Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), often a “wild card” for Republicans looking to keep their caucus together, told her home paper, the Maine Republic, that she’s on the fence about Sen. Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) proposal to include witness testimony in the Senate’s upcoming impeachment trial, and that she’s worried Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is abrogating his duty to be “impartial” as the head of the Senate impeachment process.
Collins rarely makes marshaling a majority of Republicans in the Senate easy, and she is often considered to be the easiest target for Democrat “compromises.” In fact, sources close to Schumer’s office named Collins as a clear target for his “wedge” proposal, since she is considered particularly receptive to messaging tying her directly to President Donald Trump.
The “wedge” seems to be working.
“I am open to witnesses,” Collins told the Maine Republic, departing markedly from Republican Senate leadership on the issue. “I think it’s premature to decide who should be called until we see the evidence that is presented and get the answers to the questions that we senators can submit through the Chief Justice to both sides.”
Oddly enough, though, she went on to say that she didn’t “understand is why the House, having issued subpoenas, to Secretary Pompeo for example, did not seek to enforce those subpoenas in court,” and have Pompeo, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security advisor John Bolton testify in the House impeachment inquiry, where evidence for impeachment is supposed to be collected, signaling that she believes the Democrats are asking for witnesses to repair holes left by the House effort.
If that’s confusing, her commentary on McConnell is downright baffling.
“It is inappropriate, in my judgment, for senators on either side of the aisle to prejudge the evidence before they have heard what is presented to us, because the each of us will take an oath, an oath that I take very seriously to render impartial justice. That’s what it says, impartial justice. And I have heard Democrats like Elizabeth Warren, saying that the President should be impeached, found guilty, and removed from office,” Collins went on.
“I’ve heard the Senate Majority leaders saying that he’s taking his cues from the White House,” she quipped. “There are senators on both sides of the aisle, who, to me, are not giving the appearance of and the reality of judging that’s in an impartial way.”
McConnell doesn’t seem to be hiding that he’s collaborating with the White House to set up a defense, but that’s also his duty as a member of Republican leadership — a point made regularly by McConnell himself in the face of Democrat accusations.
Collins is the second Republican to express such concern over McConnell’s leadership, the other being Collins’ partner in most defections from the Republican caucus, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
McConnell said late last week that he had all Senate Republicans in line on acquittal, but he, possibly knowing about Collins’ situation, did not indicate that he had every last Republican in line on allowing witnesses. That likely means that Collins is well within the ranks when it comes to the final vote, but may be trying to “compromise” on her own, perhaps to satisfy concerned Mainers who objected to her decision to support Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh when he was under seige by Democrats accusing him of a decades old sexual assault.