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. Conrack

    Without moderate voices in Congress the only way that things can go is to get worse. It is hard to believe that partisan politics has polarized the legislative process to the point that intelligent people who want to solve problems rather than spout rhetoric, pack up and go home. Someday maybe the American voters, who are predominantly mederates, will figure out how they are being manipulated and abused by special interests and will clean house (and Senate).

    February 29, 2012 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  2. tcaros

    Hopefully the dems will take her seat and help Obama pass his good legislation.

    I thank her for coming to her senses and helping us rid the Senate of rogue republicans out for personal gain.

    February 29, 2012 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  3. Mario

    If the Democrats waited for bipartisan support for Health Care Reform, it never would have happened. Democrats give the Republican party far too much when they should put their foot down and not tolerate the insane nonsense that the Republican party thrives on. Democrats try constantly to work with Republicans, and its a waste of time and money. The Republican party is corrupt and only serves the interest of the wealthy and corporations. If she really wanted to make a difference she would stay and speak up and show what it means to really compromise.

    February 29, 2012 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  4. Bert in UT

    Sad, we lose another of the few remaining sane, centrist voices. We are poorer for it. I wish her well, and thanks.

    February 29, 2012 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
  5. Edwin

    Hammerer: you are the problem. She was a REAL republican, unlike the extremist party of today which demands unwavering loyalty. In today's GOP, if you do not vote 100% in step with the party bosses, you are considered a democrat by the republican "base."

    REAL republicans sometimes make liberal votes. REAL democrats sometimes vote conservative. That is the way it SHOULD be - otherwise, we live in fascism.

    February 29, 2012 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  6. olepi

    Almost the last of the party of Lincoln. In 1861, the Republicans were the norther liberals, and the Democrats were the conservatives. Since then, the parties have swapped places, slowly. In Texas, a Democrat was a conservative, and in Maine, a Republican is a liberal, or moderate. These are going away.

    I would expect Maine to elect a Democrat, if the trend continues.

    February 29, 2012 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  7. Well guys

    If the US Houses of Congress had not sold themselves our for corporate and special interests, this extremeism would mostly dissappear. These are self inflicted wounds driven by the insatiable thirst for campaign money. I have no sympathy.

    February 29, 2012 10:26 pm at 10:26 pm |
  8. GOP2

    Ms Snowe: Let's see. ObamaCare was not the way things should be handled. Agreed.

    But Medicare being passed by wide bi-partisan measure is your example of a desirable outcome? What? Let's see. You know:
    – Medicare is, according to the GAO and its trustees, present value $89 Trillion underfunded.
    That's 37 YEARS of ALL annual Federal Revenue of $2.4T (including ALL income and Social Security taxes)!
    – And Medicare's $89T underfunding is do in significant part to the number of baby boomers, which was a completely known situation when Medicare was passed.
    – And you've been a member of Congress since 1979, and have done effectively nothing to deal with this issue, or even educate the country, except of course to continue proclaiming its virtues even now.

    So, your idea of GOOD legislation is to implement big-government programs with spending that will bankrupt the country multiple times over, as long as they have broad bi-partisan support? And then to fail in doing anything for 30 years to help bring the situation under control?

    Oh, and your parting wisdom is we need broader consensus so that we only fail this miserably?

    Good riddance

    February 29, 2012 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  9. Vietnam Vet

    One less RINO!

    February 29, 2012 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  10. Nailer

    Hammerer has no clue.

    February 29, 2012 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  11. A call to all sitting congresspersons and senators

    This is a call to all members of the congress and senate of this great country. Please follow this honorable senators example and step down from your position. Your petty partisan bickering is destroying our great nation. We voted you in and you have failed us dismally. We need a 100% turnover of the house and senate. We need to oust evry Republican and every Democrat from office if they will not act honorably and resign. Collectively and individually, they are destroying what so many generations before us fought, slaved and died to create and maintain. The two party system is a failure. Neither party understands the needs of the people and both parties are committed to serving party interests only. If we do not act now, when will we act? Will we wait until the decline is irreversible? Will we let these buffoons ruin everything the founding fathers designed and implemented? We need to place men and women of the people so that they can serve the interests of the people. We currently have the wrong people doing the wrong job. It is time for change America!! To all sitting politicians, please do the honorable thing. Do the right thing. Step down and turn the power over to those who will use it wisely and serve the best interests of this great nation. You have failed us, you have failed the country and you have failed the world. It is time for the Republican and Democrat parties to go and take their useless baggage with them. If they will not leave office voluntarily, vote them out America!! We need a new breed in office. We need REAL leaders.

    February 29, 2012 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  12. Amazing

    She has hit the nail directly on the head. It is too bad she is leaving.

    February 29, 2012 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  13. jeanette

    I will miss our wonderful fair-minded Senator Snowe. Like her I was a moderate Republican from Maine for many years. I am now a Democrat. There is no place for a moderate Republican in the Republican party any more.How sad.
    Senator Snowe will always have my respect and affection. She has worked hard for Maine and people of both parties and independents knew it and that's why they continued to vote for her.

    February 29, 2012 10:40 pm at 10:40 pm |
  14. Enitan

    She is indeed a classy lady, i am an independent, but i have always had great adminration and respect for her, as one of the only sensible, intelligent REPUBLICANS in the senate, that puts the love and welfare of the country over personal ambition and political preservation.

    She will be missed, even to a socially conservative independent like myself.

    Best of luck to you Senator Snowe.

    February 29, 2012 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  15. blogette

    Unfortunately, good people will continue to leave government if this partisanship continues. The only people interested in running are so far from the mainstream that we are in danger of becoming a theocracy rather than a democracy. By trying to hijack the government, the evangelical movement is acting contrary to their own beliefs, which teach tolerance, respect and love for your fellow man. In practice they spout venom, are divisive, and narrow minded which bears much resemblence to our sharia minded middle east neighbors.

    We need more Olympia Snows and fewer Rick Santorums.

    February 29, 2012 10:46 pm at 10:46 pm |
  16. paul

    The tea party drives another moderate out!!!!! They will destroy this country if we don't vote them out.

    February 29, 2012 10:48 pm at 10:48 pm |
  17. 666dorado


    blame the supreme court for allowing corporations to donate unlimited amounts of money.

    money controls the political process. people expect a return on their investment, that's the problem facing this country.

    February 29, 2012 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  18. ThinkAgain

    Snowe is just sick of being associated with the looney tunes that the GOP has become.

    February 29, 2012 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  19. Rick Smith

    She's a boss.She's served this state well and I dare say she would make a great President.

    February 29, 2012 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  20. Marc in Florida

    Another sane voice leaving congress. A sad commentary for the state of our nations politics at all levels of government.

    February 29, 2012 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  21. Keith

    I applaud the Senator for having the courage and foresight to step away from the band of 100 idiots in Washington. I don't care what side of the political spectrum you stand on, the benefit of the country should come first. However, negotiation and compromise should be two of the tools every Legislator should have in their tool boxes. But these people are so entrenched in their ideology and beliefs that they would rather drive this country in the ground, rather than step away from flawed principles. There should be a concensus among the Rep's and Senators to do whatever it takes to grow the economy, employ the unemployed, and educate our children.

    February 29, 2012 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  22. William Parish

    Poor Olympia Snowe... For 30 years she has been in the inner circle of actually creating this mess... And now when she actually has an opportunity to step up and help make things right and work for the next generation she decided to take her fat retirement pension (paid by the US taxpayers) and go hang out in Kennebunk.... Hmm..

    February 29, 2012 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  23. pprty

    Bravo to her. She should be running for president instead of Romney & Santorium.

    February 29, 2012 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  24. nobarry

    3 republicans voted for the Obama stimulus package. 2 of the three will be gone. now if only Susan Collins will retire...or get beat the next time she runs for office. Goodbye Specter, Snowe, and hopefully Collins as all three deserted the country and voted for the democrats ridiculous package.

    February 29, 2012 11:17 pm at 11:17 pm |
  25. S. B. Stein E.B. NJ

    I can understand her problems with politics that are going on in Congress. She is correct that things have become so partisan that it makes it near impossible to get anything done. I am sorry to see her go since she had a reasonable understanding of things and good questions of policies that have been proposed.

    February 29, 2012 11:26 pm at 11:26 pm |
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