Former Trump administration officials have finally opened up about their strategy to secure Sen. Susan Collins’s (R-Maine) vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in 2018, and said strategy will probably not surprise you all that much.
“The thinking from Trump … and everybody else who worked to make this happen was that, as long as his nominees didn’t say anything stupid [on abortion] and let the Susan Collins-es of the world think what they needed to think and hear what they needed to hear, then it would get done,” one of the unnamed Trump administration officials told the Rolling Stone in a new report.
Per the report, which comes one month after the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion reversing Roe v. Wade, the White House and Kavanaugh allies advised that, rather than mount a pressure campaign for Collins’s vote, Kavanaugh should simply answer her questions about Roe with ambiguities. Collins, they correctly believed, “would get to a ‘yes’ on her own, assuming she got just the right verbal responses she wanted.”
In October 2018, much of the public saw Collins as a deciding vote who could possibly block Kavanaugh’s confirmation. But the Rolling Stone report blows this poorly aged, liberal pipe-dream wide open for the delusional, feel-good “Resistance” porn it truly was: Trump officials told the magazine there was never any real concern that Collins would oppose Kavanaugh. Even back in 2018, HuffPost reported that Kavanaugh was on a list of nominees pre-approved by Collins, though her office denied this at the time. And on top of all of that, Trump had spent the campaign trail promising to immediately overturn Roe; he picked his nominees only with approval from the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group with an anti-abortion litmus test. Kavanaugh, like Justice Gorsuch before him, had an anti-abortion voting record on the DC Circuit Court, and had praised Justice William Rehnquist for voting against Roe in 1973.
Throughout the Rolling Stone report, the Trump officials’ comments are laden with smugness about their success in ostensibly duping the Maine Senator, who’s served in the Senate for 25 years. But was Collins really duped—or did she simply choose not to care about the pregnant people, and particularly poor, pregnant people of color, who would be utterly screwed over by Kavanaugh’s confirmation? Collins has always publicly identified as “pro-choice,” in the same way I could identify myself as a toaster or neurosurgeon, and bees can be identified as fish—it’s literally just words. When the draft opinion reversing Roe with votes from Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh (both approved by Collins) was leaked, Collins claimed to be outraged—but she’s still gone on to repeatedly reject the Women’s Health Protection Act, even as it’s clear Roe is literally on its last legs. So, no, I wouldn’t exactly call Colins “pro-choice,” and I certainly wouldn’t call the longest-serving Senator for Maine a hapless victim of deception.
While the Trump officials who spoke to Rolling Stone certainly seem proud that their “strategy” worked, they also rightly point out how easy it would have been for Collins, or any “pro-choice” Senator, really, to see through Kavanaugh’s vague bullshit if she had truly cared. “Everyone in the room knew that when a [Trump] nominee says something about ‘precedent’ [regarding Roe], pro-lifers know what that really means,” a Trump official told the magazine. “If [Collins or anyone] wanted to interpret that differently, that’s their choice.”
Throughout Kavanaugh’s hearings as well as his meetings with Senators like Collins, he reportedly knew that “saying [Roe] was long-standing precedent didn’t mean it couldn’t get overturned at some point,” and that he simply had to “demonstrate knowledge about the law, but not tip [his] hand about [his] opinions about a specific case or issue.” And apparently, these meaningless little platitudes were enough for Collins to vote to confirm him for a lifetime appointment.
In response to the report, and specifically, its details about how Trump officials often referred to Collins as being easily swayed not unlike a “cheap date,” Collins’s office told the magazine this “kind of sexist language is abhorrent.” Indeed, that is the real sexist crisis America faces at this time: misogynistic one-liners from known misogynists with whom Collins chose to align herself—as opposed to, say, the Supreme Court’s impending relegation of women and pregnant people to state-controlled incubators, thanks to Collins’s voting record. The statement from Collins’s office also claims the Senator “considered the Kavanaugh nomination with a rigorous review process and an open mind,” and “any allegation to the contrary is false”—sure, Jan.
In conclusion, however surprised and disappointed Collins claimed to be following the leaked draft opinion, and however surprised and disappointed she’ll act when Roe is formally overturned, the truth was always right in front of her, as it has been right in front of all of us. To suggest Collins was deceived gives her too much moral credit and denies her agency in the crisis she’s helped to create.
But I wouldn’t want to give her unearned intellectual credit, either. I would say her vote for Kavanaugh came from a potent mix of stupidity and total apathy toward the fates of women and pregnant people. Congrats to Maine, I guess, for continually reelecting her.