Political protests are far from new but have arguably become more intense in the Trump era. They have ratcheted up even further in the past few weeks, as protesters are dissatisfied with Republicans' handling of sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has had enough, at least as it pertains to the Kavanaugh nomination. The protesters were among a litany of reasons he excoriated Democrats on the Senate floor Wednesday:
It hasn’t been about getting to the truth or giving anyone a fair hearing. ... If facts and evidence couldn’t get the job done, then intimidation tactics and bullying would have to do. Sometimes this intimidation campaign has been aimed at the nominee. Colleagues, including my friend, the Democratic leader, have tried to get Judge Kavanaugh to withdraw from this process because of these uncorroborated and sometimes absolutely ridiculous allegations. And when that didn’t work, then the far left tried to bully and intimidate members of this body, Republican United States senators, they’ve tried to bully and intimidate us.
I’m not suggesting we’re the victims here, Mr. President, but I want to make it clear to these people who are chasing my members around the hall here or harassing them at the airports or going to their homes, we’re not going to be intimidated by these people. There is no chance in the world they’re going to scare us out of doing our duty.
The remarks came as McConnell and Republicans are trying to push Kavanaugh’s nomination over the finish line and in the wake of several notable confrontations between his GOP members and protesters on Capitol Hill, in public and in more private settings.
The day after the Senate hearing for Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) was confronted in an elevator by women sharing their experiences with sexual assault and asking him to vote against moving Kavanaugh’s nomination forward. Hours later, Flake made a decision that forced an FBI investigation into Ford’s allegations before moving forward with a Senate vote.
Protesters interrupted the dinner of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a conservative member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, with chants of “We believe survivors!” among other things. Cruz and his wife left their table.
Nearly a dozen people held signs outside the home of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) in Bangor last weekend, calling on her to vote against Kavanaugh.
And retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) was confronted about Kavanaugh by two women in an airport. He answered multiple questions before ending the conversation.
“I know y’all are having . . . I know this is enjoyable to y’all,” Corker said before walking to his car. “Thank you so much. I appreciate it.”
Those who are more sympathetic to protesters may push back on the idea that activists sought to bully Republican lawmakers, but multiple lawmakers have had to rely on increased security, including from police officers, as they travel to and from work after harassing phone calls and threats in recent days. For them, this isn’t merely an inconvenience but a safety issue.
The group of mostly women confronting lawmakers face to face believe that the larger issue — sexual assault — is also a safety issue, and one that some lawmakers are not taking seriously enough. Flake has said the testimonies of the women who confronted him shaped how he viewed the issue. And it is believed that Collins and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), two pivotal senators, are considering the concerns of accusers among other pressures they are facing in their decision whether to back Kavanaugh.
McConnell and other conservative lawmakers with perspectives similar to his, including Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), have made it clear they are moving forward with their support of Kavanaugh, and the GOP base is indicating that it is behind them. However, protesters probably believe that their activities have had some impact on these proceedings, even if the outcome doesn’t reflect that. Given those dynamics, everyone should expect more of these confrontations, even when the Kavanaugh news moves out of the headlines.