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. 1doctor

    Snowe's announcement. Santorum's attack on women's health. Romney, et al joining in to see how far to the right they had to go to appease the far wing of our party. Santorum's insane comments about getting a college education.

    Independents are running as fast as they can from our party. What are we doing???? This is CRAZY!!! Who amoung us who is social moderate (a nasty word), has progressive views about science (Satanic according to Santorum), and believes in the separation of church and state will remain in the Republican party? As one who voted from Reagan...I am feeling more and more isolated in this party. Democrats are centrists now that our own party has moved so far to the Right. A SAD, SAD day time. With the independents running away so quickly, I am not only fearful that we loose the presidential election....I believe that the rhetoric of the far right which has found its way into our primary will have a terrible effect on races down the ballot. I fear we will loose seats (like Snowe's) in the Senate and House in November.

    February 29, 2012 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  2. aretiree

    Nice lady, more Democrat than Republican.

    February 29, 2012 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  3. aretiree

    I would like to learn what her retirement annuity will be and other benefits she will receive from us lowly taxpayers.

    February 29, 2012 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  4. Lee

    I love the comments here, its as if none of you read the article. She complained of PARTISANSHIP, and everyone of the posts sounds like a PARTISAN. Oh, it's all the Republicans part. Did you miss that part where she talked about having the Health Care plan shoved down everyones throat with not one vote from across the aisle because Democrats had the majority in both houses and knew they could do it without working across the aisle??????? People are sick and tired of BOTH Republican and Democrats. PERIOD!!!! And people like you who somehow blindly follow your party off of a cliff while blaming anyone and everyone except yourselves for jumping off of it. Wow, talk about not comprehending anything!!! So sick of political drivel. Not one of you can complain about partisanship here, because then you'd be a hypocrite!!!!! Enjoy the elections, I'm sure you'll get what you deserve in the end. A bunch of two faced lying politicians (Repubs and Democrats).

    February 29, 2012 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  5. Gale Day

    She understands perfectly well what is wrong with the country. The "my way or the highway" approach finds its roots in Newt Gengrich and Karl Rove in the 1990s. Senator Snowe has chosen the highway. I'm 100% with her.

    February 29, 2012 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  6. clarke

    I can't say I blame her, she speaks what most of feel. Why put up with it, she tried. Maybe one day they may all come around and do their jobs. If they can't work together for the good of country, then what is their purpose. I believe they all forgot why we pay them and I don't care what party they are. It is really disgusting. Such a power struggle, while they are playing tug of war our country is falling apart. Well I wish her well and she should enjoy yourself.

    February 29, 2012 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  7. Anonymous

    Hammerer: It's precisely because of people like you that she is leaving. You seem only to see things in black and white. Olympia Snow, unlike you, is adult enough to see that there are many sides to every issue and has the maturity to understand that they all need to be addressed. The only other time I have seen such absolutism outside Congress is in a first grade playground.

    February 29, 2012 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  8. QS

    If she was truly smart, and still interested in trying to get something done, as Lieberman implies is why she was there, she should just run for re-election in Maine as the democratic candidate!

    Or even as an independent like Bernie Sanders.

    Seriously, how much more is it going to take of conservative party failure, obstruction and right-wing extremism to open the eyes of the most blind of the conservative electorate? I wish I could believe that that electorate had a chance of having their eyes opened, but sadly I think they're proud of their ignorance and are so arrogant about their pride that they're willing to drag this country down just to prove that they can beat Obama.

    February 29, 2012 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    maine is true blue you republican know it you need to be scared

    February 29, 2012 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  10. Laurie

    Wish it just required a majority to get things done...the filibuster and the supermajority have killed the ability of the senate to function. Senator Snowe will be missed but I sure can't blame her....reasonableness gets you no where today.

    February 29, 2012 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  11. LadyVa

    I've always respected Snowe. A dem can appreciate a moderate that tries. However, the right only likes loonies these days so, good luck with independents in that frame of mind. Good Luck.

    February 29, 2012 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  12. J Bower

    @Truth and Nothing But the Truth, what America are you living in? The Republicans have blocked absolutely everything for the past two years. Even if Reid and the Senate had tried to get something done, it would never have passed the House. Senator Snowe was cut from the same mold as Ted Kennedy – at their core still politicians, but ones who honestly tried their best to do what was right for America. She was one of the last good Republicans in the Senate, and I am sad to see her left so drained. She is right – the extremists are killing America bit by bit.

    February 29, 2012 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  13. Edgar

    It should be clear to anyone why she left. I just hope they find someone wort-who am I kidding? They're gonna fill some nut in her spot. Our country is going south.

    February 29, 2012 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  14. dave hilt

    Olympia for President!

    February 29, 2012 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  15. Mainers will miss Snowe

    I am from Maine and am a registered Democrat. I have voted for Olympia in every election. She has provided Maine with such a service and she is well respected among both Republicans and Democrats. It's so frustrating that this is how our government has become–small minded and self-interested. I know Snowe has been hammered within her caucus, which is so wrong considering everything she has done for Maine and our country

    February 29, 2012 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  16. Pat , Maine

    Truth- are you from Maine? I really doubt it. I am and we are a blue state especially after the fiasco with our Governor
    Also have been watching your posts for awhile and you need to take a few happy pills.

    February 29, 2012 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  17. Randy

    She's a RINO. Good riddance!

    February 29, 2012 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  18. Sanity

    For those folks who do not know, Maine now has two GOP Senators and a GOP Governor; maybe we should have the fall Senate election and see what actually happens.

    February 29, 2012 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  19. iadadman

    Of course the problem comes from the fact that the pathetic press corps will never spell out who is to blame for this mess. They don't point to Norquist and Rove and the geniuses who gave us the "Never give and inch, never admit a mistake, divide and conquer," GOP. No no, they must be Fair and Balance everything equally between both sides, no matter what the facts are. THAT'S WHY IT WORKS. In a climate where you can lie and cheat and shut down the Congress and be assured that the press will hit the Democrats with it just as they hit the actual culprits, then it makes political sense to do it. That's why the GOP freshmen and GOP candidates are of the abysmal caliber they are.

    When the truth is only a matter of opinion, advantage goes to the liars.

    February 29, 2012 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  20. Patriot Awesome

    Very sad. Reasonable Republicans are becoming an endangered species. Good luck to you Ms. Snowe.

    February 29, 2012 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  21. lps

    I think her comments were meant for both parties. Good luck to her

    February 29, 2012 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  22. Jim

    Funny how so many on the board "knows" more about Snowe and her reasoning than Snowe does... She specifically has talked about the toxicity of the right and the left but oddly enough, posters here seem to be able "decipher" how it was one side or the other side that did her in.

    You guys made her point and didn't even realize it.

    February 29, 2012 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  23. babooph

    I hope she is not replaced by one of those witches they run...

    February 29, 2012 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  24. Rebel from Maine

    Senator Snowe had integrity which the Tea Party fools have not. The Tea Party is a fringe cult that neither understands cooperation or team work. We in Maine will elect another moderate Republican or Democrat or maybe even an Independent but any of them will cooperate across the isle. In Maine we have figured out that we need each other to survive. And no one gets all the "cookies" in the jar, .... compromise is the heart of any Democracy!

    February 29, 2012 08:16 pm at 8:16 pm |
  25. evensteven

    The latest casualty of Republican obstructionism . . .

    February 29, 2012 08:16 pm at 8:16 pm |
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