Updated 1:39 p.m. | Neither snow nor rain nor broken ankles can stop Susan Collins from making it to work.
Tuesday brings a new milestone: The first roll call vote of the day was the 7,000th in a row for the Republican from Maine, who takes pride in having never missed a vote since arriving in the Senate back in 1997.
“Mainers are known for their work ethic and diligence, and by showing up for every vote, I hope that I am carrying out that Maine tradition,” she said in an interview on Monday.
After casting the vote, colleagues from both sides of the aisle commended Collins on the achievement. Perhaps none was more touching than fellow Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.
“To have made 7,000 consecutive votes is an extraordinary achievement, particularly given the logistics of this place, the logistics of getting back-and-forth to Maine,” King said.
Then, King recalled that legendary Maine Sen. Margaret Chase Smith also had a consecutive vote streak until missing votes due to surgery. She was known for wearing a red rose.
“I’d like to conclude my remarks by taking a red rose to Sen. Collins to recognize her following in the footsteps of her illustrious predecessor,” King said, reaching into his desk where he had placed a flower.
The Collins streak has survived some well-documented close calls. Her colleagues agreed not to vote on the day of her father’s funeral in March last year, for instance.
One time, the senator was already on the runway waiting for takeoff when the floor schedule changed. She got off the plane.
And then there was the day she fell on the ice at home in Bangor in December 2016.
“I realize that I’ve been fortunate. One Christmastime I had to get surgery on a badly broken ankle, but we were out of session, so I didn’t miss any votes,” Collins said.
During Maine winters, when the threat of snow hangs over airports, Collins builds in extra time to get back to Washington, D.C.
Perhaps the closest call came in 2008, when she was about as close to the Senate chamber as possible: She was in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
“I was at a markup on the Homeland Security Committee, and I just started getting nervous about it and told Joe Lieberman that I was going to go vote even though we weren’t quite finished,” she explained. “The rest of the members stayed. I actually, though I didn’t know it at the time, broke my ankle — the other ankle — on the way to that vote. I thought I’d just badly twisted it.”
Other members of the committee ended up frustrated because they did in fact miss the vote, Collins recalled. Meanwhile, she arrived to find Republican floor staff telling her to hustle and just barely made it into the chamber before the gavel fell.
While Collins has the longest perfect attendance record from the start of Senate service, GOP Sen. Charles E. Grassley actually has a longer active streak. The president pro tempore last missed floor votes in 1993, during flooding in his home state of Iowa.
“We do have a longstanding joking rivalry about it. He has a longer streak going than I do, but I often remind him that he missed some early in his Senate tenure,” Collins said. “It’s a lighthearted rivalry that we have.”
Collins is slowly chipping away at the consecutive vote record of the late Democratic Sen. William Proxmire of Wisconsin, though after the scheduled vote at noon on Tuesday, she will still have 3,252 to go to catch up.
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