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Susan Collins, Mythological Moderate

In this Jan. 15, 2020, photo, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. In the dawn of what may be her toughest reelection fight, veteran Collins has parachuted into familiar terrain -- the pressure-packed middle of an issue, this time the impeachment of President Donald Trump. (Susan Walsh/AP)
In this Jan. 15, 2020, photo, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. In the dawn of what may be her toughest reelection fight, veteran Collins has parachuted into familiar terrain -- the pressure-packed middle of an issue, this time the impeachment of President Donald Trump. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Could we now please, finally, stop calling Susan Collins a Republican centrist?

I say please because the purported rudeness of a House impeachment manager was the only thing that “stuck out” this week to the senior senator from Maine during the Senate trial of President Donald J. Trump.

She did not flinch apparently when White House Counsel Pat Cipollone delivered the whopper on the floor of the Senate that “President Trump is a man of his word.” This is the same president with a record of making 16,241 false or misleading claims during his first 1,095 days in office.

She did not recoil at the hypocrisy of Sen. Lindsey O. Graham insisting in front of any available camera in Statuary Hall that Trump’s campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival did not constitute an abuse of power. This is the same South Carolina Republican who, in 1999 during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, argued: “You don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic. If this body determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role. Because impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office."

Could we now please, finally, stop calling Susan Collins a Republican centrist?

No, what stunned Collins were not the shameless apologists for a disgraced sitting president. Instead, she was “stunned” by the assertion of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler that a GOP vote to deny senators the opportunity to hear from new witnesses would be tantamount to “voting for a cover-up” of the high crimes and misdemeanors with which Trump stands accused. So stunned was Collins, in fact, that she delivered a note to Supreme Chief Justice John Roberts alerting him to the shocking lack of decorum. Roberts soon thereafter cautioned both sides to remember where they were.

Where they were, of course, was on the floor of the United States Senate, sitting as jurors in the trial of a president accused of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress for withholding documents and forbidding testimony from witnesses who could offer insight into his decision to block the release of military aid to an embattled Ukraine until its government agreed to announce a bogus investigation into former Vice President Joseph Biden’s conduct in that country.

Once celebrated as the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body, the Senate prides itself on comity. Rule XIX of the Standing Rules state that “no Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming of a Senator.”

Being accused of complicity in the crimes of Donald Trump struck Collins as a shameful lapse in decorum, though it would be hard to find a better way to describe the spineless supplicants in the GOP defending this dangerous rogue of a president. “It reminded me that if we were in a normal debate in the Senate that the rule would be invoked,” she told Politico.

They are paying attention in Bangor and Cape Elizabeth, in Portland and Augusta.

Could the fourth-term senator still be blind to the reality that there is nothing normal about these times in the Federal City? Could she really take such umbrage at a lapse in manners on the Senate floor when the bully in the White House daily spews bile from an Oval Office at least as revered in the American imagination as the Senate chamber?

They are paying attention in Bangor and Cape Elizabeth, in Portland and Augusta. It was only last month that Collins announced that she would seek a fifth term. She faces a formidable opponent in Sara Gideon, the Democratic speaker of the House in Maine, her campaign fueled by fury at Collins’s vote to elevate an accused attempted rapist to the United States Supreme Court and another vote to embrace a budget-busting tax cut that benefitted the nation’s wealthiest citizens.

Her votes in favor of the financial interests of the rich and in support of now-Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh (and most of the other 187 conservatives Trump has put on the federal bench) failed to derail media descriptions of Susan Collins as a Republican “moderate” and “independent.”

After this week’s performance, could we ask — politely, of course — that “the distinguished senior Senator from Maine” be identified more accurately as just another Trump sycophant, selling her soul for a seat in that august chamber where comity rules.

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Eileen McNamara Cognoscenti contributor
Eileen McNamara teaches journalism at Brandeis University. The author of a biography of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, she won a Pulitzer Prize as a columnist for The Boston Globe.

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