SKOWHEGAN — Bipartisanship is being scorned and the art of the compromise appears out of date, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said Friday, calling for “fanatical moderates” in an increasingly polarized political world.

Collins, R-Maine, made the remarks Friday morning to a full house at the Margaret Chase Smith Library.

“We need centrists, pragmatists to be as active in shaping the political debate as the energized far left and the aggressive right,” Collins told the gathering for the 28th annual Maine Town Meeting. “We need more fanatical moderates.”

Recently named for the fourth year in a row the most bipartisan senator and also making the list as one of the most effective senators, Collins said there is a link between working with other people and getting things done.

Collins grew up in Caribou and met Sen. Margaret Chase Smith at her Washington, D.C., office as a high school senior in 1971. At the time, Smith, a Skowhegan native, was the only woman in the U.S. Senate. Today, there are 21 women in the Senate, according to the U.S. Senate website, and Collins occupies the seat once held by Smith.

In her Skowhegan talk, which coincided with the library’s 35th anniversary celebration, Collins cited the legend that George Washington told Thomas Jefferson that the Senate was created to be a “cooling saucer” to the hot legislation that comes from the House. She said the current hyperpartisanship and obstructionism has turned that cooling saucer into “an overheated skillet.”


“Since I joined the Senate nearly 20 years ago and have had the honor of representing Maine, I have witnessed a withering of this culture of patience, perseverance and persuasion,” she said. “Ideology and partisanship dictate far too much of our conduct.”

Collins cited certain Senate traditions, such as “Seersucker Thursday,” on which members don the white-and-blue striped garments as a show of camaraderie, even in the face of deep political differences. She said the Senate traditions are important because they are intended to depersonalize the debate and to remind “heated adversaries” that when the current disputes are over, they will be working again with their opponents on different issues on which they well might agree.

Civility, Collins said, is an increasingly rare commodity. She said America “is coming apart” on 24/7 television news and talk radio, telling viewers and listeners what they want to hear and ignoring the middle ground of partisanship. She referred to “residential sorting,” in which conservatives appear to be migrating to rural areas, while liberals tend to cluster in the nation’s cities.

“We are isolating ourselves,” she said.

Collins has been listed as being among the most moderate Republicans.

She’s spoken out against President Donald Trump’s partial immigration ban, his omission of any mention of Jews in his Holocaust remembrance statement, his appointment of former Breitbart News executive director Stephen Bannon to the National Security Council and his nomination of billionaire Betsy DeVos as education secretary.


Collins objected to the House-passed health care bill on Wednesday, saying a new report by the Congressional Budget Office shows that the legislation will hit older, low-income Americans especially hard.

“Unfortunately, the CBO estimates that 23 million Americans would lose insurance coverage over the next decade, and the impact would disproportionately affect older, low-income Americans,” Collins said in a statement.

Collins and GOP colleague Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana have met with a group of Republican and Democratic senators to negotiate alternative legislation based on a proposal they introduced earlier this year, according to The Hill.

The group has met separately from the 13-member working group that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has convened to rewrite the House bill, which narrowly passed in that chamber earlier this month, according to the website.

“I urge my colleagues to support the comprehensive ACA replacement plan Sen. Cassidy and I introduced that will allow more Americans to obtain health insurance, preserve significant consumer protections and help moderate the cost of health care,” she said.

She said the recent political wrangling over appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court was again parting with tradition and breaking faith with the ideals of the nation’s founders. She said the way Republicans treated Judge Merrick Garland, who was nominated last year by former President Barack Obama to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court, was wrong.


Collins said the Constitution does not limit the president’s ability to make nominations in his final year in office — an argument made by Senate Majority Leader McConnell in refusing to schedule a confirmation hearing for Garland.

After her address Friday morning, some in attendance asked if she had met with the Supreme Court nominees.

Collins said she had met with Garland, an appeals court judge, in April 2016, saying he deserved a hearing and a vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I believe that we should follow the regular order in considering this nominee,” she told National Public Radio in March 2016. “The Constitution’s very clear that the president has every right to make this nomination, and then the Senate can either consent or withhold its consent. The only way that we can do that is by thoroughly vetting the nominee, and that means having personal meetings, which I have scheduled to come up in about three weeks, or — and to hold a public hearing.”

Even so, Collins also said Democrats “further aggravated” the partisanship surrounding the Supreme Court selection by filibustering — and ultimately largely voting against — President Donald Trump’s selection of Judge Neil Gorsuch for the vacant seat on the high court. She said she believes that any nominee for the Supreme Court ought to have a right to an up-or-down vote from the full Senate.

Maintaining the bipartisan thread of Friday’s meeting, attended by more than 100 people, the senator said that on the surface, politicians refer to their counterparts as being “esteemed” or “my friend”; but she said she really is friends with fellow Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent.


Collins on Friday was introduced by library Director David Richards. Merton Henry, vice president of the Margaret Chase Smith Foundation, gave a brief history of the library, founded 35 years ago. Collins was followed after a break by Mark Brewer, a professor of political science at the University of Maine.

Two recipients of the Margaret Chase Smith essay contest also were on hand to receive their awards Friday. They were Sigrid Sibley, of Poland Regional High School, and Gabrielle Kyes, of Mattanawcook Academy.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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