Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We’re now nearly a year into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators, not only about how to resist, but how to build a better world. Today’s interview is the 97th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.
Today we bring you a conversation with Mike Tipping, the communications director for the Maine People’s Alliance. Tipping discusses how Maine Sen. Susan Collins broke promises to constituents by voting for the GOP tax bill, and how activists are pushing to hold the senator accountable before a final vote.
Sarah Jaffe: Yesterday was Monday, the first weekday since the Republican Senate passed the tax bill. Tell us what went on in Maine yesterday after your senator voted for the tax cuts.
Mike Tipping: As you may remember, Susan Collins, upon returning to Maine after voting against the Republican health care repeal, got applauded at the airport. There were several scenes of people on the street thanking her for her vote. She did not have the same reaction in Maine [after voting for the tax bill]. Actually, she stayed in DC and did the Sunday shows, but in Maine, people were protesting up and down the state and they are continuing to do so all this week.
[Monday] in Bangor, dozens of people were outside her office and five very brave souls went inside and refused to leave until she talked to them about her vote, and she did not, and they got arrested and carted out in a police van. So, things are definitely escalating here. I think people believe that she’s not listening to them, that she’s doing real damage to the state, that she’s been lying about her votes and about the policy, and … they’re not going to take it anymore.
She was one of the three votes that stopped the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and she’s known for being somewhat of an independent Republican. Talk about the process of watching her go through this and decide to vote “yes” for the tax cuts.
I think one thing to remember about Susan Collins is that she has been moderate on many issues, but the second part of the formulation — the Republican part — is almost more important. She may not be as ideological as Ted Cruz, but she is a hardcore Republican. She cares about the party, she cares about her leadership, she doesn’t want to offend her colleagues. If she can find a way to vote for something, if it’s procedural tricks or being able to claim she got some kind of deal or something, she will do it to advance their interests.
So, on this bill, it was an interesting process: She sat down with President Trump and apparently got some promises out of him, and is apparently the only person in the world that trusts promises from President Trump. But said that she would get some health care bills that do a bit of work around the edges, that she would get some tax cuts changed in some slight ways, and it looks like not even that is going to happen. But even if she did get those, they are fig leaves for just an awful bill that dramatically increases inequality, that blows a hole in the deficit, that will lead to deep health care cuts and cuts to Medicare and Social Security.
Maine … [has] 300,000 people that rely on Medicare, and it is an incredibly damaging vote for her constituents.
Talk a little more about Maine in particular, what this bill would do to Maine.
Well, Maine is not the home of a lot of giant multinational corporations and rich CEOs…. There’s a lot of people who work in traditional industries on the ocean or in the forest, there’s a ton of people that work or run small businesses — we have one of the highest rates of small business employment in the country. And we are the “oldest” state in the country now: Our population has the oldest average age. And we’re the most rural state east of the Mississippi, so the provisions in this bill that target seniors and small businesses and rural areas — it is a bill designed to harm people in Maine.
That’s why there’s been so much protest and so much of a feeling of betrayal from Susan Collins, who has claimed to speak on these kinds of things. And just a few weeks ago, [she] said she would not vote for the health care bill because it made some of the same cuts. Just a few months ago, [she] said she would never vote for a bill without a full [Congressional Budget Office] score and hearings and everything else — really defending the institution of the Senate — and then she goes and votes for a bill that has handwritten scribbles in the margins and things crossed out. She betrayed a lot of the things that she claimed to stand for and which she really built her reputation as a commonsense moderate around; those are out the window.
And we already have Marco Rubio saying that this is the path to cutting Social Security and Medicare, which is certainly important to the oldest state in the country.
[He] really let the cat out of the bag there; you’re supposed to wait until it passes to start talking about how they’re going to use it to cut Social Security.
But yeah, along those lines, Collins also went on the Sunday shows and said that this won’t actually increase the deficit, that the growth we’ll see will outpace that. She even cited some economists, apparently the only economists she could find that said anything like that, and now they’ve walked that back and … even the most conservative-leaning estimate still puts half a trillion dollars into the deficit; the [Joint Committee on Taxation] says a trillion dollars, and of course, that is going to have to come from cuts to health care and Social Security — that’s what they want and that’s what they’ll push for.
Before this happened, Susan Collins was recently chosen as co-chair of No Labels, which is that centrist deficit hawk group, and their whole thing is saying that the deficit is already so large that they have to go after people’s health care and go after Social Security, and now she’s voted to explode it further and really damage those things she claims to care about.
Well the Republicans are certainly proving with this bill that anyone pretending to care about deficits was lying. But I wanted to ask about this: Chuck Schumer and others are handwringing about deficits when this bill is going to cause actual harm. I can’t imagine that that is the most compelling argument to the people you work with on the ground in Maine.
I think people understand … what that means is cuts to Medicare and Social Security, they’re definitely worried about that. Obviously, this bill makes a $25 billion cut to Medicare right off the bat through the Paygo rule. And there is … the “sneaky repeal” of the Affordable Care Act … getting rid of the insurance mandates and plunging 13 million people into not having health care; so all those things are immediate and scary, but there’s the bigger picture, too.
And it’s interesting, I think a lot of people said that those kinds of concerns were artificial when they were being made and being used as claims why we had to cut Medicare and Social Security, but Senator Collins has always trumpeted them. She is the one that made President Obama scale back the stimulus package during the Great Recession. That’s actually one of the more interesting things, I think, in her career. She didn’t have an ideological basis for the number that she wanted for the stimulus, she just chose a number exactly in the middle of what the Republicans wanted and what President Obama wanted and said this is where I stand.
She is a centrist but not a moderate in many ways. And what that did … it made the stimulus less effective, a lot more of it was in tax cuts, some of that to the wealthy, than it probably should have been. It delayed the recovery, it allowed Republicans to campaign on a bad economy, it got a lot more of them elected and it turns out all of that was a terrible farce because she doesn’t actually care about the deficit anyway here.
That is the most perfect description of centrism I’ve ever heard, actually. So, what do you think the odds are of getting her to flip on this final bill, whatever it is that comes out of conference?
Well, I think we’re already seeing some movement. She has tried to defend her vote and tried to even defend the Republicans when they’ve broken their promises to her and said that no it actually won’t be part of the continuing resolution — these other bills she wanted in exchange for her vote; and first she said, “Maybe it’ll be by the end of the year.” She’s changed her story on that. She’s also walked back a little bit: “Oh it has the potential to create growth, it won’t necessarily create enough growth to erase the deficit,” changing her story a little. I don’t know if she’ll change it enough before the next vote, which obviously could come later this week, as this comes out of conference, to stop it.
But I think she’s definitely feeling the pressure…. These people got arrested, her staff was apparently having a heated conversation with the police, trying not to make this a visual thing — these people being hauled out in handcuffs — she was very concerned about that moderate image that she has tried to project. I think that is at risk here. If people continue to speak out, I think there could be a chance at stopping her final vote.
And so, what are the plans for the rest of the week?
There are protests scheduled … later in the week in Orland and in Lewiston, and more in Bangor. People are doing things all over. There’s a ton of Indivisible groups that are doing things independently all the time, really trying to find Senator Collins to talk to her about this, to flood her phone lines. People can call 202-224-2523 … her Washington office — and leave a message and let her know where you stand. It’s really all-out the rest of the week to try to make sure that this lasting damage isn’t done to Maine and to our country.
Do you have folks from Maine going to DC as well?
We’ve had folks from Maine … bringing stories and handwritten notes directly to her offices. The phone calls are good, emails are good, but having a handwritten letter we can deliver … letting her know these are the voices of her constituents and the stories they are telling.
How can people keep up with you and with Maine People’s Alliance?
Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.