Collins becomes centrist power player

Collins becomes centrist power player
© Greg Nash

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCook Political Report moves Susan Collins Senate race to 'toss up' The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move 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.

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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 - How will Trump be received in Dayton and El Paso? McConnell faces pressure to bring Senate back for gun legislation Criminal justice reform should extend to student financial aid MORE (R-Tenn.), a close ally of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAre Democrats turning Trump-like? House Democrat calls for gun control: Cities can ban plastic straws but 'we can't ban assault weapons?' Churches are arming and training congregants in response to mass shootings: report 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 TrumpO'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Objections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated 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) ManchinSunday shows - Recession fears dominate Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Trump vows to 'always uphold the Second Amendment' amid ongoing talks on gun laws 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 CruzTrump moves forward with F-16 sale to Taiwan opposed by China The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape O'Rourke says he will not 'in any scenario' run for Senate 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 Reid2020 Democrats fight to claim Obama's mantle on health care Reid says he wishes Franken would run for Senate again Panel: How Biden's gaffes could cost him against Trump 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 SchumerLewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid Colorado candidates vying to take on Gardner warn Hickenlooper they won't back down 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 CornynThe Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy O'Rourke says he will not 'in any scenario' run for Senate 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 FlakeArpaio considering running for former sheriff job after Trump pardon Overnight Energy: Warren edges past Sanders in poll of climate-focused voters | Carbon tax shows new signs of life | Greens fuming at Trump plans for development at Bears Ears monument Carbon tax shows new signs of life in Congress MORE (R-Ariz.), who negotiated a bipartisan immigration deal with Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham warns Trump on Taliban deal in Afghanistan: Learn from 'Obama's mistakes' Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid Trump meets with national security team on Afghanistan peace plan MORE (R-S.C.) and Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions To combat domestic terrorism, Congress must equip law enforcement to fight rise in white supremacist attacks 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 IsaksonGeorgia senator discharged from hospital after fall Georgia senator hospitalized after fall Senate GOP raises concerns about White House stopgap plan to avoid shutdown 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.”