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Is LGBT-Friendly GOP Senator Susan Collins No Longer an Ally?

Sen. Susan Collins
Sen. Susan Collins

The moderate Maine senator is loudly endorsing noted homophobe and alleged racist Jeff Sessions for attorney general.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine has long been one of the few Republicans who could be considered an LGBT ally. She's also pro-choice and has taken numerous other moderate-to-liberal stances.

But now Collins is a leading cheerleader for one of her most right-wing colleagues, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, whom Donald Trump has nominated to be attorney general.

"He's a decent individual with a strong commitment to the rule of law. He's a leader of integrity," Collins told The Washington Post. "I think the attacks against him are not well-founded and are unfair." Collins will even introduce Sessions at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, a task that usually goes to someone from the nominee's home state, and will offer "a full-throated endorsement for his nomination as attorney general," the Post reports.

So progressives cannot count on Collins to join the Senate's Democratic minority to block Session's appointment -- and this action raises the question of how much she can be counted on to stand up to other excesses of the incoming administration.

Despite her support for Sessions, her policy positions are diametrically opposed to his. She has consistently scored in the 80s on the Human Rights Campaign's Congressional Scorecard, a measure of where members of Congress stand on LGBT issues, while Sessions has racked up mostly zeroes.

She supports marriage equality, although she did not do so publicly until 2014, when she was being challenged in her reelection race by Democrat Shenna Bellows, a longtime marriage equality activist. Collins won reelection, making her the first Republican senator to accomplish this after having endorsed equal marriage rights. Sessions is a staunch opponent of marriage equality and LGBT rights in general.

Collins said she would not vote for Trump. Sessions was the first senator to endorse his presidential bid.

Sessions has also been accused of being a racist. When he was nominated for a federal judgeship in 1986 -- he was then a U.S. attorney in Alabama -- the Senate rejected him as too extreme. Former colleagues said he used the n word and had no problem with the Ku Klux Klan until he learned that some members smoked marijuana. He has even called the NAACP "un-American."

"I don't know the dynamics of what happened then, but I can speak to Jeff's character in the 20 years that I've known him," Collins told the Post in regard to the Senate's rejection of Sessions for the judgeship.

Given that he has the support of moderate Republicans and that even some Democrats like him personally, Sessions appears poised to win confirmation. But Democratic senators such as Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Jack Reed of Rhode Island have vowed to scrutinize his record.

And the record, not personal relationships, should be the Senate's focus, said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "You should be sitting in that room prepared to learn about this person, who you may have seen running next to you on the treadmill in the Senate gym, who you may have had lunch with, whose family you may even know, but whose record as it relates to the critical issue of civil rights you might not know," she said in a Friday conference call, according to the Post.

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