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. jack leddy

    I don't know who defined Snowe as a centrist. I have watched her on C-Span over the years almost always voting with the right wing republicans. If Maine is a blue state it is about time they send a progressive to the senate. After that they can vote out Collins who can only be considered a centrist when the center is on the right. We need some real progressives Maine, send us some. Send us another Edmond Muskie.

    March 1, 2012 02:09 am at 2:09 am |
  2. Greg

    I have my opinions on who I blame worse but I think both sides have been at fault. People logging in a completely blaming one side is the same thing as what we are complaining about in politics.

    People have different opinions, that by itself does not mean they are evil or wrong. Washington needs to clean up but so do we...

    March 1, 2012 02:22 am at 2:22 am |
  3. Ron

    It's too bad to see one of the few good ones step aside but you know the saying, you just can shovel sand against the tide. Unfortunately we have the people have elected a bunch of self serving egotists to office who make it their business to enrich themselves above all else.

    If our elected officials really wanted to make a difference they would all jump aboard the same ship they put us the people into, with retirement benefits and health care benefits it should be the same for all. Unless you are an elected official you can't vote yourself a raise or retire at full salary for life after one term of service or vote in you own special golden fleece health care program. What makes these elected officials so special? Beats the hell out of me!

    March 1, 2012 02:50 am at 2:50 am |
  4. lost in texas

    This is another sign of the Republican party imploding, thanks to the loud and few extremists in the party. I have never seen anything like it. There aren't enough nutbars out there to elect a zealot like Santorum in November, so I guess it will be another 4 years of endless whining from the overgrown babies on Fox News and AM talk radio when Obama wins. omg, I don't know if I can take it.

    March 1, 2012 02:56 am at 2:56 am |
  5. Jim

    I can certainly understand her point. The Republican party has been hijacked by ultra right wing, ultra religous, misogynistic, anti-science nutjobs. I voted Republican for nearly 50 years, when there were more like Senator Snowe. Now, the GOP views are so far away from mine that I have to find another set of candidates.

    March 1, 2012 03:27 am at 3:27 am |
  6. Ben

    Do not respect this decision. She quit. This was one of the few people who had a chance to make the "Tea Party" a legitimate political influence, and she backed out. She gave up on her views and ideology. She quit on America.

    What the US needs is MORE political diversity. It needs people who aren't afraid to stray from the rooted political deities we call Democrats and Republicans. What the world needs is a Tea Party...and an Occupy Party. Political reformation groups that are set on fixing Washington rather than advancing party status. We grow through diversity.

    March 1, 2012 03:33 am at 3:33 am |
  7. Strom

    What is truly amazing is the age of Senators. It is well past time for Ms. Snowe and many others to move on. In their case they have huge pensions, mostly funded by the public, that almost equal their huge salaries, and will increase in time. Happy to see her go and many others of both parties and stripes should follow.

    March 1, 2012 03:47 am at 3:47 am |
  8. SixDegrees

    I see that the bitter, corrosive partisanship Snowe is decrying is alive and well right here in the comment section.

    March 1, 2012 03:47 am at 3:47 am |
  9. Sam

    The tide is turning, the country chose a new direction in 2008 and we aren't looking back. We foolishly gave the Tea Party one last chance in 2010 and it was a disaster for everyone, the Republicans and Ms. Snowe included. Don't be surprised to see her reincarnate as a Independent or even a Democrat!

    March 1, 2012 04:01 am at 4:01 am |
  10. Franny

    Actually she had too much common sense for the GOP, and Tea Party bunch. I'd be embarassed as well with my own party for the behavior the've shown over the past 3 years! It's sad we don't have more Republicans like her!

    March 1, 2012 04:48 am at 4:48 am |
  11. Anonymous

    Half of you people missed the message she is trying to send. This ISN'T about democrat or republican or independent.
    This ISN'T about Reid or Newt or Bush or Obama. This is about the ENTIRE US government. It doesn't work and hasn't for decades because it's always about personal or party agendas. I'm from Maine. I'm a democrat. I voted for Snowe. And Collins. What does that say??? It says that people should set aside their petty differences and do what's right for the state they live in (in my case voting for Snowe) and do what's right for the USA. Snowe knows that. She is a smart woman that takes everybody to heart regardless of the party affiliation. She listens. She actually cares. And she is among few remaining that really do.

    March 1, 2012 04:51 am at 4:51 am |
  12. Nate

    Good riddance to bad RINOs. Hopefully this signals the beginning of the end of "go along to get along" lukewarm republicans. I'm sick of seeing the GOP wearing kid gloves in the middle of a knife fight.

    March 1, 2012 04:51 am at 4:51 am |
  13. Fair + Balanced

    Looks like with an Obama victory and new, rational faces in the Senate and House, the Grand Obstructionist Party era will end in November.

    March 1, 2012 04:51 am at 4:51 am |
  14. Adam

    Those of you making childish remarks toward Republicans, the Tea Party, and Democrats are missing the point Sen. Snowe is trying to make and it is sad. The other side is not morally evil or mentally deficent, they are not trying to destroy our Republic. Only when the people and politicians stop viewing the other side in such a way can we as a nation achieve a better degree of governance.

    March 1, 2012 05:00 am at 5:00 am |

    The GOBP wingnut rats are jumping ship. Obama/Biden2012!

    March 1, 2012 05:28 am at 5:28 am |
  16. Lone

    A shame the right to vote wasn't more selectively enforced. You could let everyone who is inclined to play the dividing game do so and then having identified themselves cut them out entirely. To put it in perspective, in your haste to regurgitate rhetoric and hypocrisy you've become an enemy of the people and the country, You no longer abide by reason or sense and should have no voice.

    March 1, 2012 05:34 am at 5:34 am |
  17. smc

    "Conservatism" in the US died 20-30 years ago with the so-called "Reagan revolution". The last of the old-school Republicans are either retiring or getting chased out by neo-con or tea party hypocrites. The only shining light in all of this is the current messed up Republican primary race where the different so-called "conservative" factions are finally realizing they totally disagree with each other.

    March 1, 2012 05:44 am at 5:44 am |
  18. setnommarih

    To Linda, the issue started when Obama and the democrats rammed the health care bill down everyones throat. Remember, "you'll know what's in it after we pass it", that idiotic Palosi statement. Once that occurred, I would not have supported the Pres either, besides he is a political hack and a double dealing liar. He runs around on my dime claiming that it is 'government business', sure. He has never stopped campaigning and he has never taken the initiative to work with Republicans and has pushed nothing but divisive policies and socialistic nonsense. I am a democrat and voted for him and I have been sorely disappointed.

    March 1, 2012 06:19 am at 6:19 am |
  19. MsMello

    She is right. I for one have no confidence in Washington to do anything beyond partisan politics. I have become so cynical that anything can be done for the good of all. Our political system is so broken and it's about the vote instead of the the good of the whole country. Even if I completely disagree with your views I can respect them if I believe they come from the heart and are meant to do good. And with respectful intelligent discussions (instead of attacks on each other) Washington maybe could come out of it's gridlock.

    March 1, 2012 06:26 am at 6:26 am |
  20. boyamidumb

    Bravo Ms. Snow! Tell it like it is. The "hall monitor" types and crooks are in control.

    March 1, 2012 06:30 am at 6:30 am |
  21. Sue

    As a former republican (who will NEVER vote for another republican again after their idiotic antics of the past few years), I find it sad that Senator Snowe will be leaving the Senate, but certainly understand her reasons and sentiments for doing so. Unfortunately, with six moderates leaving the Senate, we will be left with increased in-fighting and gridlock. The republicans have turned into an ugly, nasty bunch of thugs whose only goal in life is to get rid of a black president. I have never heard so many members of the republican party stand up and state that their one main goal is to replace President Obama! They have lost all sight of the things that are of real importance to our country and have placed their bigotry and hatefulness toward one man. They obviously do not look at the poll numbers of congress!

    March 1, 2012 06:40 am at 6:40 am |
  22. Jay

    Snowe specifically cites how Obamacare was rammed through by an all Democrat Washnington. The Republican issue cited (Iraq) was voted for by a Dem senate – it was bipartisan.

    Can any of the hateful Democrats on this board read?

    March 1, 2012 06:47 am at 6:47 am |
  23. TomInRochNY

    I'm a left leaning independent. But, if she represented me I'd vote for her. She thinks without ranting. Those are the kinds of politicians we need, not the partisan hacks we have now. Remember that in November.

    March 1, 2012 06:55 am at 6:55 am |
  24. N&W 1000

    WE will truly miss this great lady, she has meant so much to the Democratic Party over the years.

    It is just too bad the republican party is populated with so many knuckle dragging, extremist, religious fanatics that run off the good senators that spend their entire careers on our side of the aisle.

    March 1, 2012 06:57 am at 6:57 am |
  25. Gregg

    A bright light of hope for this country is leaving!..what a lady !!

    March 1, 2012 07:00 am at 7:00 am |
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