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. Mark

    Sad to see so many go so fast.

    February 29, 2012 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  2. Valorie

    Snowe is a politician who did her job of passing legislation for We, the People, and has fulfilled her obligations completely. I don't blame her for leaving. How would you like to go to work and deal with "junior high" drama constantly?

    February 29, 2012 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  3. Daph1

    Olympia is all class. In Maine, she is liked and supported by Republicans, Democrats and Independents. She, like Bill Cohen are people that look at the big picture when addressing the issues at hand. She will be sorely missed by all the people in Maine. I wish her well in future endeavours.

    February 29, 2012 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
  4. Rexdogcanadien

    Listen to your self:
    what one believes about self, others and the world in which we live, shapes his/her attitude, guides his/her behavior and directs his/her action towards others and the environment. Are the comments posted here a reflection of your core values? If you have nothing good to say, listen and learn.

    February 29, 2012 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  5. Texas voter

    We need more people like her representing. Country and community first, not political party first.

    February 29, 2012 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  6. steve

    The reason there is so much partisanship is because of Reid and Pelosi

    February 29, 2012 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  7. Jeremy

    Everyone who says "Maine is a blue state" makes VAST over-simplifications (including the national media). Maine tends to strongly favor moderates and independents and we have races like recently where a pro-choice Republican was running against a strongly pro-life Democrat. How can you honestly call Maine "blue state" when our gubernatorial election was a close race between the Republican and the Independent with the Democratic candidate barely getting 20 percent of the vote.

    February 29, 2012 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  8. dreucalypt

    Everything Senator Snowe says about the Senate is so, but that's why it's the extremists and not Senator Snowe who should be stepping down.

    February 29, 2012 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  9. Matt B

    Olympia Snowe was one of the few Republicans I still felt comfortable voting for (along with her colleague Susan Collins). I'm a moderate independent, but as the moderates in the Republican Party keep dwindling, I feel like I'm becoming a Democrat by default. There simply isn't any other viable choice.

    February 29, 2012 09:43 pm at 9:43 pm |
  10. Joe The Plumber

    She is what a senator should be – a class act that shames the idealogues.

    February 29, 2012 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  11. Hammerer's Mom

    Hammerer is a perfect example of why she left. Grammar skills of a 6th grader and right of Attila the Hun.

    February 29, 2012 09:52 pm at 9:52 pm |
  12. David

    I always wanted her to run for president. I am very sad to see her leave but she is making a very good point.

    February 29, 2012 09:53 pm at 9:53 pm |
  13. DAT

    Olympia Snowe is a R.I.N.O., which is an acronym for Not an Extreme Rightwing Wacko.

    February 29, 2012 09:57 pm at 9:57 pm |
  14. Charuz

    If it were not that most of those retiring have also reached the stage in their life where they have more than earned it, I would say that the conservative right has won in pushing people out. I just hope that those running to replace the seat can beat the conservatives who will try to take it over. Yes, take it over and not win it.

    February 29, 2012 09:58 pm at 9:58 pm |
  15. Maltese Falcon

    You need a Democratic majority to keep the Budget Kuttah in cheque.

    February 29, 2012 10:01 pm at 10:01 pm |
  16. nolimits3333

    Hopefully Maine will elect a Democrat, and the country can move forward.

    February 29, 2012 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
  17. cnjman

    Another RINO bites the dust. Maybe a real Republican can be elected to represent Maine instead of Snowe who is a Democrat in Republican clothing.

    February 29, 2012 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
  18. Rhonda

    I have wanted her for President since before Obama got elected. Olympia, please run!

    February 29, 2012 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
  19. Debbie

    As Senator Snowe leaves the Senate many centrist Republicans will and have too. I am one of them. I was a Republican for 35 years. The party left behind its platform of a small strong central government in favor of an inflated government, inflated deficit, corporatism over constituents. I am now an Independent. I wish Senator Snowe the very best.

    February 29, 2012 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
  20. Joe G

    It's time to spend all of the Taxpayers money.

    February 29, 2012 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
  21. Emerson

    @ Hammerer
    "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 always helps to read the entire article.

    February 29, 2012 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  22. MaryM

    Hammer, you would not know a moderate repub if it came up a bit you on the butt. Good luck getting a repub to replace her in Maine

    February 29, 2012 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  23. ChrisG

    The GOP/TP have moved so far to the right they need binocculars to see the middle and then they call it the far left.
    You will be missed Sen Snowe.

    February 29, 2012 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  24. Peter Retzter

    dysfunctional America all started with FOX NEWS... main reason why nothing can't get done.

    February 29, 2012 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  25. snowey

    Olimpices / votes / will bring back ecomey / did in atl when i was there Rita ido have a brick and my children with there names on it .

    February 29, 2012 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
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