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Tensions rise on Capitol Hill as Kavanaugh vote nears

Protesters roam the halls, seeking out lawmakers who are increasingly surrounded by police protection.

WASHINGTON — Tensions are rising on Capitol Hill.

The anticipated vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh this week has sparked protests and an increased police presence, with small bands of protesters roaming the halls of the Senate office buildings, loudly confronting lawmakers.

Multiple senators, including Sen. Susan Collins, who was helped back to her office by Capitol Police after a committee hearing on Wednesday, have been spotted with police escorts in recent days. Hallways have been briefly closed off, even to media, and Collins was driven away from the Hill in a Capitol Police car last Friday.

Anti-Kavanaugh protesters have fixated on the Maine Republican for a reason: She is one of a handful of senators — including Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. — who have not said publicly how they plan to vote on President Donald Trump's pick.

What those senators decide will be critical for Kavanaugh, whose nomination has been roiled by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's allegation that he sexually assaulted her when they were both teenagers, and other allegations of sexual misconduct.

After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., vowed that a confirmation vote would occur this week, regardless of when the FBI hands over the results of a supplemental investigation into the allegations, the drama intensified, with many senators appearing on edge both in the halls of Congress and even outside of Washington.

Though the large-scale demonstrations from last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with Kavanaugh Ford have dissipated, some protesters are still making themselves heard.

“Would you please leave me alone,” Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., told a pair of anti-Kavanaugh protesters Wednesday afternoon. The same pair of protesters caught Collins in the Senate’s basement, and hollered at her about how she’ll vote.

“Your voice matters, and your decision matters,” a protester said while confronting Murkowski by an elevator on Tuesday.

After two female protesters pleaded with Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., last Friday to listen to their stories of sexual assault and oppose Kavanaugh, he was again approached by a female protester on Tuesday. She thanked him for his pivotal decision to call for an investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh — ultimately causing the White House, at the request of Republican leaders, to direct the FBI to conduct a supplemental background check.

“I appreciate you listening to those women, you're doing the right thing,” said the protester, who said she drove 13 hours from west of Boston in order to talk to him.

Flake has said he would like to see Kavanaugh confirmed, but that it’s important for the FBI to release its findings first.

Even outside of Washington, senators have not escaped the anti-Kavanaugh outcry.

Nine women were reportedly charged early Tuesday morning after staging a sit-in at Manchin's campaign office in Charleston, West Virginia, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Originally, 17 women had entered the office on Monday afternoon, saying that they wouldn’t leave until the Democratic senator pledged to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination.

McConnell on Wednesday accused the “far-left”of trying to “bully and intimidate” members of the GOP conference.

“One of our colleagues and his family were effectively run out of a restaurant in recent days,” McConnell said in remarks on the Senate floor, referring to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and his wife. “Another reported having protesters physically block his car door. And some have seen organized far-left protestors camp out at their homes. I’m not suggesting we’re the victims here. But I want to make it clear to these people who are chasing my members around the hall here, or harassing them at the airports, or going to their homes. We will not be intimidated by these people. There is no chance in the world that they’re going to scare us out of doing our duty.”

McConnell said that the “national spectacle” consuming Kavanaugh’s nomination “has now reached some kind of fever pitch.”

“It has been 17 days since Dr. Ford’s confidential correspondence was leaked to the press. Seventeen days of a feeding frenzy on Judge Kavanaugh and his family unlike anything we have seen in recent memory,” he said.

And though Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Tuesday said that he and McConnell normally “get along” and the GOP leader laughs at his jokes, Schumer derided the “gall” of McConnell to complain about the delay in Kavanaugh's confirmation vote after he held up the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland for 10 months.

President Donald Trump added fuel to the fire Tuesday night by mocking Ford at a campaign rally, prompting a number of GOP senators, including those who are publicly undecided, to criticize him.

Flake called his comments “appalling” in an interview on NBC’s “Today.” Collins told reporters that “the president’s comments were just plain wrong.”

The White House and Senate Republicans gave the FBI until Friday to complete its new probe into the allegations against Kavanaugh, and McConnell has not yet announced which day this week that the Senate will vote on the judge's nomination.

Still, Republican leaders have signaled that they plan to plow ahead quickly.

Asked Tuesday how long he would give senators to read and digest the FBI's report on Kavanaugh before moving to a full Senate floor vote, McConnell said, "It shouldn't take long."