When Susan Collins is trending on Twitter in D.C., it’s a good bet blood pressures are spiking across town, and it’s even odds whether her fellow Republicans or her occasional Democratic collaborators will see their dial rise more.
Well, late Thursday afternoon, it was once again Democrats’ turn to feel some tightness in the chest and maybe even clean up a nosebleed. HuffPost spoke to the Maine Republican that she was supportive of codifying same-sex marriage rights, but that she felt it became more complicated after Democrats created a tax and climate package she hates.
“I just think the timing could not have been worse and it came totally out of the blue,” Collins said of the spending proposal. Asked about the timing of that other bill, the one intended to protect the rights of millions of Americans, she was frank: “I don’t know.”
Already, the House passed a bill to repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. It would also enshrine the law that made the decision. ObergefellAll couples have the right to marry. Even 47 House Republicans supported the Respect for Marriage Act.
Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin has to gather 10 Republican Senators together to create a united Democratic caucus for protecting marriage rights. She’s halfway there, and Collins has been helping her find the rest.
Collins says she’s still a supporter of the effort but, as is the case so often with her, the back and forth can be maddening. “After we just had worked together successfully on gun safety legislation, on the CHIPs bill, it was a very unfortunate move that destroys the many bipartisan efforts that are under way,” Collins said.
Put plainly: Collins feels played and it’s going to take a minute for the sting to wear off. And until she walks off the annoyance, there’s not much point of anyone else lacing up. She still supports the goal, but she’s mighty peeved about the adjacent politicking and process. Her bruised self may result in LGBT rights being left in uncertainty.
Collins has become one of the most reliable—if rage-inducing—honest brokers in compromises on the Hill. Collins mentioned that bipartisan gun-safety legislation was the first significant attempt to end gun violence in over three decades. It was a small piece of gun-safety advocates’ wish list, but it was whittled down enough to win the support of 14 Republicans in the House and 15 in the Senate. The $52 billion CHIPs bill, which passed Congress this week. It provides tax credits and funding for domestic semiconductor chip producers. All 17 Republican Senators supported the bill to combat China more generally. Out of spite, the Republican leadership in the House lobbied for their members not to support CHIPS. It was an attempt to take down the Democrats’ refusal to agree to other legislation. The bill was passed by 24 Republicans who voted in favor of it.
Collins believes that Collins’ infrastructure and climate legislation could have broken any future bipartisan movements. The Inflation Reduction Act includes, to quote my TIME colleague Justin Worland, “the most significant U.S. climate legislation of all time with $385 billion in spending aimed at changing the way America powers itself.” The deal was privately negotiated between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the Democratic version of compromise-driven Collins, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Although it is unlikely to receive any Republican votes, a loophole allows Democrats to tuck the bill into their budget and allow them to pass it by a party-line vote.
There’s plenty of gnashing at the Capitol over whether Schumer pulled a fast one on Republicans or if Manchin is just mercurial enough to have been swayed by a meme. TIME’s Eric Cortellessa has plenty on that quandary here, and both options can be simultaneously true.
Washington is still divided, even with a small Democratic majority. The 50-50 Senate requires at least 10 Republican Senators to play ball on anything that isn’t the budget or a nominee. Nancy Pelosi is the House Speaker and has a 9-seat majority. This means that she can effectively avoid any defections. It’s mind-blowing that Collins would even suggest that she might bench herself in the game of coalition-building to codify Obergefell An August recess in a city already creaking was followed by an absencee fall dedicated to campaigning. The fact that Collins would take a beat on the marriage question—one that would change nothing in the status quo but merely make it impossible for a Supreme Court ruling to scrap a right currently held by millions, a la what the Dobbs decision did with abortion rights—is as disheartening as it is disingenuous.
All of which is to say Collins—like Manchin—has outsized powers under these rules of the Senate. A single voice in Washington can obstruct the political reality, and these voices are adept at finding the microphones. All of D.C. must listen to what they have to say when they speak. That doesn’t make it any easier for gay couples to hear Collins’ latest gripe about this breach of political etiquette. Because rights can be so fragile, all other pieces of life that revolve around them are also affected.
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