Sen. Jeff Flake in the elevator was just the beginning.
On Monday, female activists at an airport in Washington, D.C., approached several Republican senators ― including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ― to ask questions about sexual assault and Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee who’s been accused by three women of sexual misconduct.
The men were less than thrilled.
McConnell looked straight ahead and kept marching forward while three women trailed him, attempting to engage him on the issue. He didn’t respond at all, but he did briefly pause to shake the hand of a male onlooker.
“It is really telling that you shook the hand of a man while a woman is trying to tell you her story,” Tracey Corder, the racial justice campaign director at the Center for Popular Democracy, said to McConnell as she stood behind him on an escalator at Washington’s Reagan National Airport.
“We would like to know if you believe survivors of sexual violence?” asked Naina Khanna, the executive director of Positive Women’s Network USA, one of many activists trying to speak to senators ahead of the confirmation vote on Kavanaugh.
“Sen. McConnell, do you always turn your back on women like this?” Khanna asked as the senator faced other questions from activists while he rode the escalator.
“Sen. McConnell, will you support a full FBI investigation?” she asked as she followed him outside the terminal.
“We walked up to him respectfully. We really wanted to ask him about his vote and how he felt,” Corder told HuffPost on Monday. “This is three women of color trying to talk to him. He saw a white man and instantly shook his hand. That felt pretty hurtful.”
A video of Flake (R-Ariz.) being confronted by two sexual assault survivors in an elevator in the Capitol last week likely prompted the senator to change his position on Kavanaugh, asking for a delayed vote on the Supreme Court nominee so that the FBI could look into the sexual assault allegation.
Women’s groups have been trying to talk to senators about Kavanaugh for weeks, Corder said. But it was the Flake video that really drew attention to their campaign.
The idea is to talk to and question any senator who is either undecided on Kavanaugh or who hasn’t yet staked out a position. “If we can’t get someone from their office to answer questions,” Corder said, “we’re going to go somewhere we can find them.”
Corder’s progressive advocacy group posted videos of other Republican senators dodging their questions.
“How can you ignore women who have been assaulted?” they asked Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.). When Isela Blanc, a Democratic state representative from Arizona, introduces herself to him and tries to shake his hand, Perdue says, “Don’t touch me.”
The questions continued, and, clearly frustrated, Perdue took a hard right and went into the men’s room, where they couldn’t follow.
“Fine. You don’t want to be touched. Yeah, neither do women,” CPD tweeted Monday afternoon.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) did engage somewhat with the women, telling the activists, “I always attempt to do the right thing.”
“What do you have to say to your constituents who suffer from sexual violence?” asked Jasmine Henderson, a member of the Women’s March of Ohio.
“My heart goes out to anybody who’s been affected,” Corker said. But as he left the airport, Corker was less tactful, seeming to imply that these women were having fun talking to him.
“I know this is enjoyable to y’all,” Corker said. “Thank you so much. I appreciate it.”
The idea that they were just doing this for kicks was insulting to CPD’s Corder, who said that, like many survivors of assault, she cried as she watched Blasey’s testimony Thursday.
“This is hard. Emotional and raw. This is something that traumatizes you every day.”