Just moments after announcing he planned to vote for Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination Friday, Republican Senator Jeff Flake was confronted by two women in an elevator who said they survived sexual assaults.
Flake stood quietly in the Capitol Hill elevator as the women expressed anger and sadness at his decision to vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
“I told the story of my sexual assault,” Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the nonprofit Center for Popular Democracy Action, told Flake. “What you are doing is allowing someone who actually violated a woman to sit on the Supreme Court. This is not tolerable. You have children in your family. Think about them. I have two children. I cannot imagine that for the next 50 years they will have to have someone in the Supreme Court who has been accused of violating a young girl. What are you doing, sir?”
Archila told ABC News that she had hoped to speak with Flake before Friday’s hearing. She said she saw the senator as someone who sometimes chooses his conscience “over his party,” and she wanted to make him understand “the gravity of the message he was sending to the country.”
“When we saw him, our anger and our rage and our desperation just came out,” she told the network.
She said Flake appeared to be “terribly uncomfortable” during the encounter and that he “didn’t want to engage in conversation.”
“We forced him to listen to our stories, we forced him to look us in the face,” she said.
A California professor, Christine Blasey Ford, alleges that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when the two were teenagers, and she told her story before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. Kavanaugh has denied the allegations, including Thursday before the committee when he angrily — and at times emotionally — denounced the claims.
“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,” a second woman, 23-year-old Maria Gallagher, said. “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.”
As she began to cry, she said, “That’s what you’re telling me right now.”
Later in the day, Flake threw a wrinkle into the process when he announced that he was voting to send Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate, with the caveat that a floor vote should be delayed for a week so the FBI can investigate the misconduct allegations.
Gallagher, a Northeastern University graduate, tweeted that she welcomed the surprise development.
“I feel relieved that @JeffFlake seems to have heard my and @AnaMariaArchil2’s voices in the Senate elevator today,” Gallagher tweeted. “We absolutely need an FBI investigation and for him and all Senators to vote NO. #StopKavanaugh.”
Flake had been seen as a possible swing vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and as late as Friday morning, he had not indicated whether he would vote to confirm President Trump’s nominee. Earlier this week, he lamented the tone that the nomination process had taken in a speech on the Senate floor.
In a statement Friday morning, Flake said he “left the hearing yesterday with as much doubt as certainty.”
“What I do know is that our system of justice affords a presumption of innocence to the accused, absent corroborating evidence,” he said in the statement. “While some may argue that a different standard should apply regarding the Senate’s advice and consent responsibilities, I believe that the constitution’s provisions of fairness and due process apply here as well.”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Travis Andersen and Danny McDonald of the Globe staff contributed. Christina Prignano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.