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Olympia Snowe Retires: "Political Paralysis" Has Taken Over Washington

Retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) gives the first interview on her retirement to MSNBC.

OLYMPIA SNOWE (R), MAINE: Well, Andrea, it was a very difficult decision, to say the least. But I decided during the recess -- you know, having a milestone birthday helps you to focus and to be clarifying, about whether or not I was prepared to commit to another six years in the United States Senate. And particularly in the context of the times that we are in in the Senate, where it's very, very difficult to resolve major issues that are so important to the future of this country and how best could I serve, and to make voice heard.

And I made the decision not to run for re-election of the Senate and to pursue other opportunities outside the Senate that perhaps I can give voice to the frustrations that you know, exist with the political system here in Washington, where it's dysfunctional. And the political paralysis has overtaken the environment to the detriment to the good of the country.

MITCHELL: Do you think that both parties, including your own, contribute to this dysfunction?

SNOWE: Oh, absolutely. Everyone has to stand back and understand what is the essence of public service? It's all about solving problems. What are our obligations to the country and to the people we represent? It's the coming up with effective solutions, sitting down and working with the issues. Sitting around table and sorting through the differences.

You can never solve a problem without talking to people with whom you disagree. The United States Senate is predicated and based on consensus building. That was certainly the vision of the founding fathers. And if we abandon that approach, then we do it at the expense of the country and the issues that we need to address to put us back on track.

MITCHELL: You have been a critical vote, reaching across the aisle, for stimulus and for these -- keeping health care alive, not final passage, but keeping health care alive, getting it to the floor. You said, at the time, I think "Is this the bill, all that I would want? Far from it. Is it all that it can be? No. But when history calls, history calls."

Then by December 2009, you ended up opposing the bill as did every other Republican, believing that Harry reid was rushing you all. And Reid then, I think, angered you by telling "The New York Times" that it was a waste of time dealing with you. What did you learn from those experiences, those critical showdowns with your own party and the opposition?

SNOWE: Well, you know, it's become an all-or-nothing proposition, and in the instance of the health care bill that became law, the problem is, you know, much of that was actually crafted behind closed doors. We never had the opportunity to have an open amendment process as I was actually promised so that we could truly have bipartisanship and develop a more practical, more pragmatic approach to the issue of health care. But that was all, you know, jettisoned until we got the amendments in the final hours before Christmas for up-or-down votes.

And that’s not what the Senate is all about. The Senate is trying to bring people together to the extent possible to reasonably resolve issues that are so important to the American people. I always recall my first years in the Senate. And it happened that Bob Dole was the Senate majority leader. And I can always hear his words, they ring in my ear. Even though there were differences, and we had some key issues, he would say – he would put a group together. It would either be Republicans or Republicans and Democrats, whatever the case may be. He said go in my office at 8:30 in the morning and work it out. He would always say, work it out.

And that’s the point. We are not working out issues anymore. We are working on a parallel universe, with competing proposals, up or down votes. And you know, as the "National Journal" said recently, we’re coming close to a parliamentary system. Well, that’s not how the Senate was designed. That’s not how our founding fathers envisioned the United States Senate and the overall Congress.

MITCHELL: What do you think of Senator Roy Blunt's proposal on contraception, some of the gender wars that have been fought out on the Senate floor?

SNOWE: Well, it's interesting we are having the who debate on contraception and you know, what should constitute coverage and what kind role does the federal government play because I know I was involved in the issue more than a decade ago. And I did support a conscience clause, and I was drafting one in the process. We never got to consider the legislation. So, I do think it's important.

I think with respect to the Blunt amendment, I think it’s much broader than I could support. I think we should focus on the issue of contraceptives and whether or not it should be included in a health insurance plan, and what requirements there should be. And I’ve supported the Marco Rubio approach in that regard.

I do think there should be a valid conscience clause, and I didn’t agree with what President Obama had done with respect to that mandatory requirement.

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