Collins becomes centrist power player

Collins becomes centrist power player
© Greg Nash

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMurkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday White House says Kavanaugh ready to testify over 'false allegation' MORE (R-Maine) is suddenly finding herself in the driver’s seat when it comes to getting legislation through the Senate.

The Maine Republican, a centrist in a party drifting to the right, is flexing her strength as a dealmaker and signaling she intends to be a power player while Republicans enjoy just a 51-49 edge in the upper chamber.

ADVERTISEMENT

Collins was instrumental in ending a three-day government shutdown earlier this month, convening a bipartisan group of senators in her office for days that slowly tiptoed toward a deal.

On Monday evening, she was back at work, hosting a group of senators who hope to reach a bipartisan immigration deal that would protect from deportation an estimated 800,000 immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children, known as “Dreamers,” and beef up security along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Colleagues say the 65-year-old Collins, a frequent presence on cable television with close relationships to members of both parties, could also be at the center of talks on infrastructure and health care later this year.

“Susan has the trust and respect of Democrats and Republicans and she thinks independently,” said Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke Restoring our national parks would be a bipartisan win for Congress MORE (R-Tenn.), a close ally of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMurkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify McConnell rips Democrats for handling of Kavanaugh nomination Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (R-Ky.) who has long wanted to get more bipartisan policy done on Capitol Hill.

“This ought to be a very satisfying time for her because she’s right in the center of the action when all we’re going to be doing is bipartisan legislation,” he added.

Collins has long been seen as a swing vote on legislation, and defied her party by voting against legislation to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

But she backed President TrumpDonald John TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president MORE’s tax-cut bill, underscoring her pro-business, traditional GOP bona fides.

The senators meeting in her office like to see themselves as the center of the Senate, and Collins has clearly become a public leader for the group.

If Collins is the most centrist Republican in the Senate, Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinKavanaugh becomes September surprise for midterm candidates Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (W.Va.) is the most centrist Democrat. He says he recognized a kindred spirit immediately after his arrival in Washington.

“I got here on Nov. 15, 2010, and she’s the person I’ve always looked at as a person who wants to get things done for the country and isn’t so worried about politics,” Manchin said. “I detected that from the first day I was here.”

“We’re friends and we trust each other. She’s definitely in the right place at the right time,” he added.

Collins and Manchin formed a group of centrists now known as the Common Sense Coalition during the 2013 government shutdown, when conservatives led by Texas Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGrassley agrees to second Kavanaugh hearing after GOP members revolt FEC: Cruz campaign didn't violate rules with fundraising letter labeled ‘summons’ Cruz criticizes O'Rourke on Dallas shooting: Wish he wasn't 'so quick to always blame the police officer' MORE (R) opposed government funding legislation that didn’t stop the implementation of ObamaCare.

They revived the group before this year’s shutdown, when Democrats blocked a stopgap spending measure that didn’t protect Dreamers from deportation.

Collins has figured prominently in putting together major bipartisan deals throughout her career.

She was a member of the “Gang of 14” that negotiated a compromise to preserve the judicial filibuster that lasted for nearly 10 years, until then-Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidKavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow Dems can’t ‘Bork’ Kavanaugh, and have only themselves to blame Dem senator: Confidential documents would 'strongly bolster' argument against Kavanaugh's nomination MORE (D-Nev.) stripped Republicans of the power to block appellate and district court judges in November 2013.

She was also one of only three Senate Republicans who voted for President Obama’s fiscal stimulus package that helped revive the economy in 2009 in the midst of the Great Recession.

For years, centrists such as Collins have complained that partisan battles between party leaders have crowded out debates on the Senate floor.

Manchin thinks a major problem is that McConnell and Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats should end their hypocrisy when it comes to Kavanaugh and the judiciary Celebrities back both Cuomo and Nixon as New Yorkers head to primary vote Dems launch million digital ad buy in top Senate races MORE (D-N.Y.) grip the reins of power too tightly, preventing rank-and-file colleagues from striking deals that may anger donors and activists.

“When you have so much power that congregates in just two offices, the majority leader and the minority leader, it’s not good for America, it’s not good for the Senate,” Manchin told The Hill Monday.

Republican colleagues say Collins has a unique role to play this year because senators on both sides of the aisle trust her at a time when there’s growing distrust between the parties.

Democrats ultimately accepted a deal to reopen the government after McConnell promised to bring a neutral immigration bill to the Senate floor under an open amendment process after Feb. 8, but many openly questioned whether they could trust him to follow through.

Collins has more credibility among Democrats  — something crucial in a hyperpartisan atmosphere.

“Susan Collins is important because, you could argue, she has more credibility than Mitch McConnell or even [Senate Republican Whip] John CornynJohn CornynKavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow Grassley: Kavanaugh accuser 'deserves to be heard' in 'appropriate' manner MORE on bringing a proposal to Democrats. She works with them all the time,” said a senior Senate Republican aide.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGrassley agrees to second Kavanaugh hearing after GOP members revolt Murkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday MORE (R-Ariz.), who negotiated a bipartisan immigration deal with Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCriticizing Trump’s ‘unsung success’ in Puerto Rico is valid — empty rhetoric is not Biden: Delay Kavanaugh vote to give accuser a fair, respectful hearing Ken Starr says 'I trust Brett Kavanaugh' over allegations that are 'so wildly out of character' MORE (R-S.C.) and Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinTop Senate Dem: Public hearing is ‘only way to go’ for Kavanaugh accuser Durbin calls for delay in Kavanaugh vote Dems engage in last-ditch effort to block Kavanaugh MORE (Ill.), which Trump rejected earlier this month, said he was encouraged by the recent bipartisan meetings hosted by Collins.

He said Collins created “a safe space” in her office for colleagues to explore what has been historically a highly charged issue among the liberal and conservative party bases.

Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonTrump blasts Tester at Montana rally: 'He loves the swamp' Renaming Senate office building after McCain sparks GOP backlash GOP senator warns Trump: Anyone who trash-talks McCain 'deserves a whipping' MORE (R-Ga.), one of the Republicans who has attended meetings in Collins’s office, said “she’ll have a significant role.”

“She’s always had a prominent role and bipartisan approach to things,” he said. “She’s a good lady.”