Even a global pandemic couldn’t stop Susan Collins from keeping up her perfect Senate attendance — a consecutive voting streak that’s stretched nearly a quarter-century.
The Maine Republican hit the 8,000-vote mark on Thursday afternoon, voting to confirm Elizabeth Prelogar to be U.S. solicitor general. Since her arrival in the chamber in 1997, Collins hasn’t missed a single vote.
“When I go talk to school children, and I’ve visited more than 200 schools in Maine, I always tell them about my voting streak,” Collins said in an interview Thursday before her milestone vote.
“I say, ‘That’s like going from kindergarten through your senior year of high school and never missing a day of school.’ And the kids, they inevitably go ‘wow,’ and the teachers, they always approvingly nod,” the senator said.
Collins had a “pretty good” attendance record during her own school years but said she’s sure she missed a few days due to normal childhood illnesses. She said her Senate voting streak is one way she tries to show her constituents in Maine that she’s working hard and they’re being represented on each and every vote.
“I would ask we all stay in the chamber and vote quickly so we can leave,” Schumer said, before walking over to shake her hand. “I know that’s a passion of Sen. Collins’.”
As she cast her 8,000th vote, cheers rang out in the chamber and her Senate colleagues showered her in confetti.
Collins’ first vote in the Senate was to confirm Madeleine Albright as President Bill Clinton’s secretary of State on Jan. 22, 1997. She then voted to confirm her Senate predecessor, Republican William S. Cohen, as Defense secretary.
Since the pandemic began, Collins has spent a lot of early mornings on the road in Maine trying to arrange her schedule around flight cancellations out of the airport near her Bangor home.
“I make it a point to go home virtually every weekend,” she said. “So there were times when I had to drive the two hours to Portland to catch a plane and had to leave earlier than I would have liked.”
Collins has had some close calls over the years when she almost missed a vote. Once she had to rush off an airplane before the door closed to get back for a vote.
Another time, she put her body on the line in a feat of athleticism, dashing out of a 2008 Homeland Security Committee markup for a floor vote.
That vote came during an election year when she was challenged by Democratic Rep. Tom Allen. At one point in the campaign, their voting records came up — Allen’s was not as perfect as hers.
“It turned out that [then-Majority Leader] Harry Reid was trying to break my streak,” Collins said. “I ran to the subway, and I had high heels on and I twisted my ankle. Little did I know at the time that I actually chipped a bone.”
But she made it with seconds to spare, she said. “The gavel was literally about to come down. And I called to have my vote just in time.”
Called the “Cal Ripken of the Senate” on Thursday by McConnell, Collins said she attributes her success to a great scheduling staff and the chamber’s Republican Cloakroom.
“If I’m running late, you can be sure that I will get calls from both the Cloakroom and my staff telling me that I need to get over to the floor,” she said. “Speaking of which, a vote has started, ironically, in the midst of this conversation.”
And she dashed off — getting to votes 7,996 through 7,999 on nominees during Thursday morning’s vote series.
She’s still a couple of thousand votes away from breaking the record for longest streak ever, held by Wisconsin Democrat William Proxmire, who voted 10,252 straight times between April 20, 1966, and Oct. 18, 1988.
But only eight sitting senators have served in the chamber longer than Collins, and her vote streak is currently the longest active one, according to the Senate Historian.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, who was first elected in 1980, had a good thing going until he was forced into self-quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 last year. The Iowa Republican cast 8,927 consecutive votes starting on July 14, 1993, and ending Nov. 16, 2020.
Collins said her heart went out to Grassley when his streak came to an end, but he did the right thing by quarantining.
“I admire his record. We each encourage the other and respect the other,” she said. “So it’s a little bit of competition, but not really.”