Collins calls anti-Kavanaugh crowdfunding effort a ‘bribe’

Good morning from Augusta, which is just one place where Maine progressives are trying to pressure U.S. Sen. Susan Collins to oppose a Supreme Court nominee whom they view as a threat to abortion rights.

But it does not seem to be working. Collins told a conservative news outlet that a crowdfunding effort trying to influence her to vote against Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, is “the equivalent of an attempt to bribe me.”

It’s another sign that the Maine Republican is leaning toward backing Kavanaugh, whose confirmation hearings before a Senate panel ended last week. We’re now waiting for Collins’ decision, although it hasn’t seemed to be in too much doubt for at least a few weeks now.

Collins has long said liberal pressure wouldn’t sway her vote. These are her strongest words against a massive crowdfunding effort. There would be lots of reasons to think that Collins would vote for a default Supreme Court pick: She has never opposed a nominee in more than 20 years in the Senate covering picks from three different administrations.

But her pro-abortion rights status has put her under intense pressure from liberals to oppose Kavanaugh, whom they believe could be the deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision establishing a limited right to abortion. In a meeting with Collins last month, Kavanaugh told her that the decision is entitled to respect under the doctrine of precedent.

So far, she has said that high-dollar advertising campaigns and other pressure wouldn’t change her vote. Collins also last week dismissed a 2003 email in which Kavanaugh — while a White House lawyer editing an op-ed — questioned whether the precedent in Roe v. Wade should have been called “settled law” — a key issue for the pro-abortion rights Collins.

Democrats have argued that Kavanaugh’s statements on the subject don’t mean much and they have ramped up efforts to pressure Collins, including through a novel crowdfunding effort that has pledged nearly $1 million to Collins’ “future opponent” in 2020 if she votes for Kavanaugh.

On Monday, Collins blasted that effort in an “exclusive statement” to Newsmax, a conservative site, saying it’s “the equivalent of an attempt to bribe me” and that it “will not influence my vote at all” while demonstrating “the new lows to which the judge’s opponents have stooped.”

There is some sign that Collins’ approval has taken a hit of late, but no big-name challengers have stepped up to run against her in 2020. Collins long polled as Maine’s most popular politician, but she fell slightly behind independent U.S. Sen. Angus King — though within the margin of error — in the two most recent rounds of approval polling from Morning Consult with higher disapproval figures. She was still supported by strong majorities except in a Suffolk University poll in August that looks like an outlier for the moment.

While Collins may be down a bit from her longtime perch with Mainers, she remains two years away from re-election and someone who has won her last three elections running away.

Only Republican Max Linn, a Trump-aping gadfly who couldn’t qualify for the primary ballot for King’s seat this year, and physician Cathleen London, who was recently reprimanded by medical regulators here, are running against Collins for now. While that may change, it’s too early to say that she’s going to be facing a real race in 2020 however this goes.

Former LePage spokeswoman returns to government work

The governor’s longtime public face is returning to the administration in a policy role. Gov. Paul LePage’s former press secretary, Adrienne Bennett, said in a Facebook post on Monday that she’ll return to the administration as director of policy and legislative affairs in the Maine Department of Labor. She left her job in LePage’s office in August 2017 to handle communications work at Kennebec Savings Bank, but she came back to state service within the last four months of LePage’s tenure — a time when many others typically leave.

Reading list

  • The four people who want to be Maine’s next governor engaged in a polite discussion about how they would manage the state’s economy. At the first public forum for general election gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Janet Mills, Republican Shawn Moody and independents Alan Caron and Terry Hayes fielded questions in Lewiston about topics such as immigration, employment in health care and making Maine more attractive to young people. In many of their answers, the candidates subtly and not so subtly shared how their administration would differ from that of the current Blaine House occupant. In a gathering marked by the lack of acrimony one might expect in a race that is polling as very tight, the candidates praised each other and shared anecdotes from their personal lives to illustrate how they would govern.
  • The governor plans to continue denying applicants for expanded Medicaid coverage until lawmakers give him the funding mechanism he wants. LePage told the Associated Press that the Legislature needs to “give me the money and everything’s going to be fine.” Earlier this year, legislators passed a bill that would tap tobacco settlement money and a budget surplus to hire more than 100 employees and cover other expansion startup costs. But LePage vetoed that bill and continues to demand that legislators put in place a way to cover the $54 million to $62 million annually that the voter-approved Medicaid expansion law is projected to cost the state. Expansion would also open roughly $500 million in federal aid each year to Maine and provide coverage to approximately 70,000 uninsured Mainers, according to advocates who have sued LePage to implement the law.
  • Far fewer Maine lobsters are going to China since the president ignited a trade war with that country. Maine exported $9.47 million worth of live lobster to China in January 2018 and $11.81 million in February. That trailed off to $4.87 million in March. Exports still were at $4.74 million in June, but dropped close to 79 percent to a little more than $1 million in July, the month that China’s 25 percent import tariffs on the crustacean took effect. That’s 64 percent lower than the value of live lobsters exported to China in July 2017. Industry leaders say it’s too early to gauge the full impact of the tariffs, and Maine’s congressional delegation is meeting with federal trade officials to try to minimize the damage of China’s retaliatory tariffs on the state’s lobster harvesters, who have depended on China as a key market in recent years.
  • A second Maine inmate has filed suit to force her jailers to allow her to continue receiving medication-based addiction treatment. Brenda Smith of Madawaska is facing a 40-day sentence for theft at the Aroostook County Jail has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to continue taking her addiction treatment medication while incarcerated. In July, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine sued the Maine Department of Corrections and the Houlton jail on behalf of Zachary Smith, 30, of Caribou. He wants to continue taking Suboxone while incarcerated for what is expected to be nine months. Both lawsuits cite the same two legal arguments to support their arguments — that denying them medical care violates the Americans with Disabilities Act because people in recovery are protected from discrimination in medical care, and the long-term consequences of forced withdrawal violate the plaintiffs’ right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Tower of Voices

It’s been 17 years, but many of us still reel from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that caused almost 3,000 deaths — directly — and more than 6,000 injuries.

Among the casualties were 40 passengers and crew members on United Flight 93, who died after overwhelming their hijackers before crashing in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. They are generally credited with preventing the hijackers from crashing the plane into a government building in Washington, D.C. — most likely the U.S. Capitol.

A monument in their honor was dedicated Sunday. Called Tower of Voices, it’s a haunting tribute to their sacrifice. Here’s your soundtrack. — Robert Long

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

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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.