WASHINGTON — The campaign of pressure on Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to oppose the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has escalated to include vulgar phone calls, shipments of wire hangers sent to her office and a questionable high-dollar fundraising drive against her that her office likens to extortion.
As a potential GOP swing vote, Collins has been at the center of attention for both parties since President Donald Trump announced Kavanaugh's nomination in July. Now, with the Senate Judiciary hearings over and the nomination about to proceed to the full Senate, progressive activists are increasing the pressure, concerned that Kavanaugh would undo abortion rights and roll back health care protections.
For her part, Collins has said little about how she might vote on the final confirmation, keeping her in the crosshairs for an onslaught of attacks and providing a target for frustrated activists.
Some callers have been particularly abusive, according to recordings obtained by NBC News from her office. The profanity-laced voice mails reveal the anger over Kavanaugh's nomination and, potentially at her should she vote to confirm him.
One caller on Friday, September 7 at 6:11 p.m., left a message saying, in part: "If you care at all about women's choice, vote 'no' on Kavanaugh. Don't be a dumb bitch. F*** you also."
In a second voice mail, the caller calls Collins "a feckless, feckless, feckless woman standing there letting Trump and his appointees steal the right to choose what women do with their bodies. And you stood by, 'Oh, I don't know. I'm so naive.' F*** you. F*** you."
And in a letter sent to her Portland, Maine office, the writer on August 9 says that "EVERY waitress who serves you is going to spit in your food, and that's if you're lucky, you f***ing c***! Think of that every meal."
On another front, the “Be. A. Hero” campaign has raised more than $1 million in a crowd sourcing campaign in an attempt to pressure Collins to vote against Kavanaugh.
Organizers say that donors to the fund will get their money back if Collins votes against Kavanaugh, but if she votes for him, it will be donated to a potential opponent in her 2020 re-election race, according to the organizers Mainers for Accountable Leadership and Maine People’s Alliance.
The campaign is led by ALS patient and father Ady Barkan who has been pleading with senators to uphold health care protections.
Collins’ office calls the effort an attempt at bribery.
“Bribery will not work on Senator Collins. Extortion will not work on Senator Collins. And anybody who thinks these tactics would work on Senator Collins obviously doesn’t know her,” spokeswoman Annie Clark said in a statement. “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.”
Cleta Mitchell, a Republican campaign finance attorney at Foley & Lardner, agrees with Collins's office, saying the effort is “legally problematic.” While not directly affiliated with Collins, Mitchell says she intends to send a letter to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Maine, asking for an investigation into the fund.
“If they walked into her office and said we’ll give you a million dollars to vote against Kavanaugh, well, that’s a bribe,” Mitchell said. “It certainly seems to me that it is a thing of value for an official action and it’s a quid-pro-quo. It is tied to a specific vote.”
Marie Follayttar, with Mainers for Accountable Leadership, defends their campaign. "We have the right to prepare to unseat her," Follayttar said. They plan to deliver more than 500 handwritten letters to Collins Maine office on Wednesday.
Collins has been a target of groups on the left and the right since Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement. Activists on both sides have staged rallies outsider of her Maine offices, and Kavanaugh opponents have mailed in wire hangers to her office, representing a return to dangerous abortion methods should it be overturned.
Republicans hold 51 seats in the Senate, so it would take two Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against Kavanaugh to block his nomination (because Vice President Mike Pence would be the deciding vote in the event of a 50-50 tie).
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is also considered a potential vote against Kavanaugh. In addition, three Senate Democrats voted to confirm President Trump's last nominee, Neil Gorsuch and all three face tough re-election fights this November in states Trump carried handily.
But Collins has been getting the most intense attention from activists. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee has taken out full page ads in Collins’ hometown paper the Bangor Daily News. The ad says Collins’ legacy will be more than 50,000 women jailed by 2032 for getting abortions if she votes for Kavanaugh.
The ad also quotes Trump telling Fox News’ Chris Wallace that he “will be appointing pro-life judges” to the Supreme Court and Trump telling MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that there should be “some form of punishment” for women who get abortions.
The ad campaign will also run in Alaska, targeting Murkowski, if enough money is raised.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said again on Tuesday that he plans to hold the vote the last week of September, which would have Kavanaugh seated for the first day of the new term should he be confirmed.