Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine on Wednesday came out in support of President Trump’s proposal for ending the federal government shutdown that includes building barriers on the southern border.

She cited the negative impact the shutdown has been having on Maine residents as a major motivation for her support. She also became the first Republican to go on the record as saying she will support a Democrat sponsored bill that would reopen the government through Feb. 8 – but only if the president’s proposal fails to gain Senate approval.

But neither measure is likely to receive the 60 votes needed in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 53-47 majority. Most Republicans back Trump’s insistence that any legislation to reopen the government include money for a border wall and most Democrats oppose linking funding for a border wall to ending the shutdown.

Protesters marched in Portland on Wednesday, calling on Collins to vote to end the shutdown and delivering a letter to her office imploring her to take action.

Trump has proposed having Congress fund his $5.7 billion demand for a border wall, a promise he made during his presidential campaign, when he also said Mexico would pay to build the wall.

Trump’s proposal for ending the shutdown calls for building 234 miles of fencing, walls and physical barriers on the southern border, Collins’ staff said. In exchange, Trump is offering temporary deportation relief for some immigrants, including young immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally with their parents.

In a 20-minute speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, Collins supported the president’s plan for enhancing border security at “high priority locations identified by experts at Customs and Border Patrol.” She also pointed out that the U.S. already maintains 650 miles of physical barriers along its southern border.

Trump’s bill also asks for $800 million to meet the humanitarian needs of people crossing the border as well as funding for new border patrol agents, immigration officers, and customs officers, Collins said.

In her speech, Collins emphasized how much she detests government shutdowns and how she will take steps, regardless of party considerations, to provide relief to constituents who are suffering economically.

“Shutdowns represent the ultimate failure to govern and should never be used as a weapon to achieve an outcome,” Collins told the Senate.

Earlier Wednesday, Collins’ Maine colleague in the Senate, independent Angus King, went on CNN to answer questions about his position on Trump’s border wall proposal. King said he will not vote for the president’s proposal.

While King said he supports increased border security, he will not vote for a proposal from a sitting president who is holding the government shutdown as a bargaining chip.

“The fear is this will become the routine way to do business around here,” King said. “This was not the result of a compromise, it was the president’s offer.

“He has got to come to grips with the reality that he is not the CEO of America. He does not get to say we’re going to build a wall. He’s got to persuade Congress.”

Collins said the president’s plan would “fully reopen government” until Sept. 30 – the end of the government fiscal year.

The Senate is expected to vote on both measures Thursday.

“The shutdown is so extraordinarily unfair. I’ll vote yes and yes,” Collins said in an email sent to the Press Herald on Wednesday night.

Collins offered several examples of how the shutdown is harming Mainers.

“Just this morning, the city of Portland contacted me to express alarm over the 1,700 (Department of Housing and Urban Development) housing vouchers serving 3,500 people who will be affected March 1. Statewide, that number is in the vicinity of 10,500 vouchers affecting many thousands more vulnerable individuals and families,” Collins said.

Collins said the problems caused by furloughing HUD workers goes beyond housing vouchers and has begun to negatively affect local homeless and domestic violence shelters, which are unable to access federal grant money. She said Maine’s eight domestic violence shelters are about 75 percent funded by the federal government.

“If this shutdown continues, how can they continue to serve the women and children who are escaping abuse and violence?” Collins asked. “While there is never a good time of year to be at risk of losing one’s house or to be unable to find a shelter if one finds oneself homeless or to be able to escape domestic violence and abuse, the middle of winter is an especially cruel time to face a housing crisis.”

Collins said several Portland physicians have contacted her office to express concerns about critical drug shortages. FDA workers are unreachable because they have been furloughed, forcing doctors to contact drug manufacturers directly.

Collins also addressed Trump’s offer – included in his border wall bill – to try to fix what she described as the country’s “broken immigration system.”

She said Congress needs to focus on helping the Dreamer population – those young people who were brought to the U.S. by a parent, usually at a very young age.

“This legislation does not go as far as I would like, but it would at least provide relief for three years to the 700,000 young immigrants who are enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, or DACA program,” Collins said.

Collins said she prefers giving these immigrants a path to citizenship provided that they have abided by local, state and federal laws.

She also said that raising the bar to qualify for asylum needs more study, but she said allowing people to apply for asylum in their home countries seems to be a good idea. Democrats, however, have objected to the provisions making it harder for Central American minors to gain asylum in the U.S.

“The plan put forth by President Trump is by no means ideal, but it would result in the reopening of the government, my priority, and the outlines of a compromise are before us,” Collins said. “Compromise is not a sign of weakness. It is sign of strength particularly when hundreds of thousands of families are being harmed.”

Collins urged members of both parties in the Senate to end the shutdown before 800,000 federal workers and their families miss another paycheck and “our economy is further damaged.”

“Shutdowns harm too many innocent federal employees and their families as well as vulnerable citizens, homeowners, small businesses, and rural communities. The shutdown must end,” she said.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]

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