Maine’s two U.S. senators say Congress and the country at large need to start listening in order to stem the extreme partisanship that’s dividing America.

Sitting together in the Washington studio of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, were interviewed Sunday morning by host Chuck Todd about what it would take to get Congress to pull together.

Collins was recently named the Senate’s “most bipartisan” senator for the fourth year in a row by the Lugar Center and Georgetown University’s public policy school. King is one of two independents in the Senate. The interview also touched on Maine’s defunct high-risk health insurance pool and what the senators have learned from Gov. Paul LePage, the “original Trump.”


Noting that the two senators could buck the partisan trend, Todd asked them what they saw as the hurdles to finding common ground.

Collins said one is the rise of ideological groups in both parties that require “100 percent compliance with 100 percent of their views 100 percent of the time.”


She said Washington reflects a growing polarization in the country, with citizens surrounding themselves with like-minded people.

“More and more people are living with people who have the same views that they have,” she said. “They are accessing news outlets that reinforce what they already think. We are seeing a growing intolerance on campuses for alternative viewpoints. All of that combines to produce divisions in our country.”

King offered what he called an “odd” explanation: the Senate schedule. Washington politicians no longer become well acquainted as they once did. They leave Washington on Thursdays and do not return until Mondays.

“People literally do not get to know each other. That is a problem if you don’t have relationships,” King said.

He also said that most senators have been in office for 10 years or less and have not developed a culture of success, which causes them to move on if a legislative proposal doesn’t work out, rather than try to negotiate and make it work.

Todd noted that Collins has floated the idea of running for governor of Maine but has also expressed concern about leaving her role in the Senate, where she has gained considerable seniority since she was first elected in 1996. Collins said the lack of experience among senators that King referred to was part of her concern.


Collins said bipartisanship in Congress has always been difficult, but in the past people were much more willing to find common ground. “I worry that the shrinking center in the Senate is making that more and more difficult. … There is a profound lack of trust between the two parties that makes those negotiations hard,” she said.

Todd asked King whether the divide is a leadership-driven problem.

Pointing to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., King said it is not the personalities of the leaders but the pressure on them to be partisan.

King said that early on Schumer talked about trying to work with President Trump, only to face an intense reaction from the Democratic base insisting that Democrats resist and fight.


But while the two senators agreed with each other on the topic of bipartisanship, their political differences became apparent when the subject turned to the move by Trump and Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and how to keep people with pre-existing medical conditions insured at affordable prices. Vice President Mike Pence, in an interview earlier in the program, pointed to Maine’s former high-risk health pool as a possible solution.


Collins said the “invisible” high-risk pool, which ended after two years when the Affordable Care Act went into effect, worked well. People covered in the pool didn’t even know they were in it, she said. It was financed by an assessment on all health plans in the state and picked up the health costs of people with pre-existing conditions after a certain point.

“It had a $5 million surplus when it ended,” said Collins.

But King, a former Maine governor, said a lot of people would argue there were limitations to the program.

“It is all in the details,” he said.

Coverage was dropped for some and costs for people over 60 went way up, he said.

“It is worth looking at, but it is not a panacea,” he said.



Todd then turned to another Maine topic: Gov. LePage, who has called himself “Trump before Trump.” Todd asked the two what they had learned from the fact that such a strong conservative found success in a state that also elected an independent and moderate Republican.

Collins said everyone needs to listen better to the people who elected LePage and Trump.

“President Trump spoke very clearly to those people in Maine, particularly the northern part of the state, who lost their jobs in part due to poorly negotiated trade agreements and he is right about that. If you’re a displaced millworker in Maine, you feel pretty left out. He spoke compellingly to them. That is something we all need to do better on,” said Collins.

King said the success of LePage and Trump shows the need to learn and listen. But, he said, he was disappointed in Trump’s 100th day speech in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on Saturday night.

“He’s still in campaign mode, talking strictly to his people. … We need a little quiet – what I call ‘eloquent listening.’ ” King said. “People who are concerned about the Trump policies need to be listened to, too.”

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