February 29th, 2012
05:04 PM ET
11 years ago

Snowe explains decision to leave, defends tough criticism of Senate

Washington (CNN) - A day after she shocked her colleagues and constituents by announcing her retirement, moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine explained her decision and defended tough criticism she leveled at her colleagues when she announced why she would leave the Senate.

"People are just stunned by the debilitating partisanship, polarization and the overall dysfunction of the institution and political paralysis as we come, you know, to the point of extreme when it comes to resolving the problems facing our country," a frustrated Snowe told CNN Wednesday. "It's become an all or nothing proposition and that failure has eroded the public's confidence about the direction of this country and about governing institutions to be at the front lines of solving these problems."

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Known as a pragmatic centrist comfortable working both sides of the aisle, Snowe is now one of six moderates leaving the Senate this year. The exodus will leave the narrowly divided and partisan chamber with just a handful of senators who regularly appear willing to vote with the other side.

"The tragedy here is that everybody I know who comes to the United States Senate, comes to get something done. And that's the real reason they come here," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Connecticut, who is one of those moderates retiring this year. "And yet people are sort of pulled apart by this process and end up in warring camps, a kind of perpetual partisan tug of war which forgets the people who were good enough to send us here and the country that we pledged ourselves when we took our oath to support. You know, I hope people listen to the words Olympia Snowe spoke yesterday and that particularly members of the Senate respond."

"I think she lost hope," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, who like Snowe and Lieberman in 2005 was part of the Senate's so-called Gang of 14, which helped avoid a shutdown of the chamber over a nasty fight about filibustering judicial nominees.

"You know all of us need to believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel. If you lose that belief why do you spend seven years of your life – which in her case would have been her commitment – to do something that there seems no hope," Graham said.

One defining issue for Snowe was the fight over passing President Barack Obama's signature health care reform legislation. Democrats tried desperately to get Snowe and a few other Republicans to back the measure. While Snowe did vote in committee for an early version of the bill, in the end, none of the Republicans supported it and a major law was passed with only Democratic votes.

"It wasn't a good example of how mega legislation should be handled," Snowe said. "As I noted in my speech at the time, Social Security, Medicare, civil rights, welfare reform, all were passed with wide bipartisan margins in both the House and the Senate. That really is, I think, a great example of the levels of governance we should aspire to in the United States Senate. Rather, it's been the opposite. It's the lowest common denominator."

Snowe also challenged Republican presidents.

For instance, she was a thorn in the side of former President George W. Bush's administration when she regularly questioned its Iraq war policy and pushed to withdraw troops.

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Citing partisanship, Snowe stuns with departure news

Filed under: 2012 • Maine • Olympia Snowe • Senate
soundoff (188 Responses)
  1. Marie MD

    I have always like Snowe. She is part of the old political folks who cared more about their constituents than norquist or beck or limberger telling them what to do.

    March 1, 2012 07:04 am at 7:04 am |
  2. Jim

    Why all the blaming of the GOP? Snowe specifically cites Obamacare – where she was stabbed in the back by 'deemed to pass'. She also site the Iraq War vote, but that was passed by a Dem senate. Harry Reid and Obama have run the senate with an iron fist, my way or the highway attitude – they even said it" "Republicans got to sit in the back", "we won", "elections matter".

    March 1, 2012 07:07 am at 7:07 am |
  3. stephen

    She frankly moved with the wind with respects to legislation and NOT with respects to her principles. The fact is that she was a 'big government' Senator who was to be 'primaried' this season where she would probably lose.

    March 1, 2012 07:16 am at 7:16 am |
  4. TSRVT

    With this announcement, the road to extinction of the GOP is nearly complete. They honestly are not bright enough to realize that as the strive for ideological cleaning of their ranks, they are at best becoming a permanent minority party. Intelligent people will not vote for extremists. Period. They are now the Santorum/Engel/Allen West party. American voters are smart enough to shun these wackos. Jim Jeffords was smart enough to distance himself from these far-right lunatics several years ago. As he wrote in his book, he didn't leave the Republican Party, the Republican Party left him. They have done the same to any moderate voice in their ranks, and will pay a very heavy price for their dramatic and vile shift toward theocratic right wing insanity.

    Thank you, Senator Snowe, for your service to your country rather than to your party.

    March 1, 2012 07:18 am at 7:18 am |
  5. Ruben

    Snowe's plans and those of other senators who also plan to leave the senate, are indeed very unfortunate. These individuals provide and demonstrate a more balanced approach to governing our country. As a nation we need them to stay in the Senate and model the collaboration that can get things done.

    March 1, 2012 07:23 am at 7:23 am |

    "...with just a handful of senators who regularly appear willing to vote with the other side." Unfortunately they should all be willing to vote with the other side when it comes to doing what's best for the country as a whole. But, they would rather just dig their heels in and say to the other side, "you're wrong and I'm right."

    March 1, 2012 07:23 am at 7:23 am |
  7. megin

    Good, let the younger people in, now we finally will get partisanship. They are all baby boomers with old ways. They have to be the worst generation in history. I hope they all retire. All they do is play games and bicker blocking progress and compromise.

    March 1, 2012 07:24 am at 7:24 am |

    @Hammerer: Unlike you, she was willing to listen to both sides of an argument and do what she thought was best for the majority of the people who would be affected by the issues. She had an open mind, something that is becoming more rare in this country.

    March 1, 2012 07:26 am at 7:26 am |
  9. longtooth

    It's beginning to look like a democrat majority in the House, the Senate, and the White House. Oh, well, they still have the Supreme Court.

    March 1, 2012 07:34 am at 7:34 am |
  10. Jules

    So the GOP loses another sane voice. Best wishes to her and her future – super lady even to us Dems.

    March 1, 2012 07:36 am at 7:36 am |
  11. Core Republican Values

    She was courageous about Iraq, but ultimately cowardly about healthcare. She did everything wrong about healthcare, voted wrong, alientated republicans by caring about people, and Democrats by voting the wrong way.

    Since most senators "serve" to meet their own needs, it must have been clear to Ms. Snowe that she had no chance of being elected by the modern, morally bankrupt republican party.

    March 1, 2012 07:40 am at 7:40 am |
  12. Greg

    What a shame. A good politician, but how can you blame her? I have lost complete faith in our elected rich people. We need a reboot...

    March 1, 2012 07:43 am at 7:43 am |
  13. The Masked Badger

    Olympia Snowe represented the ideals of what a senator should be. She was willing to work with anyone in order to adress problems facing the country, and she did so not for the republican or democratic party, she did so for the people of the United States. It's a shame that the senate is losing someone like her, because frankly the senate needs a lot more people like Sen. Snowe. Honestly, when the republicans were looking for people to run as a presidential candidate, they should have considered her. That whole party would have been reworked into something less extreme and politically blood thirsty.

    March 1, 2012 07:44 am at 7:44 am |
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