How Collins and King May Vote on the Biggest Trade Deal Ever

This post continues a series of articles on the Trans Pacific Partnership and discusses the stances of Senators Susan Collins and Angus King on the issue. Read the first post, on Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin, here.

Susan Collins

Figuring out Susan Collins’ stance on the TPP is not quite as easy as Chellie Pingree’s, but it’s close. Here is Collins in a statement last May surrounding a procedural vote on trade promotion authority (TPA):

“Notwithstanding the vote today, unless it differs substantially from where it appears to be heading, I will very likely oppose TPP when it is considered by the Senate.”

She has said very little on the issue otherwise and hasn’t declared her voting intentions since the full text of the agreement was released last fall, but it’s pretty clear how she’s leaning. While there’s no better indication of her thoughts on the TPP than that statement, it is interesting to look at her voting record on trade issues, particularly since she has been in Congress the longest of any of Maine’s current members. Amazingly, she has voted on either side of the trade issue almost exactly half of the time. Out of 78 votes during her Senate career that had to do with free trade, 55% were pro-free trade and 45% were against, as tabulated by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. Of these votes, eleven were on free trade agreements (two of the votes were on one agreement). Collins voted against agreements with:

  • Colombia (2011)
  • Oman (2006)
  • Central America and the Dominican Republic (2005; she initially voted for it).

She voted for agreements with:

  • Panama (2011)
  • South Korea (2011)
  • Peru (2007)
  • Morocco (2004)
  • Australia (2004)
  • Chile (2003)
  • Singapore (2003)

Not all of these trade agreements are equally impactful, and none hold a candle to the TPP or its potential effect on Maine. Of the ten free trade agreements listed, all of which passed, only one of the countries, South Korea, is in the top fifteen overall trading partners of the U.S. for 2015. Australia and Singapore are both in the U.S.’s top fifteen export destinations, but we do not import as much from them. At the time, opposition to the Colombia and Oman free trade agreements that Collins voted against largely centered on labor and human rights violations by the countries. Ideological dispositions on free trade undoubtedly informed many votes as well, but the continued violence against labor and human rights activists in Colombia and the use of trafficked and effectively slave labor in Oman were top issues of the debate.

Other noteworthy votes in her record include a yea vote on normalizing trade relations with Vietnam in 2001 and a yea vote to reestablish TPA in 2002 (it has come and gone a few times). The 2002 TPA lasted until 2007 and supported the passage of the seven free trade agreements established in that time period. This vote is notable because last year she voted against legislation that would bring TPA back, although it passed anyways. As mentioned in my previous post, many took last year’s vote to be a referendum on the TPP, since TPA will help its passage in Congress. Collins couched her opposition to the TPA in precisely those terms, saying, “TPA would pave the way for the Trans Pacific Partnership, which could jeopardize many American jobs.” Her vote to normalize trade relations with Vietnam in 2001 is worth mentioning only because Vietnam is a key member of the TPP deal. However, normal trade relations status only lowers tariffs to a certain point; a free trade agreement like the TPP goes much further.

Angus King

Angus King has staked out a similarly anti-TPP position. Like Collins, he has not declared his voting intentions since the release of the full text of the TPP, but he has expressed dissatisfaction with the deal. After a vote last May on TPA, King had this to say:

“…I have serious concerns that the Trans Pacific Partnership will put Maine companies – and their workers – at a significant competitive disadvantage. I just don’t know how to explain to Maine people that that they have to compete straight up with countries with little or no labor protections, weak environmental standards, and wages below a dollar an hour. This is one more blow to American manufacturing, and the country will come to regret the Senate’s action today, probably sooner rather than later.”

This follows years of skepticism of the TPP, as well as free trade agreements in general. Back in October 2011, a little over four months before declaring his candidacy for the Senate, King wrote an editorial for the Bowdoin Daily Sun, expressing distaste for free trade agreements. The editorial came a couple of weeks after Congress approved the free trade agreement with Colombia (over Collins’ no vote). King looked at the “hollowing out of the American economy” over the previous two decades, including Maine’s decline in manufacturing, and saw fast-and-loose trade policies to blame.

King’s stance against free trade agreements seems to have continued into his time as Senator, only now with a particular focus on the TPP. The deal’s potential effect on New Balance has been a hot topic for all of Maine’s members of Congress, and possibly none more so than Senator King. In fact, he has been talking about it since he was on the campaign trail. In 2013, five months after taking office, King had the new U.S. Trade Representative—then up for nomination—commit to visiting a New Balance factory, as his predecessor had, which he did the following month. King has made a point of the importance of those in-person experiences; when discussing his skepticism of the TPP last May, he said, “I’ve been to those New Balance factories. I’ve looked those people in the eye.” After the new Trade Representative was confirmed, King released a statement saying:

“[I]f the TPP, when finalized, does not adequately address the needs of US athletic footwear manufacturers it would be very unlikely that I would support its passage.”

Spoiler alert for my next post: it doesn’t look like the TPP addresses those needs. Therefore, judging by King’s word, it seems unlikely that he will vote for the deal. He has given almost no indication of support for the TPP so far and plenty of indication to the contrary. He also doesn’t have a party pushing him one way or the other.

The one thing that could make King more accepting of the TPP is its national security implications. As a member of the Armed Services and Intelligence committees, national security issues are clearly important to King’s work as a Senator. The TPP is seen as a big win for national security due to its relationship-building effects, particularly because it covers the increasingly important Asia-Pacific region. (I’ll explain this a little more in my next post.) It seems unlikely that this is enough to trump his beliefs on free trade agreements in general, as well as specific considerations like the importance of protecting New Balance, but it is worth noting that there will be other factors at play in King’s decision.


Disclosure: I used to intern for Senator King’s office. As an intern, I had surprisingly little influence over the Senator’s trade policy, but it is only fair to disclose the connection.

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Phoenix McLaughlin

About Phoenix McLaughlin

Phoenix McLaughlin works at the National Endowment for Democracy helping to foster political development in Asia. Phoenix lives in Washington, D.C. now, but was born and raised in Norway, Maine. In between, he has studied and/or worked in Colorado, Nepal, India, France, Ethiopia, and Augusta. All opinions expressed on this blog are solely his own and do not represent his current or former employers.