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Susan Collins was a more reliable vote for GOP in 2017 than any other year

Updated 10:41 AM ET, Wed July 11, 2018

(CNN) - Maine Sen. Susan Collins has built a reputation as a maverick. She burnished those credentials by being one of three Republicans to vote against the Republican health care plan (that sought to replace Obamacare) in 2017.

Democrats are hoping Collins will defy her party once again and vote against President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. With Sen. John McCain seemingly on the sideline, one Republican "no" vote could sink Trump's Supreme Court nominee.

But a Collins "no" vote on Trump's nominee is not something Democrats should bet on. She's never voted against a Supreme Court nominee of either party. Further, Collins is a Republican, and the person nominating Kavanaugh is a Republican. That's normally a recipe for a vote for confirmation to the Supreme Court.

Even worse for Democrats' hopes, Collins was a more reliable vote for her party last year than in any other year she's been a senator.

Back in 2017, I wrote a piece about how Collins was the "Real Republican Maverick". According to Congressional Quarterly, Collins had voted with her party on party-line votes (ones in which at least half the Democrats voted one way and half the Republicans voted another) just 59% of the time between 1997 and 2016. The average senator during that stretch had voted with their party about 90% of the time.

In 2017, though, Collins voted with her party a significantly higher 87% of the time on party-line votes. That was by far the highest in her career. It still made her the Republican senator most likely to cross the aisle, but it also moved her significantly closer to how often the average Republican senator voted with their party on party-line votes (96% in 2017). Collins voted for the Republican tax plan and, perhaps most significantly, for Neil Gorsuch's confirmation to the Supreme Court.

Part of Collins more party-centric voting record is because of the growing polarization in the Senate. Moderate Democratic senators like Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Manchin all voted with their party more in 2017 than they had in 2016.

Yet, mere polarization doesn't seem to be the only cause of Collins' more party-line voting record. Donnelly, Heitkamp and Manchin all still managed to vote with their party less than 75% of the time in 2017 compared with Collins' 87%.

With Republicans in control of all the branches of government for the first time since 2006, Collins has seemed intent on helping Republicans pass their agenda.

That's likely to come in handy for Trump and the Republican Senate when it comes to confirming Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Members of the president's party rarely vote against nominees to the Supreme Court. Since (and including) the contentious Robert Bork nomination in 1987, this has occurred just 10 times in 565 chances. No Republicans voted against Gorsuch last year.

A look at the 10 times senators voted against their party's nominees reveals a clear pattern: they often buck their party.

All but one voted with their party 59% of the time or less in the Congress during which the Supreme Court confirmation vote was held. That's at least 28 percentage points less often than Collins voted with her party in 2017. Only Sen. John Warner, who voted against Bork, came anywhere close to Collins' record and he still voted with his party 9 points less of the time (78%) in the 100th Congress than Collins did in 2017.

Now, the past isn't always prologue when it comes to voting. Last year may have just been a fluke for Collins. If Collins cast her Supreme Court nomination vote in 2018 in a way consistent with her entire career and not just during this Congress, her chance of voting against Trump's nominee go up considerably.

But a Collins "no" vote on Trump's nominee is not something Democrats should bet on. She's never voted against a Supreme Court nominee of either party. Further, Collins is a Republican, and the person nominating Kavanaugh is a Republican. That's normally a recipe for a vote for confirmation to the Supreme Court.


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