PORTLAND, Maine — Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell said Thursday that Maine’s Republican governor was wrong to slam the state’s two U.S. senators for opposing an Affordable Care Act repeal.

Mitchell, a Maine Democrat, told The Associated Press he “respectfully but strongly” disagrees with harsh words Gov. Paul LePage had for Republican Sen. Susan Collins and independent Sen. Angus King. The senators were representing the interests of Mainers by opposing the repeal, Mitchell said, adding that the repeal would harm rural residents and the elderly and poor.

“The legislation they opposed, if enacted, would dramatically increase the number of Americans without health insurance,” Mitchell said in the statement. “It would have a severe negative effect on tens of thousands of Maine citizens.”

Mitchell was a member of the Senate from 1980 to 1995, and served as majority leader for the final six years. He later led an investigation into the use of performance enhancing substances in Major League Baseball, and served as United States Special Envoy for Middle East Peace under President Barack Obama.

Mitchell told The Associated Press that he doesn’t normally wade into politics these days, but he said he felt compelled to speak up after LePage attacked the senators.

LePage called Collins and King “dangerous” in a Wall Street Journal op-ed Wednesday. He appeared on a WGAN-AM radio program on Thursday to reiterate that opinion, including calling for King to retire. LePage’s appearance on the radio took place before Mitchell made his comments.

LePage’s spokesman Peter Steele said later Thursday the governor’s office has no response to Mitchell’s comments.

“Not interested in responding to former members of the world’s most exclusive club who are simply regurgitating talking points fed to them by current members of the club,” Steele said.

LePage also wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Collins and King “are worse than out of touch” for failing to help repeal the ACA, which LePage has long criticized as bad for Maine.

Collins played a pivotal role in the defeat of the repeal, which was rejected 51-49 with Republicans Collins and Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. John McCain of Arizona casting the key votes. Collins and King defended their votes in the wake of LePage’s criticism on Wednesday.


Associated Press writer David Sharp contributed to this report in Portland.