Pressure on Collins mounts as Republicans push hard to confirm Kavanaugh

Good morning from Augusta, which was far from the center of Maine’s political universe on Thursday.

The day’s major political drama unfolded during almost nine hours of testimony before a U.S. Senate panel by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and professor Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her while they were in high school.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of the few Republican senators left undecided on Kavanaugh, was sequestered for much of Thursday to watch the hearing, where Ford said she was “100 percent” certain that Kavanaugh assaulted her and the fiery judge denied her allegations just as vociferously, calling his confirmation process “a national disgrace.”

After hearing all of that, the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination this morning and all eyes are on a small group of senators — including Collins, who has been under enormous pressure during this process. They huddled after the hearing, but haven’t said how they’ll vote.

Collins and her office were mostly quiet on Thursday and there are few clues as to how she’s thinking. Collins’ office said nothing on Thursday and the senator told a PBS reporter as she left the Capitol on Thursday night that she has made no final decision on Kavanaugh, who could face procedural votes in the Senate as early as Saturday.

Collins met with three other undecided senators — Republicans Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia — after the hearing and Collins, Murkowski, Manchin and Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, are expected to vote the same way, according to Politico.

Manchin and Donnelly are up for re-election this year in red states. A reporter for The Atlantic cited a source close to the West Virginia senator who expected Manchin to back Kavanaugh barring more proof or a realization that Kavanaugh would vote to gut the Affordable Care Act, though Manchin’s office said he was undecided “and remains so.”

All of this is largely gossip at this point. Given Senate Republicans’ aggressive schedule for getting Kavanaugh confirmed, we may hear from Collins more officially today and there are few clues as to where these senators will land given the allegations against Kavanaugh.

She will make her decision amid a maelstrom of intense partisan lobbying. Minutes after the Judiciary Committee adjourned, President Donald Trump tweeted new support for Kavanaugh. But in Maine, one of the state’s most respected political figures decried the Senate committee hearing process and questioned whether women who step forward with allegations of sexual misconduct receive fair treatment, adding a layer of home-state pressure to what Collins faces.

Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, a Democrat, said an FBI investigation into Ford’s allegations should have come first. Mitchell voted not to appoint Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991 after Anita Hill publicly accused him of sexual harassment.

For the Ford-Kavanaugh hearing, “I think the proper course would have been to use the traditional practice of having an investigation beforehand and then having it all come before the Senate committee,” Mitchell said at a Dirigo Speaks event hosted by the BDN.

Reading from the closing remarks he gave after Hill’s testimony, Mitchell said, “What happened to Professor Hill shows that our society has a long way to go before an attack on a woman’s integrity and reputation are treated seriously. As seriously as a man’s,” he said. “Perhaps something good may yet come from this terrible episode if the national debate which is generated leads to changed attitudes and leads to a process where serious charges can be evaluated in a more fair and less controversial way, to a society where the words of women have the same weight as the words of men.”

Nearly 30 years later, Mitchell said, “I’m sad to say we have not changed in respect of the process. I believe public attitudes have changed for the better in many respects.” But hearings like the one on Thursday are “are poorly suited to determining specific questions of fact, of truth, of falsehood,” he said.

Thursday’s back-and-forth adds a new dimension to the decision Collins must make, with questions about how women who come forward with allegations of sexual abuse are treated and Kavanaugh’s judicial temperament now factoring heavily in the national dialogue about the nominee.

Campaign cash update

Outside spending has gone above $3.4 million in state races so far. For those of you keeping score of Maine’s 2018 state races from home, we offer this handy independent expenditure tracker, which updates twice daily.

On Thursday, the Maine Republican Party put $147,000 into TV ads to oppose Democrat Janet Mills in the governor’s race, bringing their spending total to $657,000 in the race so far. Democratic interests are still dwarfing them in that spending race so far, dumping another $2.1 million in as on Thursday.

Rebuild Maine, a Democratic committee run by labor unions and the Maine People’s Alliance, has put $43,000 into legislative races this week. The candidate who has benefited most from its help so far is physician Ned Claxton of Auburn, a Democrat who is running a targeted open-seat race against Assistant House Minority Leader Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester.

Reading list

  • Maine has rejected roughly 3,500 people who have applied for coverage under Medicaid expansion. That figure came out during courtroom deliberations Thursday before Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy, whom the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has asked to rule on funding and legal questions. That rough figure comprises about 5 percent of the 70,000 Mainers projected to be eligible for expanded coverage, which hasn’t moved forward amid opposition from Gov. Paul LePage and has been moving slowly through state courts since April. Key questions from the lawsuit filed by Medicaid expansion advocates include whether the state can implement a law without dedicated funding from the Legislature and when Mainers should be eligible for expanded coverage
  • Another LePage policy initiative failed to pass muster with federal regulators. Federal officials told LePage in June that he can’t impose financial penalties on local groups that help job-seekers as part of his battle to cut bureaucracy out of job-training efforts, according to correspondence obtained this month by The Associated Press through a federal Freedom of Information Act request. It’s a new blow in the Republican governor’s years-long struggle to exercise greater control over local workforce boards, which control lots of federal job-training money.
  • Bath Iron Works scored a big new deal to build destroyers for the U.S. Navy. The Maine shipyard announced Thursday that it will build four of 10 new destroyers to be procured during the next five years. The deal totals $3.9 billion, according to a shipyard release. BIW’s chief competitor, Huntington Ingalls Industries of Mississippi, won authorization to build the other six destroyers, worth $5.1 billion. The shipyard’s management and Maine’s congressional delegation lauded the deal, but the president of the largest union at BIW expressed disappointment that a bigger deal was awarded to Huntington Ingalls. “This is three in a row,” Mike Keenan, president of Local S6 of the Machinists Union, said Thursday, referring to the last multiyear procurement and then the 2016 decision to award a $11 billion contract for a new class of Coast Guard cutters to a Florida company instead of BIW. “We’ve got to change the trajectory. … But to change things, we’ve got to first look at what’s going wrong.”
  • The feds threw some much-needed money at a hard-hit part of Maine. A nonprofit volunteer economic development group will administer a $5.3 million federal grant to help eventually spur investment in and redevelopment of a former paper mill in Millinocket. The U.S. Department of Commerce reimbursements will help Our Katahdin rebuild infrastructure vital to drawing businesses to the Katahdin Avenue mill site, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced in a statement released Thursday. Devastated by the closure of Great Northern Paper Mill, the Katahdin region seeks to add jobs and find new uses for the shuttered mill.

Leg it out

Not all the pythons in Maine are accounted for. Camden police report that a precocious pet serpent that escaped two months ago has not been found. This legless fugitive follows in the footsteps — wait, they don’t have feet! — of Wessie, the Westbrook river reptile and the slithery rental car renegade found in 2014.

This “big snakes go missing” trend disturbs me. I know snakes are our friends. They eat pests and, in Maine, pose no threat to poison us with venom. No snakes native to Maine are big enough to constrict us into oblivion.

So I should not be concerned. But I am. Escaped pet pythons trigger an irrational concern I’ve carried throughout most of my life: If an animal cannot scratch itself, it cannot be trusted. They don’t leave footprints. It’s all too sneaky.

Pets should be required to have legs. Or at the very least, there should be a snake leash law. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

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Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.