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. AK_steve

    Snowe was about the only good thing you could say about the GOP. Now the GOP is left with partisan, non-compromising, narrow-minded, party-before-people politicians.

    The senate is screwed.

    February 29, 2012 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  2. sparknut

    She'll be missed... a Republican who can still think is getting to be a rare find.

    February 29, 2012 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  3. scmaize

    She is an honorable person. The majority party cannot get anything accomplished when the minority party is dedicated to obstructionism, rather than serving the people. It doesn't matter anymore which party is the majority–the other party will stop them from accomplishing anything. They figure that frustrated voters will make them the majority next time. That said, Obama has been more willing to compromise than the Republican leaders he has to deal with.

    February 29, 2012 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  4. LarryD

    Maybe Harry Reid should allow votes on all those House Bills sitting on his desk, it would ease up some of the paralysis.

    February 29, 2012 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  5. Jon

    The most recent few comments on here are pretty interesting. The article points out a quote in which Sen. Snowe disapproved of the healthcare bill because it was only supported by democrats. She felt that this was not the correct way to pass major legislation. And somehow, the readers have interpreted that to mean that the Tea Party is the cause of her retirement. Perhaps the pot should stop calling the kettle black. Partisanship is a 2 way street my friends.

    February 29, 2012 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  6. Anonymous

    @Truth and Nothing But the Truth... The dems in the senate haven't done anything? to the extent that little has been done, it is because of the republicans in BOTH chambers. She talks about the partisonship but what it really is, is that the republican party is so far out of the mainstream these days, reasonable people like her do not fit. While there are 100 members in the Senate, because of the debate rules in the senate, it takes 60, not 51 votes to get anything done. Republicans will not let anything the Dems come up with go to the floor for a vote. And for the people keep saying the Dems had a filibuster proof senate the first two years of the Obama administration, that is not true. Franken's seat was held up in a recount and in the courts until that first summer all the while Kennedy was fighting cancer and passed away. His seat went to the republicans (Brown) in a special election. The dems only had 60 votes for a few months.

    February 29, 2012 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  7. galileo

    I am so afraid for our country. The moderates are being forced out. The radicals are twisting the meanings of what they and their opponents say. THere is a bill out there that will basically allow your boss to dicatate what types of medical procedures and meds are covered based on their religion or moral beliefs. The right is trying to sell it as protecting rights. Whose rights would that be. Certainly not the rights of the majority of americans. I am very worried. Is the field of repubs the best we as a country have to offer. God help us. The sith lords are in charge of the congress. Lieberman (oh yeah he's an independant) even looks like emperor palpatine (after the disfigurement) . All he needs is the cloak. You have Chris Christie as Jabba the hut, santorum as darth maul, romney as jango fett, need i go on. We are in serious trouble. I think we should sell Texas to Mexico to pay for wind mills that surround the whole country. We can put gun turrets on top of them to keep the citizens who want access to decent health care, birth control or clean air at bay.

    February 29, 2012 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  8. DaveC

    to Truth and Nothing but the Truth: While I personally believe that Harry Reid sometimes is part of the problem rather than part of the solution only a complete dolt could not see that the partisanship runs on both sides of the aisle. Even you have to admit that the the republican congress wasted a good deal of 2010 and 2011 pushing through useless social legislation that had absolutely nothing to do with the economy or job creation and had no hope of passing the senate. Was this what the republicans were elected to do? Of course not. They were elected to reign in spending, create jobs and mend the economy. That meant working with the democrats (it's called compromise).

    Hammerer has nothing good to say about Snowe. She voted for her constituents and not for the party. That made her unpopular. What a concept. Voting for what the people who elected you want you to vote for. Wow!

    February 29, 2012 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  9. Namejkane fl

    Hay hammer, I hope your health insurance is paid up, for all you know someday you might need what obamacare provides, we like it, you listen to republican propaganda like the rest of the sheep.

    February 29, 2012 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  10. Claudia, Phoenix, AZ

    Boehner's not a leader and those who aren't walking like Snowe, well they're walking all over Boehner because he's weak.

    February 29, 2012 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  11. bigbell

    short\ people are tryed like senator snowe

    February 29, 2012 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |

    Na Na Na Na Na Na good by. Seems the Tea was just to strong for her. The call her a moderate which means she will give the liberals anything they want. Those who wont stand for anything will fall for everything.

    February 29, 2012 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  13. T'sah from Virginia

    She will be missed and the Republicans better get braced – Because a Democrat will definitely take he place!!

    Democrats will rule in November – Vote all the way down on the Democrat side!

    Obama 2012 – The Only Trusted Way Forward!!

    February 29, 2012 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  14. 9corona

    Snowe who has never met/read a Democrat bill she didn't like is leaving. Snowe and the other woman from Maine who voted for ObamaCare and than applied for an exemption – for the whole state of Maine. Will she be donating her Obama kneepads to the Natural History museum?

    February 29, 2012 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  15. Tony in Maine

    @ Truth – HA! Maine isn't even purple. We have an anomaly for governor who is an embarrassment to all Mainers. He is NOT a signpost of anything except that third party spoilers work.

    Snowe remaining in the race would have guaranteed an (R) in the Senate. If Angus King jumps in it will be an (I).

    February 29, 2012 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  16. Name doodoo

    the ship is sinking, glad she got out ahead of the rats. pitty real leadership like her cant persevere over the crapy politicians. lieberman should just shut up and leave and stop trying to appear to be the good guy. stop jumping on the bandwagon joe...just leave quietly

    February 29, 2012 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  17. Janedb

    Hammerer, you have no concept of how democracy works. Even a Republican can be an independent person and Olympia Snowe served her state well for many years.

    February 29, 2012 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  18. Bimmy

    She's being too kind to her Republican colleagues. They are the reason she's leaving. I don't blame her for not wanting to associate with traitors.

    February 29, 2012 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  19. stars

    Mrs. Snowe your party used you big time. Ms. lindsey graham used you to you can make up for that now vote for what ever the president want and then god will forgive you for your screw up from the past. Good luck.

    February 29, 2012 09:07 pm at 9:07 pm |
  20. Tom

    Hey Senator! Why just give up? Why not do something about it? Stand on the steps of the Senate building like Boris Yeltsin at the Kremlin and give a speech denouncing both parties and calling for the election of independents at all levels of government. Take the other fed-up pols with you to form an organization dedicated to connecting independent candidates with donors who are also fed up. Help raise money for lawyers to fight restrictive campaign laws. Get these useless dinosaur political parties off our backs.

    February 29, 2012 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  21. zip

    Another victim of gutless Republican filth

    February 29, 2012 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  22. Tim

    Every time we lose an elected official from either side of the aisle who is willing to put the best interests of the nation ahead of political games, it is a huge loss for everyone, regardless of their political affiliation! As a nation, we would do better electing public officials who might disagree with us on certain issues or face us to make tough choices, but would prioritize achieving actual results to the daunting problems we face. The current climate of preferring to get nothing done rather than compromise is a sorry, lazy insult to what our founding fathers staked their lives for, and worked so hard to create. Unity has never just happened in our country and it never will happen on its own accord. Unity requires constant work and is extraordinarily difficult because it requires everyone to commit to a goal and a purpose that is larger than themselves. Rather than use this board to pound down an insult to someone with a different political affiliation, I challenge you to find a way to come together. If we as Americans can't do that, it doesn't matter whether we are lead by Democrats or Republicans, we will lose what it means to be Americans. Freedom as a tenant of our Constitution requires that we have unity. Without it, we have no hope of preserving the principals our country was founded on.

    February 29, 2012 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  23. dywlf

    Good Riddance!

    February 29, 2012 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  24. Fox

    Political paralysis is not a problem, but a blessing. It is a good day when our Congress does nothing.

    February 29, 2012 09:27 pm at 9:27 pm |
  25. David

    The moderates have been pushed out of both parties. Most Repubs are happy she is gone because they think she is a liberal.

    February 29, 2012 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
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