Maine Sen. Susan Collins bears some responsibility for the Jan. 6 domestic terror attack on the U.S. Capitol. Collins gave big contributions to anti-democracy extremists in Congress and in Maine this past election cycle, and waited two months to declare the result of the Nov. 3 presidential election final and legitimate. Throughout that time, she failed to rebuke President Trump for hundreds of statements and actions that clearly constituted an authoritarian power-grab and that lent a sense of legitimacy to the violent actions of his followers.
Now, in the wake of the deadly coup attempt — which the senator herself has called an “insurrection” — Collins is declining to join other members of her party and Congressional colleagues from Maine who are calling for Trump’s immediate removal from office. There is no indication that she is using her clout as a five-term senator — and a key “moderate” member of the GOP, whose vote is coveted by both parties — to help force Trump from power. Her office did not respond to Mainer’s request for comment.
Collins became a national punchline in recent years for her tepid expressions of “concern” and “disappointment” in the face of Trump’s most outrageous transgressions, and infamously claimed the president had “learned … a pretty big lesson” during his impeachment, which she voted against last February. Last September, when Trump, citing baseless claims of mail-in-ballot fraud, refused to commit to honor the result of the election, Collins said, “The peaceful transfer of power is a fundamental tenet of our democracy, and I am confident that we will see it occur once again.”
President-elect Joe Biden declared victory on Nov. 7, but Collins did not issue a statement congratulating her former Senate colleague until the afternoon of Nov. 9, and she did so with caveats. She called it an “apparent victory,” and wrote, “I understand that the President and others have questions about the results in certain states. There is a process in place to challenge those results and, consistent with that process, the President should be afforded the opportunity to do so.
“I know that many are eager to have certainty right now,” her Nov. 9 statement continued. “While we have a clear direction” — toward an answer as to who won the election — “we should continue to respect that [electoral challenge] process. I urge people to be patient. The process has not failed our country in more than 200 years, and it is not going to fail our country this year.”
What followed, of course, was a near-constant stream of lies by Trump that he’d won in a landslide and was the victim of a Democratic conspiracy to steal votes, as well as overt attempts by the president to subvert democracy by pressuring state officials to change election results. Collins never publicly criticized Trump for this treasonous behavior, but on Jan. 3, when news broke that he’d pressured Georgia’s Secretary of State to “find” enough ballots to give him a win in that state, she finally signed on to a statement declaring that the “process” of challenging the results had ended.
“The 2020 election is over,” read the statement, which was signed by nine other senators from both parties and independent Maine Sen. Angus King. “All challenges through recounts and appeals have been exhausted. At this point, further attempts to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 Presidential election are contrary to the clearly expressed will of the American people and only serve to undermine Americans’ confidence in the already determined election results.”
More than a few of Collins’ GOP colleagues in Congress clearly did not agree. They spread Trump’s absurd conspiracy theories and vowed to object to the formal acceptance of the results when Congress met this week, insisting on the creation of a special commission to “conduct an emergency 10-day audit of the election returns in the disputed states.”
Roughly half of the Republican senators whose vow to object was the immediate pretext for the insurrection received large contributions in the 2019/2020 election cycle from Dirigo PAC, the political action committee Collins personally controls. They include Roger Marshall of Kansas ($5,000), Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming ($5,000), Bill Hagerty of Tennessee ($5,000) and Steve Daines of Montana ($10,000).
Collins gave $10,000 each to Georgia Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Purdue, who both backed the bogus ballot-challenge effort, and she raised funds for both candidates’ failed runoff campaigns while they stoked the anger of Trump’s fascist followers with baseless claims of election fraud. Of the 18 senators who got Dirigo PAC cash in this latest cycle, six backed Trump’s despotic attempt to remain in power. The sole member of the House of Representatives who got Dirigo money during this period, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York ($10,000), also objected to the election results until the bloody end.
As Mainer reported in November, Collins used her PAC to fund two candidates for seats in Maine’s Legislature who openly promoted the dangerously unhinged QAnon conspiracy last year. She also gave $400 to Rep. Joel Stetkis, the Assistant House Republican Leader in the Maine Legislature. On the day of the coup attempt, Stetkis wrote on Facebook: “If History repeats itself as it usually does, it’s likely we found out the people responsible for the violence were ANTIFA or anarchists not the 99.9% of the Freedom loving folks.”
Citing Trump’s explicit incitement of the insurrection, scores of members of Congress, including Sen. King and Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, are calling for Trump’s impeachment or his removal from office via the 25th Amendment. Former Maine Sen. William Cohen, whom Collins worked for and then succeeded in the Senate in 1996, told CNN on Jan. 5 that the U.S. was “standing on the abyss of the destruction of our democracy,” and is also now calling for his immediate removal from office.
In a statement provided to the Portland Press Herald on Jan. 7, Collins spokesperson Christopher Knight signaled that the senator does not support any punitive action against Trump. “At a time when large segments of the American people feel alienated from each other, we should avoid pursuing courses of action that will reinforce the polarization in our country and instead search for common ground,” Knight wrote.