Susan Collins faces her most pressure-packed vote since Clinton impeachment

Good morning from Augusta. The U.S. Senate is set to begin voting on Friday to confirm embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after the FBI delivered a confidential report to senators on allegations of sexual assault against the appeals court judge.

Kavanaugh’s nomination is teetering in part because of Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who is one of three Republicans alongside Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska who forced the FBI’s expanded background check last week. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, is also undecided.

To get Kavanaugh confirmed, President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, need to woo at least one of those swaying senators with a confirmation vote likely to come over the weekend.

That means Collins — a centrist who has been under immense pressure from liberals — will have to make a long-awaited decision soon. It will be one of the most-watched votes of her career, alongside her vote to acquit former President Bill Clinton of impeachment charges in 1999.

Collins has dropped few hints as to how she’ll vote, but she was dismayed after Trump mocked one of Kavanaugh’s alleged victims earlier this week. The Maine senator has never opposed a Supreme Court nominee who has made it to the Senate floor. Soon after Kavanaugh’s nomination, we told you that she looked primed to vote for him.

Things have changed. California professor Christine Blasey Ford went public in mid-September with allegations that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party when they were high school students. Two others have publicly accused him of misconduct. Kavanaugh has denied all allegations, including at a hearing last week where he and Ford testified.

Trump has seemed to want to humor the undecided Republican senators and had been somewhat restrained while discussing Ford until a Tuesday rally in Mississippi where the Republican president mocked her allegations against Kavanaugh.

Collins shot back on Wednesday to say that Trump’s comments were “just plain wrong.” Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who opposed Kavanaugh before the allegations emerged, said he didn’t think that move was “calculated” to win over Collins, Flake or Murkowski.

Pressure from Maine opponents of the nomination continues to intensify. As we write this morning, 16 Democratic female elected officials are en route to Washington, D.C., where they plan to meet with King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, and hope to get a meeting with Collins to implore her to vote against Kavanaugh.

Collins has continued taking meeting with constituents this week in her D.C. office, including on Wednesday, when she met with representatives from the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, whom she has been consulting with regularly as she weighs her decision.

No matter what Collins decides, she is likely to stoke anger on her left or right. If she votes for Kavanaugh, activists have pledged $1.8 million to a Democrat who runs against her when she’s up for re-election in 2020. Most was raised before the allegations and over liberal angst about whether Kavanaugh would erode abortion and health care access on the high court.

If she opposes him, she could draw out a credible Republican primary challenger. Maine’s conservative base has already wavered on Collins after her opposition to bids to repeal the Affordable Care Act, though she has always kept strong relationships with the party faithful.

Collins hasn’t discussed political implications of the vote much so far, but she told Politico that she hasn’t decided whether or not she’ll run again in 2020 and will do so by next year.

Reading list

  • Debates in Maine’s gubernatorial race have become more frequent, but they have yet to grow combative or insightful. The four candidates for governor will have appeared together four times by Thursday’s end. During the first of those four forums, Democrat Janet Mills, Republican Shawn Moody and independents Alan Caron and Terry Hayes continued to generally treat each other politely. Mills and the independents continued to distance themselves from Gov. Paul LePage, while Moody walked the tightrope of endorsing the Republican governor’s conservative, pro-business policies while saying a Moody administration would be more “positive.” The candidates also debated in Westbrook on Wednesday night and two more forums are scheduled for Thursday — a morning one Waterville and an evening one centered on fisheries in Rockland.
  • It will cost at least $246 million to complete recommended mercury remediation in the Penobscot River estuary. That’s according to a filing in a 18-year-old lawsuit from the Maine People’s Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council against Mallinckrodt Inc., the owner of a shuttered chemical manufacturing site in Orrington that discharged up to 12 tons of mercury into the river in the 1960s and 1970s. A federal judge has found the company responsible for cleanup of the river and this plan would include dredging and replacing soil in the riverbed near the facility and capping lower elevations of a nearby wetland at a cost of between $246 million and $333 million, up from an earlier estimate of $130 million. The company says it will challenge some recommendations.
  • Another Maine shrimp season is in peril. Federal regulators say research indicates that the shrimp population remains dangerously low in Maine waters, but people who harvest the tiny crustacean say that measurement tools are flawed, artificially deflating the numbers upon which decisions to open the fishery will be made. Regulators will meet with fishermen Thursday morning to review the most recent stock assessment and make recommendations on whether Maine will see a shrimp season next year for the first time since 2013.
  • Opponents of a proposed salmon farm in Belfast are making it a local political issue. Two opponents of Nordic Aquafarms‘ massive land-based salmon farm proposal have registered to run for Belfast city council as write-in candidates. A third has qualified for a spot on the ballot. Should they win seats on the five-person council, it would drastically change the small city’s approach to the biggest business development proposal in its history.

Self satisfaction

One of the sad aspects of covering politics for as long as I have is that I’ve seen too many decent, humble teachers, small business owners and other regular folks morph into pompous, self-absorbed egotists during the course of their political careers.

Plenty of narcissists get into politics because they want the attention, but it also seems that politics is a Petri dish where narcissism flourishes.

The tendency toward self-centeredness is not reserved for politicians. A newspaper for which I used to work sent surveys to people who had been the subject of stories we wrote. We asked them to gauge the accuracy of our work, but we also asked them what they wanted us to write about more often.

The responses were all over the map, but the one unifying element was that almost everyone who responded encouraged us to write more about and take more photos of them, their families and people like them.

All of this brings us in a roundabout way to the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care study showing that more than 250 people have died while taking selfies during the past six years. It revives questions about whether taking selfies — and especially putting oneself at risk while doing so — is a warning sign for narcissism. Three years ago, Psychology Today also questioned whether it also signals unhealthy tendencies toward psychopathy and Machiavellianism.

My arms are too short for good selfies and I don’t own one of those silly sticks. Almost every selfie I have ever taken includes my lumpy body as a backdrop for one or more kittens. That seems pretty safe and not too Machiavellian. But maybe I am in denial — and the kittens are just a cover for my deep-seated egomania. 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.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at, or

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.