Members of the Maine Republican Party state committee are condemning “in the strongest possible terms” Republican Sen. Susan Collins’ vote to convict former President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial this month – another sign of the backlash against lawmakers who bucked Trump, but one that may not have immediate impact given that Collins just won a fifth term.
“We vehemently disagree with your vote on this matter and condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” members of the committee – including the state party’s chair and vice chair – wrote in a letter to Collins posted to Facebook on Wednesday, adding that they had heard from Mainers all over the state who were “almost universally outraged at this action and have demanded we take action in response.”
The letter comes in the wake of local reports that the committee was weighing a formal censure of Collins for her decision to find Trump guilty of inciting an insurrection. The Maine GOP did not reply to CNN’s multiple requests for comment, including whether the committee was planning on censuring Collins.
In a letter Wednesday replying to the committee, Collins stood by her vote, saying the decision she made was “based on the Constitution and the evidence before me, not on my membership in a political party or any other external factor.”
The only GOP senator who voted to convict who’s facing voters next year – Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski – could be facing her own backyard backlash soon, with the state party expecting to discuss her vote and debate any GOP effort to censure her at a meeting next month, according to the state party chairman Thursday.
The decision from members of the Maine GOP to issue a letter rather than formally censure Collins – as some Republican state parties have done to other GOP lawmakers who voted in favor of Trump’s impeachment or conviction – could be a sign that Maine Republicans cannot afford to alienate Collins, who is the only GOP federal office holder in New England.
Collins, 68, isn’t up for reelection until 2026, but her 2020 race against Democratic challenger Sara Gideon was highly competitive.
In their letter condemning Collins’ vote, the members of the committee said they “appreciate all the work” Collins does as a senator and for the Maine Republican Party, adding, “We know that you understand the electoral challenges that our party faces.”
“We want to continue to work with you to help expand upon this electoral success and replicate it in other races in Maine and across New England,” they wrote.
In her response, Collins noted her status as the only Republican in Congress from New England and the rarity of her ability to carry a state won by the opposite party’s presidential nominee. President Joe Biden won Maine in 2020, at the same time Collins won reelection. Acknowledging that “other races in Maine did not go as well,” Collins also said, “Now would be a good time for us to consider how we can improve our performance in the 2022 and 2024 cycles,” before encouraging the state party to be engaged in an upcoming special election in a state Senate district.
CNN affiliate WMTW reported that the chairs of the state’s 16 GOP county committees had met virtually Monday night to discuss censure and possibly scheduling a state party meeting to consider the option.
On Tuesday, responding to the threats of censure, Collins told local station WGME that she is “not surprised given what has happened in other states” but that the “Maine Republican party has generally embraced a big tent philosophy.”
Maine GOP Executive Director Jason Savage on Wednesday argued that it’s only public discourse between Collins, whom he called an “independent thinker,” and the state committee “advocating for what they believe is right.”
“I have, in my time here, have largely been able to keep that type of disagreement behind closed doors. In this case, it’s not,” Savage said during a radio interview Wednesday with WGAN Newsradio. “But I believe that at least the dialogue is respectful. It’s about this vote and about a disagreement on a vote.” Savage did not response to CNN’s multiple requests for comment.
In their letter Wednesday, the members of the committee said they had met with Collins prior to the impeachment trial, when they “expressed their view that the trial was unconstitutional because President Trump was no longer in office.” They also argued that the impeachment was “politically motivated” by Democrats.
In a speech on the Senate floor explaining her vote Saturday, Collins said that Trump’s “actions to interfere with the peaceful transition of power – the hallmark of our Constitution and our American democracy – were an abuse of power and constitute grounds for conviction.”
CNN’s Ali Zaslav and Clare Foran contributed to this report.