Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) speaks to members of the press at the U.S. Capitol on October 11, 2013 in Washington, DC.
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When ‘moderate’ is a relative term

When Senate Republicans voted to defund Planned Parenthood late yesterday afternoon, the process unfolded exactly as expected – with one exception. Every senator on the floor voted as everyone assumed they’d vote, except Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine.
 
Collins, ostensibly the Senate GOP’s most moderate member, had expressed opposition to the bill in recent days, leading observers to assume she’d vote against the bill. But while Maine’s junior senator, Independent Angus King, voted with the Democratic minority, Collins raised a few eyebrows by siding with the far-right Republican majority.
 
The Portland Press Herald reported:
Collins issued a statement late Monday saying that she and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, had introduced legislation that would “promote and protect women’s health and also investigate Planned Parenthood’s practices.”
 
“I was sickened when I viewed the recently released videos featuring Planned Parenthood physicians…” Collins said on the Senate floor. “The callousness that the Planned Parenthood employees displayed in discussing the sale of fetal tissue is appalling.
Of course, rhetorical tone isn’t a good reason to cut off funding for popular and effective health care organizations. Collins said she had an alternative proposal – “investigate Planned Parenthood facilities that participate in fetal tissue donation, and defund them if they broke the law” – but Senate GOP leaders ignored Collins’ bill.
 
That left the Maine Republican with a choice: vote to defund Planned Parenthood, knowing the bill would fail, and knowing there’s no evidence the group actually did anything wrong, or side with her far-right colleagues. She chose the latter.
 
And while it’s probably fair to characterize Collins as the Senate GOP’s most centrist member, yesterday was a reminder that the label just doesn’t mean much anymore.
 
Consider last week’s vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act. Despite Collins’ public comments on the need for her party to move past pointless ACA repeal votes, she nevertheless voted with her party to repeal “Obamacare” – even though she knew the measure would fail.
 
Away from the floor, note that Collins has also called for ineffective military tribunals for terrorist suspects, and she helped lead the partisan charge against Susan Rice for reasons that appear incoherent in retrospect.
 
There are some Beltway pundits who’ve argued in recent years that President Obama’s outreach to GOP lawmakers could have been more fruitful if he’d found common ground with Republican moderates. The criticism has never made much sense, not just because the president repeatedly tried to do exactly that, but because there really aren’t many genuine GOP moderates left.
 
Disclosure: My wife works at Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this piece and her work is unrelated to the controversial videos.

Susan Collins

When 'moderate' is a relative term