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Susan Collins fires back at 'bizarre' Schumer remarks blaming her for 2009 stimulus

The tense relationship between the Senate majority leader and a key moderate Republican points to a challenge for the Democratic agenda.

WASHINGTON — Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, fired back at Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer after he pointedly said it was a "big mistake" to shrink the 2009 economic stimulus package in order to win her vote.

"I thought that Leader Schumer's comments were bizarre," Collins told NBC News on Wednesday, noting that she was one of three Republicans to support then-President Barack Obama's $787 billion package to mitigate the pain of the financial crisis.

“He voted for the same package that I did,” Collins said. "So, for Chuck Schumer, who was intimately involved in the negotiations as the assistant leader, to somehow criticize me for taking the same position that he did, is simply bizarre. And I think it reflects regrettably his inability to accept the fact that despite pouring $100 million into defeating me, the people of Maine said no."

Her remarks came after Schumer, a New York Democrat, was asked Tuesday evening on CNN whether he could have done more to win Republican votes like Collins' on President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill that passed the Senate on a party-line vote.

"No," Schumer responded. "We made a big mistake in 2009 and '10. Susan Collins was part of that mistake. We cut back on the stimulus dramatically and we stayed in recession for five years. What was offered by the Republicans was so far away from what’s needed, so far away from what Biden proposed that he thought that they were not being serious and wanting to really negotiate."

The recession officially ended in June 2009, but economists widely agree it was a slow recovery.

The exchange between the two lawmakers captures the difficulty Democrats will have in passing contentious legislation due to the 60-vote rule. Democrats have 50 members, and Collins is known as one of the more moderate Republicans in the Senate, with a record of bucking her party at times.

Collins predicted on Inauguration Day that she would have "a very difficult relationship" with Schumer.

She is part of a small group of Republicans that met with the White House weeks ago to pitch a $618 billion Covid-19 aid bill. Biden opted to use a special budget process that can bypass the 60-vote threshold for his larger package. It won't be available for most other bills.

Asked if she’ll continue working with the Biden administration, Collins said, "I look forward to continuing to work with this administration, and I just hope that Senator Schumer does not continue to be an obstacle to bipartisanship. That's what the people of this country want to see."