Allow me to end the suspense. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is going to vote to confirm President Donald Trump’s latest U.S. Supreme Court nominee.
Unless Brett Kavanaugh turns out to be concealing a side career as a serial killer; an agent of the North Korean government; or a molester of women, children and farm animals (all distinct possibilities, given Trump’s notorious inability to adequately vet candidates for important public posts), Maine’s Republican senior senator is a lock to support him.
Of course, Collins is currently making a show of appearing all independent, undecided and centrist.
“I can only do what I think is right,” she told the Associated Press. On a New York Times podcast, she said she didn’t want an “activist judge” who “demonstrated disrespect” for previous Supreme Court rulings upholding a woman’s right to reproductive choice. “A nominee’s personal views on Roe v. Wade are not relevant to my decision,” she said during a TV interview. “What is relevant is whether they’re committed to longstanding precedent.”
After the nomination was announced, Collins engaged in a distant but recognizable variation of honesty by issuing a statement declaring something so blandly noncommittal it was impossible to pay attention.
No matter what Kavanaugh tells the senator about respecting precedent and being fair-minded about abortion and other controversial matters, there are no guarantees. All Supreme Court nominees since Robert Bork in 1987 have been smart enough to conceal their real opinions from senators who are likely to disagree with them.
As the Boston Globe’s Yvonne Abraham put it in a column addressed to Collins, “(Y)ou seem to think we live in a world where judicial nominees are true to their word, and your fellow Republicans have the integrity to put nation above party.
“That frightens me. Please, Senator, wake up.”
Politico phrased it more bluntly, saying Collins is in danger of becoming “the epitome of a toothless centrism that gets steamrolled by ideologues over and over again.”
In reality, though, Collins’ position is a little more complicated than that.
Contrary to what her critics are claiming, Collins isn’t all that worried about this vote negatively impacting her chances of winning re-election in 2020. That’s because there’s a better than even shot she won’t seek another term, instead bowing out with a speech that echoes that of former Sen. Olympia Snowe in 2012, who said she was retiring from politics because the Senate was a seething mass of slime-covered, grabby-handed, greed-butts with the empathy of bacteria and the intelligence of poison oak.
Well, that wasn’t exactly what Snowe said. As with Supreme Court nominees, departing senators tend to temper their language, so they don’t damage their chances of getting a post office named after them. But everybody knew that was what she really meant.
Back to Collins. She and her lobbyist husband are wealthy, so she doesn’t have to worry about money. Her once sterling reputation for integrity has been severely diminished by her flip-flopping votes on health care and her increasing tendency to cave in to Trumpian pressure on most matters of major concern. Liberals no longer trust her, and conservatives never did. In two years, she’d face a brutal primary battle against a slobbering right-winger (no, not from lab monster Max Linn, but quite possibly one of the GOP’s gubernatorial rejects, such as Garrett Mason or Mary Mayhew, and maybe even from Congressman Bruce Poliquin).
Considering all that, there’s no downside to calling it quits.
Except that’s a long time from now. In the interim, Collins still holds out hope of getting something accomplished. Defense contracts for Maine companies. Policy changes touching on agriculture, senior citizens, housing and the environment. And if Democrats take control of the House of Representatives, she might get to sit in judgment of Trump after he’s impeached.
To be even marginally effective in any of those endeavors, Collins seems to think she needs to stay in the good graces of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (who’s already reneged on promises he made to her on health care) and other distinguished scaly creatures in her caucus. The easiest way to do that is not to be more than a minor impediment to getting Kavanaugh confirmed.
According to the Globe, Collins has voted for 98.5 percent of all judicial nominees put forward by GOP presidents. She probably figures one more won’t make that much difference, even if turns the United States into a low-budget version of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
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