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In a steamy church after a week of record-high temperatures in Washington, D.C., Sen. Susan Collins sat quietly during Sunday Mass on Capitol Hill. She was back in town from Maine early, a habit she’s acquired over her more than 15 years in Congress, during which she has cast more than 5,000 votes without missing a single one.
Leaving a crisp Maine summer for sweltering Washington might not make much sense to most people. But Collins has gone to great lengths to protect her unblemished record, just like many others in the history of Congress. It’s a passion that harkens to the core of what many see as the pivotal role of a Member: represent the will of constituents through legislative action.
Even in a time when a Twitter snippet can draw more attention than a presidential summit, voting records still resonate in news reports and campaign materials.
“While I recognize that not every vote is a critical vote, at this time when the public’s confidence in Congress is so low, casting every single vote sends a strong signal to one’s constituents of dedication to the job and to respect for the high privilege that we have been given,” Collins said in an interview minutes before casting her 5,000th vote this week, a “nay” on a motion to kill an amendment to a small-business tax relief bill.
Collins does not hold the record for consecutive votes in the Senate — that mark belongs to the late Democrat William Proxmire (Wis.), who cast 10,252 votes from April 20, 1966, to Oct. 18, 1988. Among current Senators, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) bests Collins with 6,448 after Thursday’s votes.
Collins says she didn’t start out to establish a record. But she realized early in her career that she had not missed any votes, which reminded her of one of her idols, legendary Maine Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican who responded to 2,941 consecutive roll calls before being sidelined by hip surgery in 1968.
Ironically, one of the times Collins nearly missed a roll-call vote was when she was actually in the Capitol complex. In 2008, during a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee markup, Senate leadership called a floor vote.
Collins, the panel’s ranking member, ran out of the markup early, dashing from a Senate office building to the Capitol and twisting her ankle in the process. She answered that roll call shortly before the gavel fell to close the vote.
“I said to Sen. Joe Lieberman, ‘Joe you finish up without me, I just have to go. I just don’t trust that the vote is not going to close,’” Collins said with a laugh.