Retiring Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe took her “Senate doesn’t work” farewell tour to Connecticut on Wednesday, lambasting her soon-to-be former colleagues for what she called their unwillingness to compromise.
“Every day in the United States Senate, we address each other as ‘my good friend’ or ‘my esteemed colleague’ — and that’s a worthy practice,” the Maine Republican told an audience at the Ferguson Library in Stamford, Conn. “And yet, for all of these apparent niceties, we have still proceeded to become the least productive Congress since 1947.”
“Clearly, then, we are missing what is the second key component to civility in politics — and that is a willingness to listen to and work with those with whom we disagree, and to respect differing views,” Snowe said.
Snowe surprised colleagues with her February announcement that she was retiring, saying in effect that she had enough of partisan battles. The move transformed what was perceived as a safe Republican seat into a golden opportunity for Democrats. Since that time, former Gov. Angus King has emerged as the frontrunner for the seat. King, an independent, is widely expected to caucus with Democrats if elected.
Snowe has said on multiple occasions that last year’s debt limit debate was among the most frustrating of her career because, in her view, the standoff was easily avoided.
“This is the kind of poisonous political atmosphere that produced legislative and financial brinkmanship at its worst last year, in the manner in which we handled the monumental issue of the debt ceiling issue,” Snowe said today. “We could have avoided the debacle if we had begun working together to negotiate at the beginning of the year, in January, instead of deferring until the eleventh hour in August.”
Throughout her career, Snowe has consistently been among the most likely GOP Senators to side with Democrats. But she has also frustrated some efforts by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on procedural grounds. For instance, she voted against limiting debate on a small-business investment bill, arguing that Republicans did not have an adequate chance to offer amendments.
On the Finance Committee, Snowe voted in favor of the panel’s draft version of the health care overhaul. She eventually opposed the bill that was considered on the floor.
“We hear constantly that those who are in charge of the process don’t want to subject their Members to potentially politically difficult votes,” Snowe said. “So instead of focusing on issues as the Senate was uniquely established to do, we’ve become more like a parliamentary system where we simply vote in political blocks.”
Snowe used the Stamford speech as an opportunity to promote her new work on the board of the National Institute for Civil Discourse, a project established at the University of Arizona after the January 2011 shooting that seriously wounded then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and left six others dead.
Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) and Snowe announced last week that they would join the group’s board. Lugar is retiring after losing a GOP primary to State Treasurer Richard Mourdock.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.