Schumer and Collins appear to have heated exchange before Jan. 6 vote

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Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), a key GOP moderate, appeared to have a heated exchange on the Senate floor shortly before GOP senators voted to block a bill to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

A reporter who witnessed the exchange described it as “testy” and said Collins looked “quite angry” afterward and left Schumer shaking his head.

Burgess Everett, a reporter who works for Politico and who overheard the exchange from the Senate gallery, tweeted that Collins told Schumer that something was “totally unbelievable” and that he had “gone back” on something before she voted to advance the House-passed bill to establish an independent commission.

A person familiar with the exchange between Collins and Schumer said she was frustrated that Schumer gave such a partisan speech attacking Republican opposition to the Jan. 6 commission bill when Collins had been working furiously this week to try to pull together more bipartisan support for the legislation.

Collins was trying to find a constructive solution to the impasse over the commission and felt Schumer’s attack on her colleagues before the vote eclipsed the progress that had been made toward reassuring GOP senators that the staff of the Jan. 6 commission wouldn’t be overly partisan.

Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), who was one of six Republicans along with Collins who voted to consider the Jan. 6 commission bill, said Collins wanted Schumer to make it clear to the rest of the Senate before the vote that he supported her amendment to make the House-passed bill more bipartisan. 

Collins had earlier secured Schumer’s support for her amendment to give the Republican vice chair of the commission more say in hiring staff. The bill’s current language only says that the Democratic chairman must hire staff “in consultation” with the GOP-appointed counterpart.

Collins’s amendment would have changed the bill to allow the Democratic chair and the Republican vice chair to hire their own staffs if they couldn’t agree on joint staff hires.

She felt Schumer didn’t make it clear enough to Republican colleagues before the vote that he and other Democrats would have supported her amendment to make the Jan. 6 commission more bipartisan, according to Romney and others.

“She just wanted there to be a more complete description to the chamber that Sen. Schumer was prepared to adopt her amendment,” Romney later explained. “She wished in her remarks he had spoken about that.” 

Instead of updating senators on the concessions he had accepted to make the bill more palatable to Republicans, Schumer used his speech before the vote to excoriate GOP senators for opposing a motion to proceed to the legislation.

“If our Republicans vote against this I would ask them, what are you afraid of? The truth? Are you afraid that Donald Trump’s big lie will be dispelled? Are you afraid that all of the misinformation that has poured out will be rebutted by a bipartisan, down-the-middle commission?” he demanded on the floor, looking over to the Republican side of the aisle.

“This is about a democracy, it’s about the future of our democracy,” he added. “The big lie has eroded that democracy and we must do everything we can to rebut it. This not a Democratic or Republican obligation. This is an American obligation.”

“Our democracy, our beautiful more-than-two-century-old democracy is at more risk because of the lies perpetuated by President Trump and his allies than it has in a very long time and this commission is a great antidote to that,” he added.

Schumer was asked about his conversation with Collins at a press conference after the vote.

He said she only asked him to make sure that Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) knew that he had committed to support her amendment, which he said he had already told “many senators.”

“I’ll be brief about it. Sen. Collins wanted to make sure that Sen. Portman knew that I supported her amendment, which I told many senators including [Sen. Joe] Manchin [D-W.Va.]. And so I told her I would and I told [Portman] and he voted yes,” Schumer explained.

Collins and Schumer haven’t had the best relationship since 2008, when Schumer was the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman and pulled out all the stops to defeat her re-election that year. Democratic-allied outside political groups spent an estimated $48 million to defeat Collins in 2020, unsuccessfully.

But GOP sources say that history had nothing to do with the clash between Collins and Schumer Friday.

Collins declined to comment about her brush with Schumer on the floor but acknowledged she was disappointed with the outcome of the vote.

The motion to proceed to the bill fell six votes short of passing, 54-35. The six Republicans voting “yes” were Collins, Romney, Portman, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Sen. Bill Cassidy (La.) and Sen. Ben Sasse (Neb.).

-Updated 4:44 p.m.

Tags Ben Sasse Bill Cassidy Charles Schumer Donald Trump Jan. 6 commission Lisa Murkowski Mitt Romney Rob Portman Susan Collins
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