Sen. Collins pulls off a masterful pivot on the filibuster

Sen. Collins pulls off a masterful pivot on the filibuster

In political jargon, a “pivot” is similar in a lot of ways to its definition in sports: you plant yourself, spin, and try to move as quickly as possible in a different direction to avoid or misdirect an opposing player, with the major difference between the two uses of the word being that in politics it’s voters who are getting played. In the span of one very busy newsweek, Sen. Susan Collins has provided observant voters a master class on the art of the pivot.

Last Thursday, Senator Collins joined every single one of her Republican colleagues in the Senate in invoking the so-called “nuclear option;” ramming through a rule change that eliminated the ability for a minority party to filibuster a nominee to the Supreme Court. In so doing, she secured the confirmation of Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch. Despite spending the virtual entirety of her two decades in the Senate both building and hiding behind a reputation as a centrist and champion of the Senate as an institution, Collins showed no hesitation in dismantling a key piece of that institution that had stood for nearly two centuries.

Rightfully, critics attacked Collins for defending the preservation of norms and rules when it benefited her party (she used just such a defense in January when she made the decisive vote to advance Education Secretary and scourge of public schools Betsy DeVos out of her committee, when Collins had the power to stop the nomination from moving forward altogether), while completely folding on those values when it ran up against the interests of her party, as they would have in this case.

But just as Collins began to receive some of the harshest body blows to her reputation in her political career, we see the pivot.

By Friday of last week, Collins was working to completely flip the narrative on the filibuster story by coming out strongly in support of defending the last remnants of the rule that dealt with the power of minority parties to block legislative bills with 41 votes, which is one of the defining characteristics of the US Senate and one that was never in danger of repeal in the first place.

Nevertheless, fewer than 24 hours after personally voting to erode the filibuster, Mainers were treated to such headlines as “Sen. Collins Takes Lead in Urging Preservation of the Filibuster” from the Portland Press Herald. Collins had managed to take non-issue arising out of a crisis of her own making and pivot it into an opportunity to illustrate her capacity as a moderate and a problem solver. Truly, it was a masterful illustration in media manipulation and political calculation.

The question remains, however: How long Collins can stay one step ahead of her media narrative, and will voters begin to take notice?

New polling from the last week has shown that Independent Sen. Angus King has overtaken Collins for the first time as the most popular politician in the state—a title that Collins had maintained for years. And in this age of increased scrutiny over federal officials, it is quite possible that the public is beginning to see the artful dodges for the theater that they are. Time will tell what will happen to Sen. Collins, who has now begun to fan the flames of rumors of a gubernatorial run in 2018, if and when voters finally catch up to her. In the meantime, we can at least admire a master at work.

Photo via official website.

About author

Grady Burns
Grady Burns 31 posts

Grady Burns is an activist on issues involving young Mainers. He serves on the Auburn City Council and is president of the Maine Young Democrats.

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