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Susan Collins' Support for Jeff Sessions Sparks Protests in Maine, Washington

Fred Bever
Maine Public
Maine Sessions opponents head to Collins' Portland headquarters Tuesday to protest Collins' support for the Alabama senator's nomination for U.S. attorney general.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is in the spotlight this week, taking the lead in support of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions’ nomination to be U.S. attorney general. Protests against Collins erupted in Washington and at home in Maine today, and not just over the nomination.

It’s a busy week for Collins’ staff in Maine. On Monday, well over 100 protesters showed up at her Portland and Augusta offices, calling on her to oppose Trump cabinet picks who deny that climate change is driven by human activity. And on Tuesday morning, several dozen more fanned out to Collins’ offices around the state — this time to protest her active support for Sessions.

“I’m stunned and so disappointed that Susan Collins is not just supporting him but introducing him,” says Dana Bateman, a Brunswick educator who was one of about 40 who gathered in a downtown Portland square before heading to Collins’ 8th-floor office.

Bateman says she’s an unenrolled voter who appreciated Collins’ outspokenness against Trump and who has voted for Collins in the past. But she won’t again, she says, because of Sessions’ positions that run counter to her own.

“I’ve been calling and asking her, how do you say he’s a man of integrity — those are her words — when he’s known to be anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-choice, and racist. I haven’t gotten an answer. I’m hoping to get one today,” she says.

The protests also followed Collins to Capitol Hill, where she introduced Sessions to the Senate Judiciary Committee — or tried to.

“I am pleased to join Sen. Shelby in presenting my friend and colleague Sen. Jeff Sessions, and to offer my support for his nomination to be our next attorney general,” she said, before she was interrupted by a protester.

Once that protester was ejected, Collins went on to defend Sessions against charges of racism and untrustworthiness. Emphasizing that Sessions is a close personal friend, Collins pointed to his history of supporting African Americans’ admittance to social clubs and to the ranks of congressional staff, along with his work to convict two members of the Ku Klux Klan who had murdered a black Alabama teenager.

“These are not the actions of an individual who is motivated by racial animus. In spite of this strong record, Sen. Sessions’ nomination has generated controversy. He has had to withstand some very painful attacks on his character, both years ago and again today,” Collins said.

Critics back in Maine were unmoved. Karen Marysdaughter was one of about two dozen protesters who marched to Collins’ office in Bangor.

“I think that she’s been a thoughtful senator for the state of Maine. She really likes to take her time to vet people. So I’m extremely surprised that she would support any sort of fast-tracking, which is going on right now,” she says.

And while protesters say they hope Maine voters will make Collins pay for her support of Sessions, some observers says that’s pretty unlikely.

“Will it cost her a few votes. Yeah, but I’d put the emphasis on few — probably very few,” says Mark Brewer, who teaches political science at the University of Maine.

Brewer says Collins has gained influence in the Senate this year, where the Republican majority is smaller than last, and that her position in Maine is about as safe as they come.

“If you’re going to see a mass change in opinion on a politician as well-liked as Susan Collins, I suspect it’s going to take far more than a cabinet secretary nomination,” he says.

Still, the contention over Sessions is fierce, with opponents taking credit for overwhelming Collins’ telephone lines in Maine — and the Maine Republican Party fighting back by urging its troops to make their own calls to Collins in support of Trump’s nominee.