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Will the Human Rights Campaign endorse Susan Collins?
The nation's largest LGBTQ group has been silent, while Planned Parenthood and other groups fighting for justice are working to defeat the Maine Republican.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest LGBTQ rights group, yesterday endorsed presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who as vice president under Barack Obama championed LGBTQ rights.
It was a no-brainer, of course, as President Donald Trump has rolled back rights for LGBTQ people in dangerous ways, more than any president in history, continually bowing to religious extremists.
It would also be a no-brainer for HRC to endorse the Democratic opponent of Republican senator Susan Collins of Maine. Two of the other most prominent progressive groups that formerly supported Collins, Planned Parenthood and the League of Conservation Voters, have in fact dumped the Maine senator and put their support behind her challenger, Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives Sara Gideon, who is committed to progressive causes, including full equality.
But so far, HRC has has remained oddly loyal to Collins.
The Maine senator backed “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal in 2010, and has supported pro-choice and environmental measures, earning the endorsements of HRC and other progressive groups as well as the label of GOP “moderate” in the media. But that label was always overblown, as Collins has consistently been there for hard-right votes the GOP leadership demanded. She refused to support marriage equality when it was on the ballot in Maine in 2009 (and lost) and in 2012 (when it won). In fact, she didn’t come out for marriage equality until after HRC endorsed her in 2014.
It’s true that Collins voted for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees, Elena Kagan and Sonja Sotomayor, who have upheld LGBTQ equality and civil rights. And she bucked her party in earlier years of her Senate career, sometimes on half or more of her votes.
But that was then.
In 2017, the first year of Trump’s presidency, the so-called moderate Collins voted with the Republican Party more than in any other year in her entire career, backing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump 87% of the time. (For comparison, in 2007, under George W. Bush’s presidency, she voted with the GOP only 50% of the time.)
Collins has voted for dozens of anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice federal judges nominated by Trump. That includes Kyle Duncan, confirmed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, who wrote the amicus brief for Louisiana and 14 other states to uphold same-sex marriage bans and fought to uphold transgender bathroom restrictions. It includes backing Steve Grasz for the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, who received a unanimous “unqualified” rating from the American Bar Association. He’d called Roe v. Wade “moral bankruptcy” and sat on the board of a group that promotes “conversion therapy” for LGBTQ minors.
And of course there was her critical vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. It was a stunning blow, changing the balance of the high court in replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy, who defended abortion rights and wrote the majority opinion in the landmark Obergefell marriage equality decision in 2015. Collins even gave an hour-long floor speech that not only soft-pedaled Kavanaugh’s hostile record as an appeals court judge; she dismissed a credible allegation of rape by Christine Blasey Ford and sloughed off an FBI investigation of the allegation.
And yet, HRC hasn’t followed up those words with actions.
The League of Conservation Voters, which endorsed Collins twice before, dropped her last November, announcing its backing of Gideon. Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which backed Collins in the past, endorsed Gideon this past January, as did its Maine affiliate. Last month the group released a video ad charging that Collins “turned her back on Maine.”
HRC may be buying into a fantasy that if Trump were to win re-election he might in a second term reverse himself and support the Equality Act, the broad LGBTQ anti-discrimination bill which passed the House earlier this year but can’t get a vote in the Senate from McConnell — and which Trump has fervently opposed. Collins is a co-sponsor — the only Republican — on the Senate bill.
But a vote on the Equality Act while the Republicans Party, which is more hostile than ever before to LGBTQ rights, controls the Senate, is about as likely as a meteor striking earth.
The only way the Equality Act will get a vote, get passed and be signed into law is if Democrats control the House, the Senate and the presidency. And that’s a very real possibility come this fall. Winning the Senate, however, isn’t going to be easy for Democrats. But the path definitely runs right through Maine and Susan Collins.
Collins’ votes for Trump-appointed anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice federal judges and for Kavanaugh — who was a key figure inside Bush’s White House when he crafted a bigoted federal marriage amendment in 2004 — not only violates HRC’s commitment to candidates who further LGBTQ rights; it violates HRC’s entire endorsement process, which takes into account a candidate’s impact on abortion rights, an issue many women in the LGBTQ community for many years have worked hard to show is interconnected and non-negotiable.
LGBTQ people across the country see the Maine Republican senator as having betrayed them. It’s time that HRC, which professes to represent them in Washington, take leadership on this rather than sit on the sidelines or, worse yet, become an apologist for Susan Collins.