The state of Maine divides its votes in the Electoral College. In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried the two at-large electors with a 2.9 percent edge in the popular vote, as well as the one from the state’s 1st Congressional District. But Donald Trump won the 2nd Congressional District and garnered one electoral vote, the first time that has happened for a Republican since 1988.
The junior Senator from Maine is August King, who ran as an Independent, but caucuses with the Democrats. The senior Senator is Susan Collins, who has represented Maine since 1996. Both of them currently serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Carl Hulse identified Collins as one of four senators to watch in the Trump-Russia investigation (the other three are Lankford of Oklahoma, Blunt of Missouri and Rubio of Florida). But here is what makes Collins the one to keep an eye on: in 1974, she was working on Capitol Hill as an intern (and eventually an aide) to then-Rep. Bill Cohen (R-ME). Colin Woodward has the story.
Bill Cohen was certain of one thing in June of 1974: The voters of Maine would not send him back to Congress.
The 33-year-old Bangor mayor had been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives less than two years earlier but had done something unthinkable to many of his Republican colleagues and constituents: He’d voted to hold a president of his own party accountable to congressional investigators, opening a path that could lead to his impeachment.
President Richard Nixon, who had fired the independent investigator probing possible White House involvement in breaking into the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate Hotel, had offered to give the House Judiciary Committee edited transcripts of tapes he had secretly recorded of some of his key conversations. Cohen, a former prosecutor and defense attorney back in Maine, had voted with Democrats on the committee to demand access to the tapes themselves.
Cohen went on to vote “yes” on two of the three articles of impeachment against Nixon (one of 7 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee to cast a yes vote on one or more articles). But he was wrong in assuming the voters of Maine wouldn’t send him back to Congress. He continued to serve in the House until 1978, when he was elected as the state’s Senator. Susan Collins actually succeeded Cohen in that position when Bill Clinton appointed him as Secretary of Defense.
Collins has been a bit of an enigma during her tenure. It is often tempting to think that she might be one of those “honest opponents” that Adam Gopnick wrote about. She was, after all, one of three Republicans to vote for Obama’s Recovery Act in 2009. But more often than not, she said the right thing, but voted with McConnell’s obstruction.
It will be interesting to watch whether or not Collin’s tenure with Cohen during the Watergate investigation has any impact on how she conducts herself as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating the Trump-Russia connection. As Martin just wrote, the group as a whole is showing some signs of courage. Collins witnessed that kind of courage up close and personal over 40 years ago and knows that history treated Cohen much more positively than his Republican colleagues who chose a different path.
Maine is home to about 1.3 million people, which makes it the ninth least populous state in the country. The state’s voters could hold the keys to whether or not Collins stands up to Trump. Given the results of the last election, she has some room to maneuver in a way those from deeply red states do not.
Will her experience watching then-Rep. Cohen guide Collins in having the courage necessary to put country over party? That is certainly something to keep an eye on.
P.S. Given his history, it would be fabulous if one of the few Republicans in Congress to stand up to Trump was a woman. Just saying…