The senior senator from Maine holds the third-longest voting streak in Senate history
Collins said she goes to great lengths and sacrifices personal time to ensure she's there for votes
Republicans and Democrats in the Senate don’t agree on much. But when Sen. Susan Collins recorded her 6,000 consecutive vote Thursday – a procedural vote related to the Iran nuclear deal – a bipartisan majority of supporters said she was rock star.
“I’m not sure a surgery, a tsunami, or the most wicked Maine nor’easter could stop the woman,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said about the milestone, which is the third-longest consecutive voting streak in Senate history. “This means our colleague from Maine hasn’t missed a single vote during her entire Senate tenure. Not one sick day in more than 18 years. It’s really remarkable.”
The fourth-term Republican from Maine, who is known as an independent willing to work across the aisle, won the admiration of her peers because they know intimately how hard it is to juggle the incessant demands of a senator while maintaining a Cal Ripken-like voting record.
“We all know the logistical challenges of making every single vote,” said Sen. Angus King, an independent who is the junior senator from Maine, adding that her achievement is “symbolic of an intense, fierce commitment” to her work.
Collins has dramatic stories about votes she almost missed.
Once she was on a plane that was about to take off at Ronald Reagan National Airport. Then the Senate cloakroom called to say there had been a change of plans and there would be a vote. She got off the plane and raced back to the Capitol.
Another time, in 2008, she was overseeing a hearing on homeland security. She knew a vote was supposed to be called and was worried when she was never notified to go to the floor.
“I just have a bad feeling about this,” she told reporters while standing just off the Senate chamber. “So I ran in high heels. I got here, they were holding the doors open for me. I was really frantic because the gavel really was about to come down. I twisted my ankle on the way. It turns out I broke it and didn’t know it until I re-broke it last December.”
Collins said she goes to great lengths and sacrifices personal time to ensure she’s there for votes.
“Generally what it means is coming back from Maine Sunday rather than Monday, because if something goes wrong with the flights – because we don’t have that many from Maine – I can still get back,” she said.
She uses the extra time to go grocery shopping, read briefing materials for the week, and spend time with her husband.
“It’s very hard at times, especially this time of year when it’s gorgeous in Maine, not to wait and come back Monday, but I just don’t want to chance it,” she said.
Collins explained why casting each vote is important to her.
“It matters to me because I want the voices of the people of Maine always to be heard on the Senate floor. Voting is a senator’s most important responsibility,” she said.
McConnell noted that Collins is only behind former Sen. William Proxmire, D-Wisconsin, who recorded 10,252 straight votes, and current Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who has voted more than 7,440 times without missing a vote.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid credited her astonishing attendance to the hard work she learned as a young woman “digging potatoes for 30 cents a barrel at a neighbor’s farm in Caribou, Maine.”
“I’ve served with her now for almost two decades. Hard work and diligence is her byword,” Reid said.
Collins won comparisons to another independent Republican woman senator from Maine who had a impressive vote streak of her own. Margaret Chase Smith cast 2,942 consecutive votes during her 24-year tenure in the Senate that started in 1949. Her streak was finally broken after back surgery prevented her from traveling to Washington, McConnell said.
King noted that Smith, a rare woman in the Senate at that time, always wore a red rose on her lapel. In honor of Smith, whose desk Collins currently occupies, King presented Collins with a rose on the Senate floor.
“I’ve been blessed with very good health and I’ve been lucky. But now I know why my ankle hasn’t healed right,” Collins said.