State, whom Angus King and a three Dems have already neglected to block.  If Dems aren’t unified against, Collins is not going to stick her neck out against her party and against precedent.
  • Jeff Sessions for DOJ, based on the fact that she went out of her way to endorse and introduce him at his hearing as a trusted colleague and classmate, despite their many differences on policy.  On Sessions, she stuck her neck out far to the right, and we can’t expect her to reverse herself and stick her neck out in the other direction.

One who does fit the criteria is Scott Pruitt, Trump’s nominee to head the EPA, who is expected to be voted out of committee tomorrow.  The Dem caucus seems unified against Pruitt (except possibly for Joe Manchin of West Virginia), and though she doesn’t sit on the committee that manages his hearing, Collins has started to express fairly strong reservations about him:

 “I am concerned, based on the meeting I had with Scott Pruitt, about the number of times he has sued the very agency that he has now been tapped to lead,”

If you had to pick a cabinet nominee with the greatest potential to inflict damage on the nation and the world, you could make a good case for Scott Pruitt.  Unlike DeVos, he seems extremely knowledgeable of the organization he’d be heading.  But like her, he seems to have a personal agenda against the established mission of the organization, having sued the EPA 13 times as Oklahoma’s Attorney General.  Most critically, given how much the Obama administration relied on EPA regulation to reach the commitments needed for the Paris agreement on climate change, the damage Pruitt could do to the U.S. and the world’s efforts to combat climate change is severe.

In the case of Pruitt, there is very good reason to believe Collins may oppose him even if it’s clear he will still have the votes to be confirmed, since it could help build her carefully maintained reputation for being a pro-environment Republican.  She may even choose to do the same on DeVos, and may in fact be more comfortable making a vote against her party if she knows her vote won’t change the outcome.  I’m told she has built quite a track record in the past of doing just that on legislation, getting credit for voting against a Republican bill, while still letting it pass by not filibustering.  The difference is that this time, we’ll all be watching, and calling her out when necessary.

So let’s try out our first combo action item* and call for a no vote on both DeVos and Pruitt.  Calls from Mainers are definitely starting to have an impact on Collins, so this is no time to get discouraged or distracted!

Thanks for all you do,

Paul

*Someone in the Caribou office told me this morning that they don’t mind constituents mentioning multiple issues in a single call, and assured me that each issue would be logged separately.

New Action Item: Let’s Sink DeVos!

In order for this campaign to be successful, I think it’s important that we choose action items where 1) Collins has direct control over the issue and 2) we have good reason to believe she can be persuaded.

The first point is why I’ve focused on the few cabinet nominees she gets to vote for in committee before they go to the full Senate floor (DeVos, Puzder, and Pompeo), vs. the other nominees who are equally, if not more, concerning.  As for the second point of picking fights we can win, it’s an uphill battle due to the longstanding precedent of Senators allowing Presidents great leeway in choosing their own Cabinet, which is why even lefties like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders haven’t been voting against all Trump nominees (see here for a great tracker of all final Senate votes on nominees as they come). Collins has always been extremely careful about when she votes against the R party line, and you can be sure there’s no chance she’ll stick her neck out to vote against a nominee unless it’s clear that the entire Dem caucus is doing so.

Which brings us to DeVos.  She meets the first requirement because Collins is one of 12 Republicans and 11 Democrats on the Senate HELP Committee who are voting on Tuesday on whether to recommend DeVos to the full Senate.  If the Dems are unified against and Collins joins them, the nomination will be killed or withdrawn.

Importantly, DeVos also now meets the second requirement because:

  • Beyond her disturbing anti-public education, pro-voucher, pro-Christian education ideology, she is quite objectively incompetent, unqualified, and seemingly disinterested in learning the laws and policies she would have to enforce.  As a dedicated, hardworking, and extremely competent female Senator, this surely has to bother Collins.
  • While they’ve strategically decided not to oppose every nominee, the Dems have signaled that they are completely unified against DeVos, with even moderate Angus King stating his opposition (which, by the way, is a great example of how Collins’ default voting patterns might change if she decided to go Indy and caucus with the Dems, like him).
  • There seems to be significant outside momentum building against DeVos, best represented by this tweet from Maine’s own Stephen King last night asking his followers to call Collins specifically (>3000 retweets and counting!).  The only problem with this is that it’s causing her phone lines to be jammed with out of state folks, which both prevents us Mainers from getting through and may actually have the opposite effect on Collins, if she gets the impression that the calls are driven by our of state interests.

Anyway, now’s our chance to strike our first major win.  Let’s call Collins every weekday until Tuesday’s vote, urging her to vote against DeVos in committee because of her incompetence and ideological hostility to public education as we know it.

If you get a busy signal or VM, try another office, or try later in the day until you get a real person on the phone.  Then wait to call again until the next day so other Mainers have a chance of getting through!

Thanks for all you do,

Paul

P.S.  If we’re successful, it’s possible Trump could find someone else who’s even worse to replace her, but let’s cross that bridge when we come to it… 🙂

Why Replacement is a Ruse

Collins announced an ACA replacement plan yesterday, partnering with Sen. Cassidy (R-LA).  The plan is meant as a compromise bill that lets states decide their level of participation: blue states can keep the ACA as-is, deep red states can avoid the law altogether, and the rest get compelled to at least enroll their uninsured in crummy catastrophic insurance.  See this great Vox explainer for details.

The relative merits of the Collins-Cassidy plan vs. the ACA can be debated elsewhere, but the key point is this: the Collins replacement plan, as well as any other conceivable replacement plan, are dead-on-arrival in this Congress because of how many votes would be needed to pass.  Unlike the ACA repeal bill being considered now, which only requires 50 votes to pass the Senate (with VP supplying the tie-breaking vote), any replacement bill requires 60 votes to pass the Senate.  This is because the types of things you need in a replacement bill don’t fit under the arcane rules of budget reconciliation that allow certain bills to pass with only 50 votes–see more detailed explanation here.  This means Collins would need to hold all R’s and peel off 8 from the Dem caucus to pass it out of the Senate, which is extremely unlikely, especially given how unified the Dem caucus seems to be right now.  Early reviews of the Collins-Cassidy plan are not good at all, with the plan getting an icy reception from both sides of the aisle.  Even if a bipartisan replace plan could magically pass the Senate, it would still need be conservative enough to pass the House without losing more than 23 R’s, and then be acceptable enough to Trump for him to sign it into law.  Not.  Gonna.  Happen.

In contrast, the threat of the repeal bill passing is very real since it only needs 50 votes in the Senate.  Repeal without replacement is like throwing a grenade into the health care system, likely sending insurance markets into a tailspin.  Collins has expressed multiple concerns about repeal, but she still voted to allow the repeal process to move forward.  She has indicated a willingness to vote for the final repeal bill so long as there’s “at least a detailed framework” of what a replacement might look like.  Thus, she seems perfectly willing to vote for repeal and blow up the ACA as long as a replacement bill is under consideration, even though she must know that passing a such a bill is near impossible.

Therefore, our call to action must be to get her to unequivocally oppose the repeal bill.  If a viable replace bill that can get 60 votes ever comes along, it can include the repeal stuff in it, so there is no need for a separate repeal bill at all.

The danger is that the average American has no idea how the Senate works, so by publicizing her DOA replacement plan, Collins is giving Mainers false hope.  It’s not okay to vote quietly to kill the ACA, then say you did all you could to pass a replacement.

So let’s keep calling to hold Collins accountable: You can try all you want to pass an even better health reform bill, but outright ACA repeal must be completely off the table.

Thanks for all you do,

Paul

Mainers: Join the Campaign!

1) During business hours, get a real person at one of Sen. Collins’ offices on the phone and urge the Senator to stand up to Trump (see What’s the Ask? for details):

Augusta: (207) 622-8414
Bangor: (207) 945-0417
Biddeford: (207) 283-1101
Caribou: (207) 493-7873
Lewiston: (207) 784-6969
Portland: (207) 780-3575
Washington: (202) 224-2523 +0, to “speak to a staffer”

Collins has been inundated with calls lately, so you’ll probably have to try a few offices before a real person picks up.  Don’t worry: it is a core responsibility of the staffer answering the phone to log ALL constituent calls, no matter which office they call.  Just be sure to tell them your name, town, and zip so they know you’re not from out of state!  See What Do I Do? for more specifics.

2) Log your call here.

3) Get at least two other Mainers to do the same.

Please feel free to call again every day!   Unfortunately there are most likely many more non-Mainers than Mainers calling her right now due to all the national attention she’s getting, but Collins only wants to hear from Mainers, so we Mainers need to do everything we can to get through to a real person and make sure our voices get through!

4) Follow this blog, join the Mainers Calling on Collins Facebook group, or follow @pj_maine on Twitter for action item updates!