Progressive groups are ratcheting up the pressure on Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, sending coat hangers to her offices; organizing rallies, social media, telephone and email campaigns; and raising nearly $1 million for a future opponent if she votes to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
There also are allegations circulating on Twitter that her staff is not making a record when constituents communicate their views on Kavanaugh’s nomination, based on a tweet by a visitor to her Bangor office Friday that had been retweeted more than 27,000 times as of Monday afternoon, including by celebrities such as Stephen King and George Takei.
The author of the original tweet, Linda Homer of the progressive group Indivisible MDI, said she and three others visited Collins’ office to discuss the Kavanaugh nomination. She said they noticed that staffers who were fielding calls about Kavanaugh were telling callers that they were taking down the message and passing it along to the senator without actually writing anything down or typing into the computer. Homer said that makes her believe that the opinions were not being recorded in any form, although she sympathizes with overwhelmed staffers.
“The phones were ringing off the hook. It was nonstop,” Homer said. “There should be an expectation that if people are taking the time to call, that their messages are getting through.”
Annie Clark, Collins’ spokeswoman, said Monday that Collins has met with Homer personally twice in the past year to listen to her concerns.
“When a Mainer calls one of our six Maine offices or our Washington office, his or her comments are logged and passed along to Senator Collins. If someone from out of state calls our office to express an opinion, we do not log those responses, and Senator Collins does not see them,” Clark said.
The coat hangers are symbolic of women having few alternatives but to get “back-alley” abortions before the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade legalized abortion. About 3,000 coat hangers have been mailed to her offices, the Associated Press reported Saturday.
Collins has praised Kavanaugh for his qualifications and said she was encouraged that he considered Roe v. Wade “settled law” and “precedent upon precedent.” Abortion rights groups have said they are deeply skeptical of Kavanaugh’s stance on abortion and believe he would be a reliable vote to overturn Roe or side with rulings that greatly limit a woman’s right to choose. President Trump has previously said he would choose a nominee who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Collins, who remains undecided on Kavanaugh’s confirmation, is a pro-abortion-rights Republican in a Senate with a 51-49 Republican majority. Collins and Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski are being targeted as possible “no” votes on Kavanaugh. Collins, Murkowski and the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona were the only Republican senators to vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act in 2017. The ACA vote failed by one vote in July 2017, and the Senate has since gained a Democratic senator.
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) September 9, 2018
Nearly $1 million in campaign funding is waiting for the potential Democratic challenger to Collins – who will be up for re-election in 2020 – if she votes to confirm Kavanaugh. The money is being raised in a nationwide crowdfunding campaign.
Clark, referring to the campaign, said “anybody who thinks these kinds of tactics work doesn’t know Senator Collins.”
“This crowdfunded money to pressure Senator Collins is based on a quid pro quo – you vote the way we want and we will keep more than a million dollars away from your opponent – vote against us and we give her the money. It is basically a bribe,” Clark said in a prepared statement. “These tactics will not work. Senator Collins will make up her mind based on the merits of the nominee. Threats or other attempts to bully her will not be a factor in her decision-making.”
When asked whether Collins plans on running for re-election, Clark said, “Sen. Collins is focused on her job in the Senate, and we’re not talking about 2020 until 2020.”
The pressure campaign, coordinated by the national health advocacy group Be A Hero and Maine progressive groups Mainers for Accountable Leadership and the Maine People’s Alliance, has taken off beyond expectations, organizers said.
“It’s sort of inconceivable,” said Marie Follayttar Smith, of Mainers for Accountable Leadership. “It’s a sign of how frustrated people are, and how engaged they are, and how much the vote means to them.”
The ideological tilt of the Supreme Court hangs in the balance, as the court is currently split 4-4 between liberal and conservative justices. The justice who retired, Anthony Kennedy, was considered a centrist.
Collins said Friday at an event in Scarborough that she would carefully consider Kavanaugh, based on his positions, qualifications, record as a federal judge, her meeting with him and how he answered questions last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“I have been involved in confirmation hearings for six Supreme Court justices. I have always waited until hearings are done and until I have reviewed the paperwork and cases, et cetera,” Collins said.
She has voted for Supreme Court nominees put forward by Democratic and Republican presidents, including liberal justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, and conservatives Neil Gorsuch, John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
About 500 people attended a rally in front of Portland City Hall on Aug. 26 to encourage Collins to vote “no” on Kavanaugh, Follayttar Smith said. A new change.org petition encourages people to boycott Maine businesses if Collins votes to confirm a Supreme Court justice before the new Congress takes office in 2019.
Homer, the author of the tweet about Collins’ staff handling of Kavanaugh calls, said Indivisible MDI held a “die-in” Sunday in downtown Bar Harbor that symbolized how women would die from unsafe abortions if Roe v. Wade were overturned and abortion became illegal in some states. The “die-in” was directed at Collins’ upcoming vote on Kavanaugh.
“I had a tombstone, and I died of complications from a high-risk pregnancy,” Homer said.
Meanwhile, a television ad that aired over the weekend urged Collins to vote “yes” on Kavanaugh, touting the judge’s qualifications.
Another television and online ad campaign, by the liberal group Demand Justice, highlights Roe v. Wade and Collins. The ad, which will air starting Tuesday, is a “six-figure” buy and will air 200 times on cable and network television all over Maine.
A transcript of the ad provided to the Portland Press Herald says “a leaked email just revealed Kavanaugh’s true views on abortion – he disputes that Roe v. Wade is ‘settled law.’ Kavanaugh fails Collins’ own test. If she votes for him now, she won’t just be breaking her word, she’ll be responsible for gutting Roe.”
The ad is referring to a 2003 email by Kavanaugh from when he worked as an attorney in the George W. Bush administration. Progressives say it shows Kavanaugh would be open to overturning Roe, but Kavanaugh said at his confirmation hearings that he was merely summarizing the views of other legal scholars. Collins said Friday that that was her interpretation of the email as well.
Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at: