Susan Collins shows the eloquence of Margaret Chase Smith

Susan Collins shows the eloquence of Margaret Chase Smith
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When Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe new American center Democratic Senate campaign arm raised more than .5 million in January On the Trail: Senate GOP hopefuls tie themselves to Trump MORE (R-Maine) took the Senate floor Friday afternoon, the fate of then-judge Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughNikki Haley hires Heritage Action chief to run her policy group Susan Collins in statistical tie with Democratic challenger: poll A disgraced Senate and president have no business confirming judges MORE, now a Supreme Court justice, hung in the balance.

That day, a cloture vote had passed by the narrowest of margins, with three of four senators whose positions on Justice Kavanaugh’s nomination were not yet manifestly clear voting “aye.”


Following that vote there was speculation that Collins, who’d already announced she’d reveal her position on the nomination itself later in the day, might tell the world that she was a negative vote on the nomination. The “conventional wisdom” was that if she did, Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Lawmakers push back at Trump's Pentagon funding grab for wall Overnight Health Care: Appeals court strikes down Medicaid work requirements | Pelosi's staff huddles with aides on surprise billing | Senate Dems pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit MORE (D-W.Va.), who also voted for cloture, would follow suit.

In a deeply divided Senate, a few undecided senators held all the cards. Susan Collins held her trump.

It was an interesting twist that a Maine woman should make history with her speech that day.

I know a little about women from Maine. My mom’s one of them. Like their male counterparts, they are fiercely independent. They’re tough. They have an instinctive sense of fairness, and they want the truth. And they’ll always tell you the truth, unvarnished, and let the chips fall where they may.

Almost 70 years ago, another Republican woman from Maine, Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman to serve in both houses of the United States Congress, stepped into the breach and spoke out forcefully on the contentious subject of her day.

Smith’s “Declaration of Conscience” speech criticized the tactics of her colleague, Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.). Initially a supporter of the McCarthy investigations, she became disillusioned when McCarthy failed to provide the evidence she felt was necessary to justify his charges of communist subversion and espionage. She denounced the “reckless abandon in which unproven charges have been hurled.” She proclaimed that she didn’t want her party to “ride to political victory on the four horsemen of calumny — fear, ignorance, bigotry and smear.”

Although calumny — making false accusations to destroy one’s reputation — hasn’t been uttered much during the Kavanaugh debate, Smith’s other words may have reverberated in Collins’s ears as she began her speech in a hushed Senate chamber.

Stating the obvious, Collins called out “a confirmation process that has become so dysfunctional it looks more like a caricature of a gutter-level political campaign than a solemn occasion.”

She pointed out that all of the slime had failed to change many minds, noting that, within moments of President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Gov. Ron DeSantis more popular in Florida than Trump Sotomayor accuses Supreme Court of bias in favor of Trump administration MORE’s nomination of Justice Kavanaugh “special interest groups raced to be the first to oppose him.” She noted that one group didn’t even bother to fill in the blanks of its pre-written opposition, saying it opposed the “nomination of XX” to the Supreme Court.

Against the backdrop of a process she said she hoped had “finally hit rock bottom,” Collins then gave a dispassionate, thoughtful explanation of her correct understanding of the Senate’s authority and responsibility for “advice and consent” under Article II, and the reasoning for her vote on Kavanaugh.

In 35 minutes, she synthesized what the entire debate should have been all about. She did it without rancor or disparagement. She took a historical perspective, beginning with Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist 76, and walked through Brett Kavanaugh’s considerable record, reviewing each element to determine her consent.

She focused on his 12-year record on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, considered by many to be the second-highest court in the land, and his more than 300 opinions. She systemically laid aside objections to his record with precision and case citations.

When she got past the taking points of the original opposition to Justice Kavanaugh, she hit the latest allegations head on.

Noting that the confirmation process “is not a trial,” Collins said that allegations of alleged sexual or other misconduct had to stand up to a three-pronged set of “fundamental legal principles”: due process, the presumption of innocence and fundamental fairness.

It was reminiscent of Smith’s eloquent refutation of Joe McCarthy’s overreaches nearly seven decades before.

Collins concluded, after singling out the absurd accusations of attorney Michael Avenatti, that although professor Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony accusing Brett Kavanaugh of a sexual assault decades earlier, was “sincere, painful and compelling,” it simply lacked the corroboration or supporting evidence necessary to pass even the low-bar “more likely than not” standard.

She went on to scold some colleagues on the other side of the aisle for their use of Ms. Ford and her story, saying, “I could not help but feel that some people who wanted to engineer the defeat of this nomination cared little, if at all, about (Ford’s) well-being.”

With a knowledge of drama, Collins saved her announcement for the end, concluding, “Mr. President, I will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.” Within minutes Manchin used his Twitter account to declare he’d do the same. The third wavering vote, Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcSally ties Democratic rival Kelly to Sanders in new ad McSally launches 2020 campaign Sinema will vote to convict Trump MORE (R-Ariz.), stayed with them.

Collins’s speech will be remembered for the significant role it played in the Kavanaugh confirmation. She gave true meaning to “advice and consent.” She brought the nation back to a sense of seriousness that overtook the histrionics too often seen during the process.

Another sometimes Mainer, George H.W. Bush, praised Collins for her “political courage and class” and saluted her “principled leadership.”

While some national Democrats immediately began licking their political chops and casting about for candidates to challenge Collins in 2020, her approach, style and substance will be hard to beat. In spirit, Margaret Chase Smith undoubtedly is smiling.

Charlie Gerow, first vice chairman of the American Conservative Union, has held national leadership positions in several Republican presidential campaigns. He began his career on the campaign staff of Ronald Reagan. A nationally recognized expert in strategic communications, he is CEO of Quantum Communications, a Pennsylvania-based media relations and issue advocacy firm.