It’s been almost 66 years since Maine’s own Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, disgusted by the communist witch hunt being stoked by members of her own Republican Party, stood before the U.S. Senate and delivered her immortal “Declaration of Conscience” speech.

Among her more memorable lines: “I don’t believe the American people will uphold any political party that puts political exploitation above national interest. Surely we Republicans aren’t that desperate for victory.”

If only she could see them now.

The Bush family’s decades-long political dynasty is history.

Donald Trump is well on his way to becoming the Republican nominee for president.

And in Smith’s beloved Senate, the Republican majority flat out refuses to even meet with President Obama to discuss the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, let alone commit to its constitutional obligation to help fill it.


Still, just as Maine took pride back then in Smith’s refusal to follow her party down the blackest of holes, so can we today in the woman who now occupies Smith’s seat.

“This is a very serious issue,” Sen. Susan Collins said in a telephone interview Thursday from Washington, D.C. “This isn’t deciding whether this should be National Apple Pie Week.”

These are lonely days for Collins and fellow Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois. Both stand in defiance of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s order that the president’s yet-to-be-named nominee to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia be shunned by all Senate Republicans from now until the November election.

That means no chats with the White House, no courtesy calls on Capitol Hill with any nominee, no hearings, no votes, nothing.

Collins’ response: “For anyone to say, no matter who is sent up by the president as his nominee, that we will not consider that person, does not strike me as consistent with our constitutional obligations.”

In other words, while all but one of her Republican colleagues choose to put election-year politics above one of the most sacred duties conferred upon them by our Founding Fathers, Collins would prefer simply to do her job.


And if that means breaking from the partisan pack and invoking the wrath of a party that can only be described as unhinged, well, it’s not the first time a woman from Maine kept her head while all around her others were losing theirs.

“Is the leadership happy with me right now? Decidedly not,” Collins said. “But they know that there will be other times when I agree with their position. And they also know by now that I just have to do what I think is right.”

Looking back over the last two weeks, it’s hard to imagine a more self-defeating scenario for dealing with Scalia’s death than the one now being employed by McConnell & Company.

First, before Scalia’s body could even be flown back to Washington, D.C., from the Texas resort where he died, McConnell took to the airwaves to insist that Obama had no business nominating a replacement. Echoing that sentiment in short order were Republican senators and presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

Collins, for one, found it all offensive.

“I thought it was a shame … that instead of honoring his life and legacy and extending our condolences (to Scalia’s grieving family), already we were embroiled in a political fight,’ she said. “And I’ll tell you, I heard widespread support for my making that point.”


Now that Scalia has been properly memorialized and laid to rest, the spectacle grows even more bizarre.

Obama, we are told, has no right to nominate a new justice because he’s in the last year of his second term and thus “the people should decide.”

That, as Collins rightfully points out, is not what the Constitution says. And as for the people deciding, isn’t that what they did when they re-elected Obama back in 2012?

Much has also been made of past statements by Democrats, most notably Vice President Joe Biden, who as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee back in 1992 said then-President George H.W. Bush should not fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court if one were to arise in the last few months of his term.

(No such vacancy ever occurred. And in the same speech, Biden said he would consider a moderate nominee if Bush were to send one up to the Senate.)

“Democrats as well as Republicans have been guilty of this in the past,” Collins said. “I think we need to get beyond that and back to the institutional roles that the Constitution intends for us to play.”


Collins got a call from Biden this week. Not to twist her arm, but rather just to “touch base.”


“The only point I made was they need to send up a nominee who is in the mainstream, who has impeccable credentials and is a person of integrity with great respect for the Constitution and the rule of law,” Collins said.

Which the White House tried to do by floating the name of Gov. Brian Sandoval, the Nevada Republican who by most accounts met all of those criteria. But less than 48 hours after his name surfaced, Sandoval bowed out Thursday afternoon without offering a reason.

He didn’t have to. The rattling sabers spoke for themselves.

Collins was prepared to meet with Sandoval, as she will with anyone who has the guts to run this gauntlet between now and November.


That doesn’t mean she’ll vote for the person should it come to that, but it does mean she’ll do the job that Maine voters elected her to do.

“I’ve voted for some, I’ve opposed others,” she said. “But it can’t be a reflexive decision that is made before we even know who the candidate is going to be. That is not the way our system should work.”

It’s beyond troubling that we’re in a time when such words, rational as they may sound, are considered political heresy. But hey, Margaret Chase Smith probably had days like these, too.

“I’m sure in a few days the leader will be speaking to me again,” Collins mused.

Let him.

If McConnell thinks Susan Collins is a problem, wait until President Trump nominates Judge Judy.


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