Published 9:54 PM EDT Sep 12, 2018
WASHINGTON – Emotions are high as Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation vote approaches, and Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins has found herself at the center of a fevered effort to block President Donald Trump's second nominee to the high court.
Kavanaugh's opponents have identified Collins, along with Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, as Senate Republicans who could potentially vote against Trump's Supreme Court pick. The opposition is largely driven by abortion-rights activists' fear that Kavanaugh could be the justice whose vote overturns the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
Collins, in particular, seems to have become the focus of the stop-Kavanaugh movement.
The senator's office has reported receiving threatening calls and letters as well as more than 3,000 wire coat hangers in grim a reference to the unsafe, illegal abortions that abortion-rights defenders say would follow the end of Roe v. Wade. And a controversial crowdfunding campaign has raised more than $1.1 million to give to a future Collins opponent if she votes to confirm Kavanaugh.
Sen. Collins: Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh considers Roe v. Wade 'settled law'
More: Abortion-rights activists send hangers to Sen. Collins, hoping to influence her vote on court
Collins told The Wall Street Journal that she finds "the out-of-state voicemails being left on the answering machines of my state offices" to be "incredibly offensive."
"In one case – and we are going to turn this over to the police, but unfortunately, of course, the person didn’t leave a name or number – but they actually threatened to rape one of my young female staffers," Collins told the Journal.
One incensed voter left a voicemail for Collins, which her office shared with USA TODAY, in which he repeatedly screamed insults while wondering how Collins could accept Kavanaugh's statement that he considers Roe v. Wade to be "settled law" when he was "handpicked by the Federalist Society specifically to overturn" that decision.
"You will go down in history as the most naive person ever to be in Congress you (expletive), (expletive), feckless, naive woman!" the caller yelled.
"If you care at all about women's choice, vote no Kavanaugh. Don't be a dumb b---h," another male caller said.
A letter sent to Collins' office warned that if she votes to confirm Kavanaugh "EVERY waitress who serves you is going to spit in your food, and that's if you're lucky you (expletive)."
Collins said she considers the crowdfunding campaign raising money for whoever might challenge her in 2020 to be an attempt at bribery. More than 40,000 donors have contributed to the effort, which pledges they won't be charged if Collins votes against Kavanaugh.
"I consider this quid pro quo fundraising to be the equivalent of an attempt to bribe me to vote against Judge Kavanaugh," she told the conservative site Newsmax. She also told the Journal that two lawyers told her the campaign violated federal bribery law and a third said it was extortion.
Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for the Citizens for Ethics and Responsibilities, told The Washington Post that while the fundraising campaign may seem "icky," it "doesn't rise to the level of bribery because there's no agreement."
"It’s just the way money and politics tend to work these days," Libowitz told the Post.
Crowdpac spokesman T.J. Adams-Falconer told Vox, "The notion that this grassroots activism amounts to bribery is ridiculous and insulting to the more than 40,000 Mainers and other Americans who are making their voice heard through this campaign."
"Your swing vote could decide whether a rubber stamp for Trump’s anti-healthcare, anti-woman, anti-labor agenda gets confirmed to the Supreme Court – costing millions of Americans their healthcare, their right to choose, and their lives," reads a statement on the Crowdpac page, which was set up by the Maine People's Alliance, Mainers for Accountable Leadership and activist Ady Barkan.
"If you fail to stand up for the people of Maine and for Americans across the country, every dollar donated to this campaign will go to your eventual Democratic opponent in 2020," it reads. "We will get you out of office."
A tweet from Sen. Orin Hatch's office said, "Every Democrat should be condemning these antics in Maine – attempting to bribe Senator Collins to vote against Judge Kavanaugh and threatening sexual violence against staffers if she votes for him is absolutely disgusting."
Collins and her staff have said the aggressive tactics to sway her vote are a wasted effort.
"Bribery will not work on Senator Collins," Collins' spokeswoman Annie Clark told USA TODAY. "Senator Collins will make up her mind based on the merits of the nomination. Threats or other attempts to bully her will not play a factor in her decision making whatsoever."
"I’m going to do what I think is right," Collins told the Journal. "I am going to cast my vote – as I have done on all of the other Supreme Court nominees that I’ve been called upon to consider – based on his qualifications, his character and integrity, judicial temperament, his record, and his respect for the rule of law and fidelity to the Constitution."
Contributing: Eliza Collins, USA TODAY