Earlier today, Sen. Jeff Flake announced he would vote yes in the committee vote on Judge Kavanaugh. As the person who seemed most likely to go wobbly, Flake’s vote guarantees Kavanaugh will get a vote from the full Senate and puts him within striking distance of confirmation. Shortly after Flake announced his decision, a couple of protesters followed him into an elevator and held him there for almost five minutes, pleading with him to change his mind. The whole thing was captured by a scrum of reporters including one from CNN.
Regardless of where you stand on Kavanaugh, the level of awkward here is off the charts. Flake gave a big speech a day or two ago about wanting to treat both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh as human beings. He was doing his best to find some kind of middle ground in this polarized debate, but that only seems to have marked him, like Sens. Collins and Murkowski, as a target of opportunity.
As the first woman hectors Flake, he quietly says, “I need to go.” But she’s standing in the doorway holding the elevator door open. He’s trapped in a space smaller than a closet. “What you are doing is allowing someone who actually violated a woman to sit in the Supreme Court,” the protesters says. She adds, “This is not tolerable. You have children. 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?!”
Just as it seems the first protester is winding down, a second protester behind her starts up, “I was sexually assaulted and nobody believed me. I didn’t tell anyone and you’re telling all women that they don’t matter.” As she continues she starts to break into tears at which point Flake is staring at the floor.
“Look at me when I’m talking to you,” she says. “You’re telling me that my assault doesn’t matter. That what happened to me doesn’t matter.”
Flake listens and nods until the second protester is done speaking. Then the first woman asks, “Senator Flake, do you believe Brett Kavanaugh is telling the truth?” She continues pressing for another 30 seconds or so and then some voices outside the elevator begin asking Flake to respond.
“I need to go to the hearing,” Flake says.
The protesters keep him cornered. A man out of view says, “You could be a hero today.”
After four solid minutes of this, the protesters seem to be almost ready to let him go and then reporters begin asking, “Senator, do you care to respond to her complaints?”
“No, I need to go to the hearing. I just issued a statement. I’ll be saying more as well,” Flake says.
After four and a half minutes, with security apparently on the way, the door of the elevator is finally allowed to close. In the clip below, CNN’s hosts immediately jump in to discuss this in breathless tones.
Here’s what Flake probably should have said, given that he’s voting for Kavanaugh to advance to the floor:
I do believe Judge Kavanaugh. Dr. Ford sounded credible, but there are a lot of missing details in her allegation and the details she has provided are not backed up by any of the people she claims were present. The same is true for both of the other accusers. I can’t vote against Judge Kavanaugh, who has an exemplary record, without some corroboration that these allegations are true. I don’t see it here.
Of course, Flake couldn’t say that because that’s not how you respond to a crying woman talking about her own sexual assault. He doesn’t know what she went through, so talking about how the accused deserves a presumption of innocence would make him seem like an unfeeling robot. All he could do it stand there and listen.
But it should go without saying that it’s a good thing our institutions don’t run on emotion, at least not emotion alone. They also need to depend on facts.