The Senate Judiciary Committee abruptly halted the effort to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on Friday, agreeing to a request from Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, to delay a final vote for one week, to give the FBI time to investigate three allegations of sexual assault and harassment against the judge.
Flake’s request, which stunned colleagues, came after he was confronted on live television by two female protesters who expressed dismay at the Republican rush to confirm the man who had been credibly accused of sexual assault by Christine Blasey Ford, in dramatic testimony to the committee on Thursday.
“On Monday, I stood in front of your office with Ady Barkan, and told the story of my sexual assault,” one of the protesters, Ana María Archila, told Flake as she blocked the door of a Senate elevator. “I told it because I recognized in Dr. Ford’s story that she is telling the truth,” Archila added. “What you are doing is allowing someone who actually violated a woman to sit in the Supreme Court — this is not tolerable.”
Archila, an executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, visited Flake’s office earlier in the week with Ady Barkan, a health care activist with ALS who had pleaded with the Arizona senator last year to “be a hero” by opposing his party’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
As Flake tried to leave, a second survivor spoke up. “I was sexually assaulted and nobody believed me,” 23-year-old Maria Gallagher began. “You’re telling all women that they don’t matter — that they should just stay quiet because if they tell you what happened to them, you’re going to ignore them,” Gallagher continued, with a raw power that seemed to stun the senator. “That’s what happened to me and that’s what you’re telling all women in America — that they don’t matter, they should just keep it to themselves because if they have told the truth, you’re just going to help that man to power anyway,” she added, her voice breaking. “That’s what you’re telling all these women.”
As Flake stared uncomfortably at the floor of the elevator, Gallagher said: “Look at me when I’m talking to you! You’re telling me that my assault doesn’t matter, that what happened to me doesn’t matter and that you’re going to let people who do these things into power. That’s what you’re telling me when you vote for him. Don’t look away from me! Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me — that you’ll let people like that go into the highest court of the land and tell everyone what they can do to their bodies.”
“Senator Flake, do you think that Brett Kavanaugh is telling the truth?” Archila then asked. “Do you think that he’s able to hold the pain of this country and repair it? That is the work of justice. The way that justice works is you recognize harm, you take responsibility for it, and then you begin to repair it,” she continued. “You are allowing someone who is unwilling to take responsibility for his own actions, unwilling to hold the harm that he has done to one woman — actually three women — and repair it … to sit in the highest court in the country.”
The Senate committee formally asked the White House to order an FBI investigation of the “current credible allegations against the nominee” after Flake’s request was supported by two other Republican senators who have also been targeted by protesters, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Asked why he had pushed for the delay, after pledging earlier on Friday to vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Flake admitted that the protests had influenced his thinking. “There were a lot of people on the phone, in email and text, and walking around the Capitol,” Flake told Bloomberg News. “It’s been remarkable the number of people who saw Dr. Ford and were emboldened to come out and say what happened to them including close friends.”
There’s some possibility that the two protesters at the elevator got to Flake—who was a yes vote this morning. if that was the turning point, would make them some of the most consequential Hill protests in memory.— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) September 28, 2018
After news of Flake’s intervention broke, Gallagher expressed her relief that the senator seemed to have heard her voice and that of Archila, along with an image of the two activists embracing.