Ratcliffe nomination puts Susan Collins in tough spot

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Former NIC Director Greg Treverton rips US response; WHO warns of 'immediate second peak' if countries reopen too quickly The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Cuomo rings the first opening bell since March The Democrats' out-party advantage in 2020 MORE (R-Maine) is once again poised to play a decisive role in determining the fate of a controversial Trump nominee.

Collins, one of the most vulnerable Republicans up for reelection, has emerged as the make-or-break vote for Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeGerman lawmaker, US ambassador to Germany trade jabs The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Americans debate life under COVID-19 risks The Memo: Trump agenda rolls on amid pandemic MORE, President TrumpDonald John TrumpJustice says it will recommend Trump veto FISA bill Fauci: Nominating conventions may be able to go on as planned Poll: Biden leads Trump by 11 points nationally MORE’s pick to serve as director of national intelligence. The Texas Republican has been criticized for lacking experience on intelligence issues and for inflating his résumé.

Just weeks ago, Collins was caught up in the maelstrom of Trump’s Senate impeachment trial, where she straddled the middle by voting with Democrats to extend the trial by calling for new evidence but then siding with her GOP colleagues in voting down two articles of impeachment.

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And in October 2018, Collins cast the deciding vote for Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughSpeculation swirls about next Supreme Court vacancy The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip Stakes high for Collins in coronavirus relief standoff MORE.

Now she finds herself positioned to play the role of gatekeeper when Ratcliffe comes before the Senate Intelligence Committee, where Republicans hold a one-seat margin. If she votes against Ratcliffe, he would not have the votes needed to advance to the Senate floor with a favorable recommendation.

All Democrats are expected to vote against Ratcliffe, meaning his nomination would fall one vote short if Collins opposes him.

Collins on Tuesday declined to say how she would vote but emphasized she will look closely at Ratcliffe’s qualifications and consider his commitment to the nation’s intelligence community.

“I don’t know Congressman Ratcliffe. As the author of the 2004 law that created the director of national intelligence position, I obviously am very concerned about who the nominee is, the qualifications and the commitment to overseeing the intelligence community in order to provide the best-quality intelligence,” she told reporters.

“I look forward to his hearing and to raising these issues with him,” she added.

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The impending battle comes as Collins has seen her reelection race against Democratic challenger Sara Gideon, the Speaker of the Maine statehouse, tighten in recent weeks.

A Feb. 18 poll by Colby College and SocialSphere Inc. showed Gideon and Collins virtually tied at 43 percent and 42 percent, respectively.

When Trump first proposed Ratcliffe to succeed retiring Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsGerman lawmaker, US ambassador to Germany trade jabs Intelligence agencies have hired outside consultants to improve communication with Trump: report Senate confirms Ratcliffe to be Trump's spy chief MORE in July, the president praised him as someone who could rein in the nation’s intelligence community after it raised concerns about the 2016 election.

“We need somebody strong that can really rein it in, because as I think you’ve all learned, the intelligence agencies have run amok,” Trump said in July.

But Ratcliffe withdrew from consideration a few days later after running into bipartisan opposition, with Trump blaming what he called unfair media treatment of the nominee.

Ratcliffe came under media scrutiny for inflating his role in prosecuting an anti-terrorism financing case.

He claimed in a 2015 press release that he had “convicted individuals” who funneled money to Hamas through a charitable organization, and his campaign asserted in February 2016 that he had been appointed to prosecute “one of the nation’s largest terrorism financing cases.”

News organizations, however, could not find records of Ratcliffe’s participation in the trial, and an aide later told The New York Times that Ratcliffe had only investigated side issues related to an initial mistrial.

This time around, though, some key Republicans have expressed support for Ratcliffe, including Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrFISA 'reform': Groundhog Day edition Justice Department closing stock investigations into Loeffler, Inhofe, Feinstein The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump taking malaria drug; mayor eyes DC reopening MORE (N.C.), Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDemocratic unity starts to crack in coronavirus liability reform fight Trump urges GOP to vote against bill reauthorizing surveillance powers Speculation swirls about next Supreme Court vacancy MORE (S.C.) and Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Former NIC Director Greg Treverton rips US response; WHO warns of 'immediate second peak' if countries reopen too quickly This week: Surveillance fight sets early test for House's proxy voting Overwhelming majority of publicly traded firms have not returned small-business loans: review MORE (Fla.), a senior member of the Intelligence Committee.

Democrats on the Intelligence Committee argue that Ratcliffe, a member of the House Intelligence panel, is unqualified and say his résumé inflation raises serious concerns.

“I’m going to give him the courtesy of a meeting but I’m anxious to talk to my Republican colleagues who expressed serious concerns about him prior. I don’t know what in his background or his résumé puffing has gone away,” said Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHow lawmaker ties helped shape Fed chairman's COVID-19 response Grenell says intelligence community working to declassify Flynn-Kislyak transcripts McConnell gives two vulnerable senators a boost with vote on outdoor recreation bill MORE (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

Some Democrats suspect Ratcliffe’s staunch defense of Trump during the House impeachment inquiry may be a big reason why he was nominated again.

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Senate Republican leaders say they do not expect to bring Ratcliffe’s nomination to the floor if he fails to win majority support in committee, putting more pressure on Collins.

“I can’t imagine we’d take somebody up that wouldn’t come out of committee with a favorable vote,” Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US death toll nears 100,000 as country grapples with reopening GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill On The Money: Jobless rate exceeds 20 percent in three states | Senate goes on break without passing small business loan fix | Biden pledges to not raise taxes on those making under 0K MORE (S.D.) said on Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBossie, Lewandowski warned Trump he was in trouble in 2020: report FISA 'reform': Groundhog Day edition The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Major space launch today; Trump feuds with Twitter MORE (R-Ky.) on Monday said Ratcliffe’s fate largely rests with the Intelligence panel.

Asked whether he will support Ratcliffe, the GOP leader replied: “I’m waiting to see how the committee process goes.”

“I’m certainly not opposed to him, but I want to see how he does before the committee and get a report from Chairman Burr and the rest of them,” McConnell added.

Burr issued a statement Friday saying, “I look forward to receiving Congressman Ratcliffe’s official nomination and ushering it through the Senate’s regular order.”

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He later characterized the statement as “supportive” of Ratcliffe, even though it was far from effusive.

The White House consulted with Burr before Trump announced Ratcliffe as his pick to serve as DNI on a permanent basis.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell has served as acting DNI since Feb. 19 and has reportedly been given a mandate to purge intelligence officials seen as disloyal to the president.

Had Trump not nominated someone to fill the job on a long-term basis, which requires Senate confirmation, Grenell would have had to step down by March 12. Now that the Senate has Ratcliffe’s nomination, Grenell can serve for several more months.

A Senate GOP aide said there is speculation on Capitol Hill that Trump nominated Ratcliffe, knowing he couldn’t make it through the Senate confirmation process, so Grenell can have more time in the job.

Collins, who co-authored the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which created the DNI, said last month that Grenell did not have enough experience working in the intelligence community for the job.

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Burr on Tuesday said he hasn’t yet decided on when to hold Ratcliffe’s confirmation hearing, which means it will likely wait until after the recess scheduled to begin on March 14.

“I just got his paperwork last night,” Burr noted.

That’s potentially a key factor, as the filing deadline in the Maine Senate Republican primary is Monday, March 16. So far, Collins does not have a serious primary opponent. If that is still true after mid-March, she would have more political leeway to vote against Ratcliffe.

Ratcliffe has already started meeting with Republicans on the Intelligence Committee to build support.

He sat down with Rubio on Tuesday and earned a good review.

“I’ve known him for a while now, three or four years, and I’ve always found him to be a really serious, smart person. The caricatures that some are creating about him are just not accurate,” Rubio said after the meeting. “He can do a very good job at being both someone the president trusts but also someone that will provide the president unvarnished intelligence information and professional analysis.”

Whether he receives a similar assessment from Collins could determine whether he becomes the next director of national intelligence.

But as of Tuesday afternoon, Collins said Ratcliffe had not yet requested a one-on-one meeting with her.