Collins undecided on next steps after alleged Kavanaugh victim comes forward

Good morning from Augusta. President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court seems to be in its first real danger after a woman who has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her while in high school has come forward publicly.

The Washington Post reported on Sunday that Christine Blasey Ford wrote a confidential letter earlier this summer to a senior Democratic lawmaker alleging that Kavanaugh assaulted her more than three decades ago, when they were high school students in suburban Maryland.

He has denied the allegations, but some Republicans now seem open to delaying Kavanaugh’s nomination to hear more from Ford and her attorney told CNN that she is willing to testify before the Senate panel that was set to endorse Kavanaugh this week.

So far, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of two Republicans who hadn’t endorsed Kavanaugh before Ford’s name surfaced, isn’t one of them, but she said in a brief Sunday interview with CNN that she’ll discuss the issue further with colleagues.

Collins said she was ‘surprised’ by the allegations and that Kavanaugh denied them emphatically in a Friday phone call. The Washington Post was the first news outlet to speak with Ford on the record, but a redacted copy of Ford’s letter had already been placed in Kavanaugh’s personnel file for senators to read. Collins said she had read it before a follow-up call with Kavanaugh on Friday. She told CNN that she was “surprised” by the allegations and he was “very emphatic in his denial,” as he has been in all public statements so far.

When asked if she believed Ford, Collins said, “I don’t know enough to make a judgment at this point,” but she told The New York Times that while the allegations were serious, Democrats had “cast a cloud of doubt” on both Ford and Kavanaugh.

Two Republicans have called for delaying the vote. Collins hasn’t joined them, but her vote seems more up in the air. Ford said that she told nobody about the incident until a couple’s therapy session in 2012, but she provided notes from a therapist that said she alleged an attack at the hands of students who were “highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington.” She also provided results of an August a polygraph test concluding she was being truthful while describing it.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, a departing member and frequent Trump critic who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told The Washington Post the panel “can’t vote until we hear more.” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, made a similar statement to Politico.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who is undecided on Kavanaugh alongside Collins, told CNN the panel “might” have to consider delaying the vote. Collins didn’t join her there on Sunday.

“I’m going to be talking with my colleagues, but I really don’t have anything to add at this point,” Collins said.

Collins was probably being watched more than any other senator in the Kavanaugh proceedings so far, even as she has looked primed to vote for him since soon after his confirmation. Now, her vote looks far more up in the air as the nomination faces its first real hurdle.

Poliquin slightly up in first 2nd District public poll

The incumbent was up on his Democratic challenger without considering ranked-choice voting in a muddled poll for both parties. The poll from Siena College and published by The New York Times through Friday measured U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, at 47 percent support to 42 percent for Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden, D-Lewiston. (While Poliquin had a five-point lead, the poll’s error margin meant that each candidate could up or down roughly 5 percentage points from those totals.)

The poll said 11 percent of voters are undecided. It didn’t measure support for the two independents in the race — Tiffany Bond of Portland and Will Hoar of Southwest Harbor — and didn’t account for ranked-choice voting, which will be used in 2018 congressional races here.

Despite Poliquin’s lead, the poll was really quite muddled for both parties. Republicans should be happy that Trump’s favorability rating of 47 percent in the district he won in 2016 was better than where he has polled nationally and statewide. Also, 48 percent of people in the poll wanted Republicans to control the House of Representatives to 41 percent who wanted Democrats.

On the other hand, Poliquin trailed Trump’s approval rating at 40 percent favorability — a bad mark for an incumbent — with 47 percent seeing him unfavorably. Golden was evenly split at 32 percent favorability and unfavorability with 35 percent saying they didn’t know enough to judge.

LePage energy chief leaves

Another top official has left the governor’s administration. Steven McGrath, who led the Governor’s Energy Office since August 2017, left that job on Friday. Angela Monroe will move up from deputy director to run the office during the final months of departing Gov. Paul LePage’s administration. While pushing for lower energy costs has been a LePage priority, his efforts to add a Cabinet-level energy commissioner fell apart in partisan squabbling with Democrats in the Legislature.

Past directors of the energy office have been the public face of LePage’s policy initiatives that include trying to bring Canadian hydropower to Maine, thwart wind and solar energy pilot projects that pass along research and development costs to consumers, and pipe more natural gas to Maine. But the governor has leaned heavily on solar power critic Jim LaBrecque, who is now a Republican candidate for a Maine Senate seat in Greater Bangor, for energy advice.

Reading list

  • Here are the basics of Question 1, the complicated referendum that could bring universal home care to Maine. Progressives are looking to aggressively overhaul a long-term care system that already rests on low-wage workers who frequently leave their jobs and will be further stretched as Maine, the nation’s oldest state, ages further. But Question 1 rests on a tax regime that one lawyer calls a hard-to-administer “a dog’s breakfast” and that’s what is animating conservative resistance to the law. Mainers will decide on it in November.
  • Sweeping changes proposed to the federal Endangered Species Act have conservation groups and others alarmed about protecting plants and animals on the verge of extinction in Maine and around the country. Maine Public reports that Maine conservation groups are lobbying the Trump administration and Congress not to weaken protections that they say could undermine efforts to protect endangered species such as the piping plover and right whale, The proposed changes could allow business interests to exert more authority in determining how to deal with endangered species.
  • A former legislative leader is turning his attention to county government. Sen. Andre Cushing, R-Newport, who stepped down last year as assistant Senate majority leader, is one of three candidates in  a Nov. 6 special election to fill a vacancy created by the death of Thomas J. Davis Jr. Cushing, 59, is completing his third term in the Senate. He is not seeking re-election to that position. The other candidates are Democrat Donovan E. Todd III of Etna and Libertarian Donald W. McCann of Corinth. In August 2017, the Maine Ethics Commission levied $9,000 in fines against a political committee run by Cushing for 11 finance reports that were filed late between 2014 and 2016.

Albania mania

Albania has always seemed like a strange and mysterious place. Tucked away in that part of eastern Europe where languages are hard to decipher and culture is a stew of influences that mix early Rome, the Ottoman Empire, Islam, Roma and Communism, it has always struck me as a “what happens here stays here” kind of place long before Las Vegas adopted that slogan.

When I was a kid, our geography and history lessons basically portrayed Albania as an impenetrable black hole, ruled by the iron fist of Enver Hoxha, a charismatic Communist dictator who broke with the Soviet Union and embraced a more isolationist Maoist form of Communism.

That strict isolationism meant that Albania was an enigma to kids in the West. Even our Weekly Reader magazines could not inform us about what went on there. The boiled-down message was: It’s not worth studying Albania because they will never let you in and no one from there will ever get out.

So it gave me great pleasure to awake this morning to read this wonderful tale by the BDN’s Troy R. Bennett about an Albanian musician who has settled in Maine, his exodus from a country that banned music and how he got a new accordion. It fills in a lot of gaps and gives us a chance to learn a little bit about the country and a really cool guy from there. Here is 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.