SOUTH PORTLAND — Republican Sen. Susan Collins said Wednesday that she supports the lawsuit filed by 16 states – including Maine – challenging President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to build a southern border wall.

But Collins also signaled support for a straightforward congressional disapproval of an emergency declaration that she views as having “dubious constitutionality” and setting a dangerous precedent.

“It may be that the courts will stop what I believe to be a very unwise action, or it may come about through Congress,” Collins said Wednesday. “If the House passes a resolution of disapproval and it is a clean resolution, I will support that. There have been many of my colleagues on the Republican side who are very wary of the president’s actions because they don’t want a future Democratic president reallocating funds.”

The three other members of Maine’s congressional delegation – independent Sen. Angus King and Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden – also have strongly criticized the president’s emergency declaration.

Collins made her comments during a ribbon-cutting event at the U.S. Coast Guard’s South Portland base and later Wednesday during a wide-ranging interview with the Portland Press Herald.

Speaking with the newspaper’s editorial board, Collins expressed concerns about Trump’s rejection of his own intelligence agencies’ conclusions and about the political climate in Washington.

“I would describe this administration as chaotic,” said Collins, who was first elected to the Senate in 1996. “I don’t remember any other president with whom I’ve been serving in Washington where there was this much upheaval and chaos as this president.”

AWAITING MUELLER REPORT

But Collins, who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, also cast doubts on recent statements by former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe regarding the investigation into Russian collusion with Trump during the 2016 election. Instead, Collins said she is awaiting the final report from special counsel Robert Mueller.

Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins speaks Wednesday with the Portland Press Herald Editorial Board in South Portland. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

“I am not going to take at face value everything Mr. McCabe says,” Collins said, citing allegations that McCabe lied under oath about leaks to the news media. “I am waiting for someone who I believe to be independent, impartial and fair-minded, and that is Mr. Mueller.”

Maine’s senior senator has been among the most vocal Republican critics in Congress of Trump’s decision to invoke a national emergency to circumvent Congress on border wall or fence funding. On Tuesday, Maine joined 15 other states in filing suit against the Trump administration to stop the emergency declaration.

“I do support the lawsuit that was filed by the states,” Collins told reporters following the ribbon-cutting ceremony on a renovated Coast Guard command center. “I think that may be the quickest way to get an injunction that would halt this transfer of funds.”

Trump plans to divert money from elsewhere in the federal budget – primarily from military construction – to build a larger section of border wall or fencing than the $1.4 billion recently allocated by Congress. The Trump administration has yet to release a list of military construction projects that could be affected.

DANGER OF ‘UNILATERAL ACTION’

But members of the Maine and New Hampshire congressional delegations already are warning against any attempt to siphon off funding needed to upgrade the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard drydock for the newest class of nuclear submarines. Collins, who serves on one of the two congressional appropriations committees that decide how the federal budget is spent, raised the prospect that the money “will be robbed in order to meet the president’s priority.”

“So, we don’t know yet that the shipyard will be affected, but it illustrates the danger of allowing unilateral action by the president that reverses what Congress and the president previously agreed to,” Collins said.

The Democratic-controlled House is expected soon to pass a resolution disapproving of Trump’s declaration of a national emergency. While it appears the resolution likely has enough Republican support to also pass the Senate, Collins said Wednesday afternoon she was unsure there were 60 votes to override a promised veto by the president.

The four-term senator is likely to face a well-financed Democratic opponent – as well as potential primary challengers – if she decides to run for re-election in 2020. Left-leaning organizations raised more than $3.7 million for an as-yet-unknown Democratic candidate following Collins’ pivotal vote to support Justice Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Collins said she is “laying the groundwork and getting prepared” for a re-election run but has yet to make a final decision.

Democrats also have turned up the rhetoric on Collins, accusing her of not doing enough to buck Trump and voting too often with the agenda pushed by the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.

‘A CHECK’ ON THE PRESIDENT

In her discussion with the Press Herald’s editorial board, Collins said she has often disagreed with Trump on issues such as health care and the environment.

“Sometimes my views align with the president, but it doesn’t mean I take a position because of the president,” Collins said. “Sometimes they align with the president. Sometimes they do not.”

She also said she believes Congress is being more assertive and acting as “a check” on the president. As one example, she pointed to her support for a rare Senate resolution in December that ended military assistance to Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen in response to the killing of the Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Collins also said she supports an investigation into the White House’s alleged plans to help the Saudis build advanced nuclear power plants despite strong objections from legal advisers.

But Collins lamented the political atmosphere in the country in which Republicans and Democrats increasingly see issues from polar-opposite perspectives. She attributed this political tribalism to the rising influence of ideological groups on both sides, “residential sorting” that allows people to only associate with those of similar mindsets, the 24-hour news cycle and social media.

“I have never seen it as bad as it is now in all the years that I have been privileged to serve in the Senate,” Collins said. “I think it is a problem for our country.”

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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