Collins becomes centrist power player

Collins becomes centrist power player
© Greg Nash

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSchumer: Democrats 'on track' to pass bipartisan deal, .5T budget Sunday shows - Delta variant, infrastructure dominate Collins says negotiators are 'just about finished' with infrastructure bill 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 AlexanderLamar AlexanderAuthorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate The Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain MORE (R-Tenn.), a close ally of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Manchin 'can't imagine' supporting change to filibuster for voting rights Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet 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 TrumpSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Gosar's siblings pen op-ed urging for his resignation: 'You are immune to shame' Sunday shows - Delta variant, infrastructure dominate 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 ManchinJoe ManchinSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Manchin on reported boos at Democratic luncheon: 'I heard a lot of nos' Schumer: Democrats 'on track' to pass bipartisan deal, .5T budget 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 CruzUp next in the culture wars: Adding women to the draft Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet 228 Republican lawmakers urge Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade 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 ReidWhite House seeks to shield Biden from GOP attacks on crime issue Lobbying world Warner backing 'small carve-out' on filibuster for voting rights 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 SchumerChuck SchumerManchin on reported boos at Democratic luncheon: 'I heard a lot of nos' Wisconsin GOP quietly prepares Ron Johnson backup plans Senate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session 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 CornynBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on 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 FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots MORE (R-Ariz.), who negotiated a bipartisan immigration deal with Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham, Cuellar press Biden to name border czar Trump takes two punches from GOP The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands MORE (R-S.C.) and Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinCongress should butt out of Supreme Court's business Inmates grapple with uncertainty over Biden prison plan Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire 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 IsaksonJohnny IsaksonCritical race theory becomes focus of midterms Former Georgia ethics official to challenge McBath Loeffler meets with McConnell amid speculation of another Senate run 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.”