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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Filed under: 2012 • Maine • Olympia Snowe • Senate
soundoff (188 Responses)
  1. vic , nashville ,tn

    Sen. Olympia Snowe is a best senator, republicans, democrats and independents like her
    We will miss her

    She also become Tea party victim

    February 29, 2012 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  2. Linda

    She speaks the truth, to bad there aren't more in Washington like her. The Republicans have opposed this President from day one, they stonewalled and did everything in their power to run this President down to make him a one term president, instead of doing what is right and good for this country and for the people of this country, for our economy, for job creation, all the while blaming this President that everything is his fault. This will be their demize come November along with the current canidates that are killing each other and their party with their negative campaigning against each other and their constant lying about how bad this President has been when it has been their own party that has created this mess in the first place......what goes around comes around, or what you sow you reap......I wouldn't vote for any of these republican canidates no matter how bad the gas prices get or how slow this economy recovers......they don't care about us out here suffering, they have their money, their retirement is paid for by you and me, they have their health care even if they do away with our Healthcare......they are never satisfied until they have it all.....

    February 29, 2012 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  3. DumbasRocks [R]s

    You'd have to be a proud and drugged citizen of Limbaughville not to see that the no-compromise partisanship and dysfunction that Snowe complains about comes 95% from the Teatards and their willing [R] cohorts. And it all got its most significant start with Newt back in the 1990's, when he promoted the modern [R] approach to governing: no-holds-barred demonizing and egotistical no-compromising.

    Ever since, Newt the [R]s have been trying to install an idiocracy in America, and from 2001-2007 they got thier wish. See how that worked out for America? You have to have the debilitating 'stupid' gene to willingly vote for even more [R] FAILURE.

    Snowe is not leaving; her party left her many years ago. I'm surprised that she stuck it out for as long as she did. So say hello to the next [D] senator from Maine!

    February 29, 2012 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  4. DENNA

    Good luck Ms. Snowe. The Rethug Nation does not like moderates. It likes "God-of-hellfire" types. The conservatives made getting rid of Obama their only priority, which has drained this nation financially and emotionally. They have even arrogantly presented the worst field of candidates EVER in hopes of toppling the Obama Administration. All they have done is guarantee that Barack Obama will be our president for four more years, thank goodness! Obama/Biden 2012

    February 29, 2012 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  5. Truth and Nothing But the Truth

    Maine is going red these days. Should be a safe seat for the Republicans. Hopefully they have somebody lined up to run.

    February 29, 2012 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  6. Emmy Skaddittle

    The republican leadership played her like a B, they would have her negotiate with the democrats and then vote against the agreement they came up with. You have to love the party of no.

    February 29, 2012 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  7. Texas Doc

    Wow, who knew that the Tea Party was that dedicated to getiing Democrats elected to the senate. Keep dreaming GOP Maine is a Blue state.Good job guys. Keep it up.

    February 29, 2012 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  8. Bill

    Do not hold you breath that this will stay in GOP hands. And if the GOP does run somebody, it will be a Sharon Angle type lunatic who will be trounced in the general for being too extreme.

    February 29, 2012 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  9. Truth and Nothing But the Truth

    Harry Reid and the Democrats haven't done anything in the Senate for TWO YEARS. No budget passed in over 1,000 days and counting. Why should she waste her life sitting there and watch Reid stop the whole Senate from functioning? This is why the Democrats need to be removed from the Senate. They have been shutting everything down for 2 years and blaming it on others.

    February 29, 2012 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  10. vote the Tea Party OUT in 2012

    Sen Snowe represents the Republican party that I had respect for at a time, even VOTED for when I felt they had the better candidate. Too bad she is leaving but that should be a message to the ones pulling the party over the right wing cliff. Will they care ? Probably not, call her a RINO and say good riddance I would bet. The once proud party of Lincoln and Reagan just goes down another notch.

    February 29, 2012 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  11. 1crusader

    Olympia Snowe will be missed, I'm sure, in the Senate.I'm not from Maine, but I have seen her before on various programs ; and she seems a lot more reasonable than most of her GOP colleagues.

    February 29, 2012 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  12. Hammerer

    So What!
    She is a democrat vote from the republican party. She helped push obamacare ( guess she they gave her enough $$$$$ to retire) and every other bill that reid brought to the floor(by the way that has been ever few).
    No loss for America, can only improve the senate.

    February 29, 2012 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  13. judy

    one of the few moderets left. She will be missed. Nice to see a repo that puts the counrty first. But now all the repos will make nasty comments about her. Thats all they do folks. So much for co operation. Hope we can vote them all out so the president will have a group willing to work to get this country moving forward. We are tired of the gridlock comming from the repo party. Obama 2012

    February 29, 2012 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  14. Rod

    Guys, most of you must have been reading a different article than I read. She wasn't blasting her Republican colleagues. She was blasting her SENATE colleagues. Nowhere in her quoted remarks did she refer to the Republican party. There is just as much partisanship on the Democratic side of the aisle as there is on the Republican side of the aisle. To pass effective legislation, both parties must work together. If those of you making snarky remarks and calling the Republicans disparaging names will take an honest look at the House and the Senate, you'll see that the blatant, unmoving partisanship permeates both sides of the aisles in both legislative bodies.

    February 29, 2012 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  15. Al-NY,NY

    One of the last "thinking" Republicans. She's a RINO to teh lunatic fringe just because she dares to basically not spit in the face of democrats. They will nominate one of their "pure" candidates and watch them go down in flames

    February 29, 2012 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  16. vote the Tea Party OUT in 2012

    I read posts here from the far right supporters and I can see why Snowe wants to leave the senate. Imagine having to put up with such narrow minded attitudes day in day out. I would have left too.

    February 29, 2012 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  17. Rick

    Most Republicans nowadays thing compromise and cooperation are evil. Teapublicans think it's the Devil himself. American electoral democracy is spiraling down the toilet.

    February 29, 2012 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  18. gt

    most of the old , be there to long, cant get along with no body senators need to retire... and mark pryor in the back ground needs to go on a diet.... .

    February 29, 2012 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  19. Dee Smith

    I appreciate Ms. Snowes' commitment. I also appreciate the fact that she retires with a healthy pension, medical benefits and other goodies paid by taxpayers: you and me. I next expect to see Ms. Snowe making the big bucks as a commentator on CNN. Gotta love it...

    February 29, 2012 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  20. Brian K

    It is too bad she is leaving. She seemed like one of the few sane Republicans left. Thank you Snow for trying to be a moderate in your party of extremists.

    February 29, 2012 06:33 pm at 6:33 pm |
  21. Charlotte

    She was one of the few intelligent Republicans in office. She used her head, she actually gave things some thought rather than toeing the line just because it was a Partisan mandate. She didn't quiver in fear over offending the evil half of the GOP (the self-anointed "Christians" and self-anointed budget "hawks") and she stood up for ethics, morals, common sense and doing the right thing. Alas, losing her is just sending them farther to the right. Hopefully they are writing their own political obituaries by this race to the bottom they are engaging in. The majority of Americans will not tolerate it, whichever party they hold allegience to. A few will egg them on, and because this few is more vocal, they will think they are making a difference. In the end, they will lose.

    February 29, 2012 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  22. Michael Dunn

    Her voice of reason will be sorely missed in Legislative Debate. I wish her well, and thank her for her service to this country. Unfortunately she has become a victim of this partisanship or bust mentality that has permeated the legislative body. I am not from Maine, but could always count on her to invoke reason to the debate.....Thank You Olympia for your service!!!

    February 29, 2012 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  23. ryan

    It's sad that these moderates fail to realize that they are worsening the polarization problem by resigning. They will probably be replaced by far left or far right candidates, which means the country will be more polarized than ever. Instead, there should be a Middle Path party, or caucus, at least, of politicians with the brains and heart to vote how they feel is right.

    February 29, 2012 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  24. Nelson

    Very very sad news that NO moderate, thoughtful person can be in the Repub party any more.

    February 29, 2012 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  25. FedUp

    Who cares why she's leaving? I only care that she's leaving. Give someone a chance that deserves it. It didn't matter which party was in the White House. She kissed the boots of that party. What a power hungry woman.

    February 29, 2012 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
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