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Kavanaugh swing votes facing new surge of progressive pressure

Progressive activists and other left-leaning outside groups are ramping up their efforts to convince a bipar...

Posted: Oct 4, 2018 7:35 AM
Updated: Oct 4, 2018 7:35 AM

Progressive activists and other left-leaning outside groups are ramping up their efforts to convince a bipartisan band of swing senators to vote against the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Their 11th-hour efforts -- mostly targeting Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and Arizona's Jeff Flake, along with uncommitted Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota -- got another surge of adrenaline on Tuesday night, when President Donald Trump mocked Christine Blasey Ford, the California psychology professor who testified that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers.

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Less than two hours after Trump spoke in Mississippi, the liberal group Demand Justice posted a digital ad with a recording of the President's words played over a black and white still image of Ford -- eyes closed, right hand raised -- before she gave her opening statement last week.

"Trump mocking Dr. Blasey Ford at a rally makes it clear: if these so-called Senate moderates vote for Kavanaugh now, they are siding with Trump's cruelty over the bravery of a sexual assault survivor," said Brian Fallon, a former spokesman for Hillary Clinton and the Justice Department, who leads the new nonprofit.

The ad, he said in a tweet when it was first posted, will target voters in Maine, Alaska and Arizona.

The People's Defense, a grassroots coalition led by the abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, also began running a new radio spot on Tuesday, taking aim at Flake, the retiring Republican who set in a motion a deal last week to delay the Senate vote on Kavanaugh pending a new FBI background investigation.

"Senator Flake now faces a choice: confirm the most dishonest nominee in modern history, or stand with the people, the truth, and the rule of law," the ad says before giving listeners an office number to call.

On the ground, groups like MoveOn and the Center for Popular Democracy, whose co-executive director Ana Maria Archila was one of the two women who confronted Flake last week -- in a raw and wrenching scene that quickly went viral -- over his decision then to back Kavanaugh, are seeking to mobilize nationwide protests and vigils.

"Thousands of people are taking action in DC and in communities across the country to put pressure on key Senators and urge them to do the right thing by voting down this nomination," said MoveOn spokesman Karthik Ganapathy.

Anger over the initial allegations, he said, had been compounded by "the Judiciary Committee's eagerness to ignore them, and stirred by Dr. Blasey Ford's compelling testimony last week."

The "Be A Hero" campaign, led by activist Ady Barkan, a young father dying of ALS, is promoting the gatherings on Wednesday night and what they hope will be mass protests against Kavanaugh in Washington on Thursday and Friday.

In a series of tweets late Tuesday, Barkan called on the anti-Kavanaugh grassroots to "throw in $25 to help us pay for the buses and food and bail money that we need to resist this nomination." For those who planned to travel, he and others have circulated a form for gathering names and contacts that also asks, "Can you participate in civil disobedience/risk arrest?"

"When millions of Americans heard Dr. Ford's historic testimony last week, they believed her," Barkan said in a statement on Wednesday. "And in Brett Kavanaugh's rage, sexual assault survivors felt their own private pain echoed on a national scale. Now they are refusing to be ignored ... We have never seen this kind of activist intensity around a Supreme Court nomination."

In the aftermath of Ford's appearance on Capitol Hill and, as importantly, the politically charged and at times petulant defense offered by Kavanaugh, the American Civil Liberties Union took the rare step on Saturday of publicly opposing his confirmation. On Monday, it began running more than $1 million of ads in four states -- West Virginia, Alaska, Nebraska and Colorado -- that compared the judge to former President Bill Clinton and convicted sex offender Bill Cosby.

Trump's performance on Tuesday night in Mississippi, coming perhaps only a day or two before the FBI wraps its follow-up probe into Kavanaugh, enraged activists, emboldened the organized opposition and potentially swung the political calculus for the fence-sitting senators whose decisions will ultimately decide Kavanaugh's fate.

On Wednesday, the Republicans among them condemned Trump's remarks in interviews. Collins called them "just plain wrong," Murkowski said they were "wholly inappropriate" and "unacceptable." Flake, who labeled the comments "obviously insensitive and appalling" was the only one of the three to say they would not affect his final decision.

Manchin, who along with Heitkamp is facing a tough red state re-election fight this fall, said Trump's words "were wrong," but that he remains "completely undecided" on Kavanaugh pending the FBI's findings.

The pair's indecision has drawn the ire of progressive left groups. The Justice Democrats, a relatively new organization that scored a series of notable wins during the primaries backing candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, is both rallying supporters to protests and casting Heitkamp and Manchin's deliberations as evidence of the need for progressive alternatives.

Manchin easily defeated a Justice Democrats-backed progressive challenger, Paula Jean Swearengin, in a Democratic primary this spring. But the group's executive director Alexandra Rojas said his potential vote to confirm Kavanaugh would further "validate the necessity of getting in early (to primary contests) with working class candidates."

"The fact that Manchin and Heitkamp are undecided right now," Rojas said, "is exactly the reason why we challenged Manchin."

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