Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks at the Maine Republican Convention at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta, Maine, Saturday, May 5, 2012.

Women Senators Awarded for Getting Stuff Done

And the dinners - they can't stop talking about the dinners.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks at the Maine Republican Convention at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta, Maine, Saturday, May 5, 2012.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, along with the 19 other female Senate members, jointly received the third annual Allegheny College Prize for Civility in Public Life.

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Sorry staffers, but Sen. Susan Collins’, R-Maine, big Senate moment of the last year came sans your help.

“I’ll never forget the day, because it was Saturday, Oct. 5, and I was sitting in my office and my staff was all furloughed, so there was no one to hold me back,” Collins said. “Unconstrained and unfettered and unvetted, I marched over to the Senate floor, took the microphone and challenged our colleagues to come out of their partisan corners, to stop the fighting and to start legislating in a manner worthy of the people of this country.”

Collins told the tale, which took place mid-government shutdown, as she and her across-the-aisle colleague Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., were being awarded the third annual Allegheny College Prize for Civility in Public Life, a distinction given out Thursday to all 20 women of the U.S. Senate. As the Senate's senior women from both parties, Mikulski and Collins got first dibs to their plaques. 

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While Collins’ shutdown stand was brought up throughout the ceremony, when she talked about it, she made a broader point. “I do think it is significant that as soon as I got off the Senate floor my cellphone started ringing and the first people that I heard from were women senators who were saying, ‘count me in,’” Collins said.

Mikulski said that while she wasn't necessarily on board with Collins' policy prescriptions, "on the issue of ending gridlock and deadlock and slamdown and shutdown I absolutely agreed with her." 

That brings us to those dinners, the monthly gathering of Senate women that have been going on for nearly 20 years. “We have three rules – no staff, no memos and no leaks,” Mikulski explained. (No leaks except for the time when Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., gushed to Whispers about being tasked to buy Collins her wedding night lingerie.)

Many women in the Senate have credited these powwows with turning their partisan colleagues into actual friends. The male colleagues, on the other hand, just seem intrigued. “It’s funny because they actually, these dinners, make our male colleagues a little nervous,” Collins said.

“I remember a year ago I was riding on the subway over to the Capitol and one of my male colleagues said, ‘I hear you had another one of those dinners. What did you talk about?’” Collins recalled. “And I just smiled sweetly and I replied, ‘we were planning the coup.’”