The U.S. Senate voted on two competing bills Thursday to end the government shutdown and resolve President Donald Trump's request for border wall funding. Both failed. Both the left and the right sought Republican Sen. Susan Collins' vote — and she ultimately supported the president's request.
Maine Public's Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz talked about Collins' votes with State House Bureau Chief Steve Mistler.
All right, Steve Mistler: We know Senator Collins went ahead and voted for the Donald Trump-inspired Republican measure to try to resolve the shutdown standoff. Both competing measures didn't pass. But she seemed to say that this measure would be a good starting point but still subject to negotiation. So she isn't taking a really hard stand yet, is she?
MISTLER: No, not really. I mean, I think what she's done is she's taken a pretty safe position where she's been supportive of the Democratic bills, which would simply reopen the government first. You know, that would allow them to negotiate with the president over this border security issue. But she's also voted for a proposal that was hatched by Republican leaders and, ostensibly, representatives of the Trump administration, that would basically provide the border wall funding or border barrier funding, whatever they're calling it now - that seems to be a term of art these days. But it's a pretty safe position for her politically because it does seem to satisfy the pressure that she's getting from the right to support the president's proposal for a border wall.
It is a little bit rare for the Maine GOP to write a letter asking Senator Collins to basically support the president's proposal - with no mention of opening up the government, by the way. They just said “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to deal with border security. We would hope that you would support the president on this.” But on the left she's definitely opened herself up to criticism that rewarding the president's tactic of shutting down the government to extract his border wall will create these situations over and over again. This is why Democrats really do not want to give in to the president here. And it's because they could see him using this shutdown tactic repeatedly to extract whatever policy initiative he's trying to get. And so they see Collins as, basically, giving in to that pressure, while she's also previously said this is not the way to go, that it's not right to hold the government hostage for a policy measure.
AUDIO OF COLLINS: Government shutdowns are never a good idea. They represent the ultimate in failure to govern effectively and responsibly.
Collins has also said that she's still interested in negotiation toward a compromise. But what I haven't heard from her that I'm hearing from other people - there are no indications from her yet of what would be in a compromise, in her mind.
MISTLER: You really hit the nail on the head, Irwin, because, you know, she sort of lamented the idea that the government is shut down and it's having all these effects on people. But what she hasn't said is what kind of a compromise she would be supportive of. And so she's, right now, cast votes for two bills that failed. I think everybody’s sort of waiting to see what it is she wants, and again she's in this position where she's getting pressure from both the right and the left - on the right to support the president and on the left to not reward the president for this shutdown tactic.
And she is one of the one-third members of the Senate who will have to stand for re-election if she so chooses in 2020.
MISTLER: That dynamic is hovering over all of this. I mean, you have to sort of make both sides happy, which has been the hallmark of her political career - or maybe not making them terribly happy, but making them at least appeased. And that re-election bid is coming right up.