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. A.train

    I find it to be hilarious that GOP supporters like to point out the short-comings of the democratic party mainly because a democrat is in office yet always neglect to point out that the GOP is the reason that nothing is getting done. You all don't care about what's best for the american people, you care abt control. The GOP wants control of everything plain in simple, and will stop at nothing to get. For a party that prides itself on honor, and integreity you sue havn't displayed it.

    February 29, 2012 11:39 pm at 11:39 pm |
  2. ct

    she finally realized how radical the gop base has been, who would blame her?

    February 29, 2012 11:43 pm at 11:43 pm |
  3. Sad Day

    What a sad day for the Senate. I am a life long Democrat but have always admired this honorable Senator. There is something to be said about the winner take all politics of today. It is destroying this nation and WE are letting it happen. I hate the radicals of my party as much as I hate the radicals of the right, but it seems they are the only ones who can get elected. It is time to create a powerful third party that can challenege the people who are destroying this great nation, I choose Senator Snowe to lead it!

    February 29, 2012 11:50 pm at 11:50 pm |
  4. Anonymous

    She's gonna be Romney's choice for VP???

    February 29, 2012 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  5. Txgrl3

    So sad the GOP has burned down the Big Tent. We fiscal conservatives who believe n separation of church and state and that the GOP has become obsessed with forcing women to reproduce are left with no party. The religious fringe got a taste of power when Karl Rove called them out like the Pied Piper by putting gay marriage on the ballot to get W re elected in 2004. Ugliest, most divisive red state blue state election in my rather long lifetime. Now the religious fringe are a pack of rabid dogs taking the GOP down. We are left with Democrats determined to emulate European Welfare states even as we watch them implode. The Democratic Kool aid guzzled by the masses says "All we have to do is tax the Greedy Rich and our deficit will disappear." Buy gold and little plot of land for a vegetable garden because we are right behind Greece. Both parties have failed us in the worst ways imaginable, and show no inclination to stop the coming economic crisis. We should fire them all.

    February 29, 2012 11:55 pm at 11:55 pm |
  6. jimbojoker

    God help us the voices of reason and common sense are heading for high ground there's a flood a comin

    March 1, 2012 12:00 am at 12:00 am |
  7. Name charles mccomb

    I admire the senator for this choice. I wish the rest of congress were of the same character and followed her leadership. At least then, I wouldn't be compelled to vote against every incumbent in the upcoming elections.

    March 1, 2012 12:08 am at 12:08 am |
  8. Bozzz

    She is so correct. It's not really the government's fault–the people of this country have become sharply divided, and that's reflected in the government. The government is just a mirror of what is going on out here.

    March 1, 2012 12:18 am at 12:18 am |
  9. denny

    What a bunch of nonsense. She is leaving because she is a hard left liberal who was going to lose her next election. The next Congress will have Republican super majorities. That coupled with President Santorum will put an end to the Obama European Socialist experiment in the U.S. The President Santorum will be able to return America to our Christian roots.

    March 1, 2012 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
  10. fandancy

    Any free thinking politician is in the crosshairs of the Tea Party. They are extremists.

    March 1, 2012 12:36 am at 12:36 am |
  11. rdmcabee

    I can't stand Snow. She got everything she wanted in the health care negotiations and then voted against the bill. Holding the end of her leash are corporate billionaires working in the health insurance and drug industry. At least they will miss her.

    March 1, 2012 12:38 am at 12:38 am |
  12. Oscar C.

    It deeply saddens me to see Sen. Olympia Snowe leave the Senate. Sbe is a rare gem and one of fhe reasons why I thought there is still hope for the Republican Party to positively contribute to the governing of our beloved country, rather than an inflexible, immovable obstructionist. Right now, I am embarassed to be a Republican. I am hoping that Sen. Snowe changes her mind. I am from California & I am envious of
    her constituents to have someone like her thinking & doing things for the sole benefit of the country, & not in terms of red or blue vested interests. Thank you for your service to our country Madam Senator.

    March 1, 2012 12:51 am at 12:51 am |
  13. CBR

    Hammerer: Your comments are not helpful and they are demeaning to the Senator. You have very little knowledge of the situation.
    Senator Olympia Snowe is an example of a person who went to Washington to make things better for everyone. She did her job with grace and humility. The GOP did not listen to her even though her leadership would have solved many of the nation's problems. She will be missed and the people of Maine know just how much she has done.

    The Republican leadership in the Senate would not work together with the Democrats. No matter how hard Senator Snowe tried she could not get her colleagues from the GOP to work with her to solve problems.

    March 1, 2012 12:51 am at 12:51 am |
  14. Kelly

    So many posts demonizing Republicans for being partisan. Name calling and rejoicing over Maine possibly having a new Demorcrat Senator.. mmmm, who is being partisan????

    March 1, 2012 01:06 am at 1:06 am |
  15. Nathan F

    Its a bad sign when the cooler heads are leaving...

    March 1, 2012 01:07 am at 1:07 am |
  16. Hadenuffyet

    Sounds like the same reasoning Evan Bayh bailed out a few years back. You think you can make a difference and nobody wants to work to a constructive end. Get the hell outta Dodge . Your efforts are rendered useless . My way or the highway , well , I'd ride off into the sunset too.

    March 1, 2012 01:13 am at 1:13 am |
  17. lefty avenger

    Could Snowe be leaving the senate because of the obvious signs of global warming?

    March 1, 2012 01:18 am at 1:18 am |
  18. noam

    Snowe could have done her job and acted as that middle ground. But she was constantly a pain and simply pretended to be interested in discourse and compromises.

    March 1, 2012 01:19 am at 1:19 am |
  19. Tr1Xen

    This is a shame. As an independent, I value representatives who vote based on what's best for their constituents rather than what their party leaders may think is best. Sad to see you go, Senator.

    March 1, 2012 01:20 am at 1:20 am |
  20. Dixie Independent voter

    Why must we lose the good ones and be left with the extremists?

    March 1, 2012 01:20 am at 1:20 am |
  21. Thomas

    Sad that the majority of the comments left here and their tone is simply verifying what the senator is saying.

    March 1, 2012 01:28 am at 1:28 am |
  22. Bruce

    Its really to sad that Senator Snowe is leaving, she will be missed. She was a strong person in what she know was best for the American people and her record show that in her decisions. I wish her the best at whatever she is now going to do. I am sure we can all be proud whatever that will be and she is a credit for serving in the Senate and her service to the State of Maine.

    March 1, 2012 01:30 am at 1:30 am |
  23. Benjamin

    I don't get it. "Congress has become too partisan, so I, as a moderate, am retiring, so that another partisan may take my place." How is retiring helping?

    March 1, 2012 01:38 am at 1:38 am |
  24. Brian

    A new generation takes the reigns of this nation. I am ashamed of this new generation. Both sides - Dems and Repubs. I blame both for the the gridlock and the dismal state of the economy. I hope Obama loses, but I don't want any of the Republican alternatives. Where is a true leader when you need one? A true leader of America, not just the left or right.

    March 1, 2012 01:45 am at 1:45 am |
  25. paulwisc

    Truth and Nothing But the Truth, Maine isn't going red. Independents outnumber both Dems and the GOP. It was a safe seat under the moderate Snowe, but now it's up for grabs. The GOP's chances for a Senate takeover were slim before this - now they are next to nil.

    March 1, 2012 01:56 am at 1:56 am |
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