Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins, top row, and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, bottom row.

Their politics and personalities may differ, but the four members of Maine’s congressional delegation favor order over chaos and recognize that governing means compromise.

Right now, that’s not happening, and U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden are all increasingly frustrated about it.

In interviews with each of them last week – a week that featured the historic ouster of Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on the heels of a near-shutdown of the federal government – Maine’s members of Congress reflected on recent events, the decaying political climate in Washington, what it could take to improve things and whether that’s even possible with the next election cycle already upon us.

“I’ve had the honor of representing Maine for a number of years, and Congress did not use to be this way,” said Collins, the longest-serving member of Maine’s delegation and the lone Republican. “We’ve always had philosophical and ideological differences, but if you worked those out, as I still attempt to do, that work used to be applauded. Now you get hit by groups on the far left and the far right who want 100 percent compliance with 100 percent of their views 100 percent of the time.”

King, an independent whose views align more closely with Democrats, said his take on the near-shutdown and the removal of McCarthy was that it was “chaos for chaos’ sake, rather than to achieve a policy end.”

“The thing that gets lost in a lot of the discussion is that the Senate has been doing a lot of good work on a bipartisan basis,” he said. “The House too, actually. … So it’s frustrating that a relatively small group in the House is more interested in being on the news.”


King was referring to Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican who led the charge to remove McCarthy.

Golden, who represents Maine’s sprawling 2nd Congressional District, might be Gaetz’s opposite, personalitywise. He doesn’t often do interviews or draw attention to himself.

He agreed with King that the recent chaos detracts from those who are in Washington to do the work.

“I wouldn’t argue that Congress isn’t increasingly hampered by partisanship and experiencing gridlock, but there is still a lot of productive work getting done for the country, by Congress, and by individual members of the House and Senate on a near-daily basis,” he said. “I don’t want people to think what they see in the last couple days is all there is.”

Pingree is seen as a progressive Democrat but also a pragmatic one. She said in a divided Congress – the Senate is narrowly controlled by Democrats; the House narrowly led by Republicans – compromise is the only way to govern.

“It feels like right now we’re experiencing this civil war within the Republican Party where they can’t work with each other, and the fallout of that is incredibly disruptive,” she said.


Pingree said when President Barack Obama was first elected, there was a lot of turmoil with the rise of tea party conservatives. But even then, she said, Republican Speaker John Boehner “still had respect for the institution and was able to keep things in balance.”

L. Sandy Maisel, an emeritus American government professor at Colby College who has followed U.S. politics for decades, said the current landscape in Washington is “as disturbing as any time I remember.”

He said Maine’s members of Congress mostly fit the image of past elected leaders – Margaret Chase Smith, George Mitchell, Edmund Muskie, Bill Cohen and Olympia Snowe, to name a few – who have prioritized governing and compromise. But that is not true of Congress as a whole.

“Today, both parties have extremists, more so the Republicans, but you can’t find solutions in the center if the Republican conference says McCarthy is out because he dealt with Democrats,” Maisel said. “What else can you do? That’s how government works.”

Some thought Democrats might help McCarthy by voting against the motion to vacate, but House Democrats were united in support of his removal. McCarthy said he didn’t want their help and blamed them for the near-shutdown in the first place, even though it was members of his own party who made demands that led to the impasse.

With the exception of Collins, who supported McCarthy and said he was right to cut a bipartisan deal to avert a shutdown, Maine’s delegation members said he only has himself to blame for losing the speakership.


“I’ve seen Democrats many, many times make the right decision for the institution, and I fully believe that if Kevin McCarthy had come to the Democrats and said, ‘Look, I’ll put Ukraine funding on the floor, or I’ll go back to the budget agreement (that McCarthy made with President Biden to avoid a debt ceiling crisis), but he didn’t do any of that,” Pingree said. “We voted for the continuing resolution (to avert the shutdown) on Saturday, and on Sunday morning, he went on TV and said we were to blame.”

In the end, Pingree said, McCarthy failed to keep his word.

“There was a litany of things he’d done to be disruptive, and I think people felt like we’ve got to do what’s right for the institution,” she said.

Golden, who goes against his party more frequently than Pingree does, was similarly critical of McCarthy. Blaming Democrats for their role in recent events was “110 percent unwarranted,” he said.

“Am I surprised that Republican operatives or Republican members or very partisan people would try to blame Democrats for their own chaos and inability to govern themselves, and therefore the nation, when they’re in the majority?” he said. “No, I’m not surprised they would point a finger at us rather than look inward and say: ‘What went on with us?’ When you win majorities, suddenly you bear the responsibility of governing.”

Golden said the House’s bipartisan Problem Solvers caucus, of which he’s a member, reached out to McCarthy for months.


“He never once invited us into his office,” Golden said.

Collins said watching what has happened in the House in recent weeks makes her appreciate how the Senate has run. As the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, Collins has played a key role in the budget process there and has worked collaboratively and collegially with the lead Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington. This summer, for the first time in five years, the committee voted out all 12 of its appropriations bills by the end of July, seven of them in unanimous fashion.

“Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that Washington reflects the increasing polarization that we’re seeing in our country, and to solve that problem is going to require people at the local level, in their own communities, coming together to search for common ground on problems,” she said. “It has to start at the community level in order for us to change the trajectory of where our country is headed.”

King said he’s increasingly fearful about the country’s fragile grip on democracy and what it could mean on the world stage. Last week on the plane from Maine to D.C., King said, he was reading a book about China and about how its president, Xi Jinping, has openly stated that he doesn’t believe democracy can work in the 21st century because it’s too slow and cumbersome and has too many checks and balances. The future of government, Xi said, is some kind of authoritarianism.

“We’re proving him right, that’s what’s so serious about it,” King said. He then paused for a moment to say that might have been overstated. “But this kind of activity plays into that argument’s hands.”

The country has had divided government before, King said, “but I don’t believe that divided government is a recipe for gridlock.”


Maisel, the Colby political scientist, said the U.S. has actually had more divided governments than one-party control since World War II, and history suggests that more major policies have passed when Congress was fractured and compromise was required. He’s not sure that can happen today.

“The kind of divided government we have now, with so few in the center, I don’t know,” he said.

Maine’s members of Congress said they hope the next House speaker is someone committed to governing and someone who keeps their word. McCarthy was criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike for reneging on promises.

They also said the next speaker would be wise to change the rules back so that the threshold for filing a motion to vacate is much higher. McCarthy agreed to a rule change in January allowing a single member to force a removal vote – a concession to conservatives that allowed him to win the post.

“Maybe this is reflective of hitting bottom,” Pingree said. “Maybe you have to hit bottom to get there. I really do feel like, as a Democrat, I’m always looking for those opportunities to work across the aisle. I don’t know how much they might retaliate or be angry or hold a grudge, but I hope we can elect a speaker and get back to work and slowly try to build those relationships again and find ways to work together.”

Golden said nothing will change his approach: He’s ready to work with whomever is in charge.

“I will do this job the way I think it’s supposed to be done,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to be in Congress for all of my life. I don’t think I’m going to be in Congress even for a long period of my life, and therefore when I’m done doing it … I just want to be proud of the way I did it.”

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