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When Susan Collins is trending on Twitter in D.C., it’s a good bet blood pressures are spiking across town, and it’s even odds whether her fellow Republicans or her occasional Democratic collaborators will see their dial rise more.
Well, late Thursday afternoon, it was once again Democrats’ turn to feel some tightness in the chest and maybe even clean up a nosebleed. The Maine Republican told HuffPost that while she personally was still supporting an effort to codify the rights of same-sex couples to wed, she also believed doing so became much more difficult after Democrats cobbled together an unrelated climate and tax package that her party loathes.
“I just think the timing could not have been worse and it came totally out of the blue,” Collins said of the spending proposal. Asked about the timing of that other bill, the one intended to protect the rights of millions of Americans, she was frank: “I don’t know.”
The House has already passed a bill that would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and enshrine into law the decision in Obergefell allowing the right of all couples to wed. The Respect for Marriage Act even snagged the support of 47 House Republicans.
Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin needs to round up 10 Republican Senators to join a unified Democratic caucus to protect marriage rights. She’s halfway there, and Collins has been helping her find the rest.
Collins says she’s still a supporter of the effort but, as is the case so often with her, the back and forth can be maddening. “After we just had worked together successfully on gun safety legislation, on the CHIPs bill, it was a very unfortunate move that destroys the many bipartisan efforts that are under way,” Collins said.
Put plainly: Collins feels played and it’s going to take a minute for the sting to wear off. And until she walks off the annoyance, there’s not much point of anyone else lacing up. She still supports the goal, but she’s mighty peeved about the adjacent politicking and process. As such, her bruised ego may leave LGBT rights in limbo.
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Collins has become one of the most reliable—if rage-inducing—honest brokers in compromises on the Hill. The bipartisan gun-safety legislation Collins mentioned was the first serious attempt to prevent gun violence in three decades. It was a small piece of gun-safety advocates’ wish list, but it was whittled down enough to win the support of 14 Republicans in the House and 15 in the Senate. And the $52 billion piece of CHIPs legislation, which cleared Congress this week, provides funding and tax credits for companies that produce semiconductor chips while investing in the domestic manufacturing space. A full 17 Republican Senators voted for the measure meant more broadly to counter China. In the House, Republican leadership lobbied their members to vote down CHIPS out of spite, a way to stick it to the Democrats for daring to reach a deal among themselves on unrelated legislation. In the end, 24 Republicans voted for it anyway.
But the infrastructure and climate bill is now what Collins says could have broken any future bipartisan movement. The Inflation Reduction Act includes, to quote my TIME colleague Justin Worland, “the most significant U.S. climate legislation of all time with $385 billion in spending aimed at changing the way America powers itself.” The deal was privately negotiated between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the Democratic version of compromise-driven Collins, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. It is expected to get exactly zero Republican votes, but a rules loophole lets Democrats tuck it into the budget and pass it on a party-line vote.
There’s plenty of gnashing at the Capitol over whether Schumer pulled a fast one on Republicans or if Manchin is just mercurial enough to have been swayed by a meme. TIME’s Eric Cortellessa has plenty on that quandary here, and both options can be simultaneously true.
Still, Washington remains a divided city, even under a narrow Democratic majority. The 50-50 Senate requires at least 10 Republican Senators to play ball on anything that isn’t the budget or a nominee. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can afford effectively no defections, either, enjoying a scarce nine-seat majority. It’s mind-blowing that Collins would even suggest that she might bench herself in the game of coalition-building to codify Obergefell in a city already creaking into an August recess, followed by an absentee fall devoted to campaigning. The fact that Collins would take a beat on the marriage question—one that would change nothing in the status quo but merely make it impossible for a Supreme Court ruling to scrap a right currently held by millions, a la what the Dobbs decision did with abortion rights—is as disheartening as it is disingenuous.
All of which is to say Collins—like Manchin—has outsized powers under these rules of the Senate. One voice can gum up the entire political reality in Washington, and those voices know how to find the microphones with aplomb. When they speak, all of D.C. has to listen to their agenda-setting utterances. That doesn’t make it any easier for gay couples to hear Collins’ latest gripe about this breach of political etiquette. When rights are this fragile, so is every other piece of the lives built around them.
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