Pelosi, Schumer press for gun screenings as Trump inches away
Left risks backlash in Kavanaugh fight
Hardball tactics are threatening to backfire on the left in the final weeks of the high-stakes fight over Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination.
GOP senators blasted Democrats and their liberal supporters on Wednesday over what Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called a "harassment campaign" against Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who a day earlier revealed a staffer in her office had been threatened with rape by people calling to oppose Kavanaugh's confirmation.
Separately, Democrats opposed to Kavanaugh's nomination have come under criticism for taking remarks made by the nominee out of context. Republicans ripped former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, arguing she was guilty of the same misinformation related to the judge that had earned Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) "four Pinocchios" from The Washington Post fact checker.
Both incidents gave Republicans fresh ammunition in the Supreme Court fight - and a chance to shift the focus from Kavanaugh to the tactics being used by his opponents.
Republican leadership seized on the threats and profanity-laced messages being sent to Collins as a way to paint the Senate Democratic caucus as extreme and "radical," underscoring the political danger for vulnerable incumbents running for reelection in states won by President Trump.
Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the No. 2 Republican in the upper chamber, called the tactics "extremely concerning." He added that Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is sending a "dangerous message" by not condemning the rhetoric.
"Targeting members in such a personal and hostile way has no place in public discourse," he said. "It's time for Sen. Schumer to make clear where he stands and disavow the mob rule of the radical left."
In one voicemail to Collins's offices that was reviewed by The Hill, the caller questions how "f---ing naive" Collins has to be if she believes that Kavanaugh thinks Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established the right to an abortion, is "settled law," as he told her in their closed-door meeting.
"You are so f---ing naive if you ... vote for him," the caller says. "'Oh, I didn't know, I'm so naive,' f--- you, f--- you. You wonder people called you naive when you believed f---ing Mitch McConnell and voted for his tax scam?"
Another letter sent to Collins's office, addressed from "every Maine resident," warned that if Collins voted for Kavanaugh, waitresses would spit in her food.
"And that's if you're lucky, you f---ing c---. Think of that at every meal," the letter, which was postmarked in early August, continues.
But there are no signs that the heated rhetoric has moved the needle on a handful of centrists who have yet to take a position on Kavanaugh's nomination.
The messages "have been laced with threats, with profanity, with vulgar language, completely inappropriate," Collins said on Wednesday. "It has absolutely zero impact on my decisionmaking."
Collins has yet to signal how she will vote, though she's spoken positively about Kavanaugh's record. Asked about a timeline for making a decision, Collins said on Wednesday that she still had questions for Kavanaugh that she would raise during a phone call with him later this week.
Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D), Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) remain publicly undecided.
"It's just unfortunate. She's just a good lady," Manchin told The Hill on Wednesday evening. "She's a really, really good lady. Sincere. Conscientious. And she'll do what she feels is right for Maine ... and I have all the confidence in the world in her."
"But to get beat up the way she's getting beat up, and some of the nasty - I'm hearing some things - it's just a shame. It really is," he added. "But this is called public service and not self-service and Susan is the standard bearer of public service. I hope the people of Maine realize that."
A spokesman for Manchin said the office had not received similarly vulgar calls or messages.
Donnelly also condemned the "vulgar" rhetoric being directed toward Collins while speaking with reporters on Capitol Hill.
"I think that's shameful. Susan Collins is a terrific senator, is being extraordinarily thoughtful about coming to a decision on this, and I can assure you that that doesn't help at all," Donnelly said.
But progressive activists seized on the pushback from Republicans questioning why the calls and mail were being circulated now by the media and warned against linking the rhetoric to separate efforts being driven by progressive groups to target Collins.
Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, argued that Republican senators calling out the rhetoric were trying to distract from how Collins is weighing Kavanaugh's nomination.
"This is an obvious ploy to distract from Senator Collins weighing a vote that her constituents are against and put all Americans in peril for generations. The only question is why the press is giving it credence or airtime," she said on Twitter, reacting to a roundup of Republican reactions from The Hill.
Hogue, in a longer statement released on Wednesday, added that "threats of violence and profanity are completely unacceptable, but focusing on the few who have engaged in this behavior buys into the GOP narrative and ignores the tens of thousands of Mainers and Americans that are participating in our democracy."
Karin Roland, a resident of Maine and chief campaigns officer for UltraViolet, said that while the vulgar calls and threats are "unacceptable," Collins is "no victim."
"These are a very small percentage of the calls she is receiving and by selectively leaking them to the press she is trying to create a false and misleading narrative ... Release the calls from the tens of thousands of Maine residents like me, who have respectfully urged you to oppose this nomination," Roland added.
After an NBC News reporter posted a screenshot of the letter, Brian Fallon, a spokesman for the progressive group Demand Justice, said "this type of message deserves universal condemnation" but questioned the timing of the news reports.
"How is it breaking news more than a month later and why is it being linked to the crowdfunding push, which didn't launch [until] a week later?" Fallon asked in a tweet.
Neither the letter nor the voicemails reviewed by The Hill indicate that they are linked to, or being driven by, efforts by progressive groups to get Collins to oppose Kavanaugh.
Two outside groups have raised more than $1.1 million dollars to donate to a potential 2020 opponent if Collins supports Kavanaugh.
Mainers for Accountable Leadership and the Maine People's Alliance defended the fundraising campaign on Wednesday after Collins and other Republicans compared it to a "bribe."
"The idea of Susan Collins attacking an effort by 35,000 small-dollar donors as bribery is politics at its worst," said Marie Follayttar, the co-director of Mainers for Accountable Leadership.
The back-and-forth over Collins comes as tensions around Kavanaugh's nomination have boiled over in a normally collegial Senate. Lawmakers are under pressure to ratchet up their tactics to match the country's increasingly partisan battle lines.
Dozens of protesters interrupted the confirmation hearings, and more than 200 were arrested, to demand that senators shut down the hearings or reject Kavanaugh altogether.
And Democrats were under intense pressure from their base to use the hearing to grill Kavanaugh and show that they are willing to wage an all-out war against his nomination, which the caucus can't stop on its own.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) earned praise from progressives and days of media attention by releasing dozens of documents labeled "committee confidential," meaning they couldn't be released publicly. But Republicans mocked him after he dared them to slap him with an Ethics Committee investigation, declaring the showdown his "Spartacus" moment.
Progressives also lashed out at Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) when she began her questions for Kavanaugh with an apparent apology. Feinstein is up for reelection and facing a challenge from the left.
"I'm sorry about the circumstances, but we'll get through it," she told Kavanaugh before digging into questions on abortion, gun rights and executive authority.
Republicans have also accused Democrats of purposefully misstating the positions of Trump's nominee. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) referenced Harris's tweets as an example of Democrats trying to "slime" Kavanaugh.
"The Washington Post's fact checker called out one of our Democratic colleagues and assigned her shameless misrepresentation of Judge Kavanaugh's testimony 'four Pinocchios' - its strongest condemnation," McConnell said without directly naming Harris.
Democrats, meanwhile, are planning to sue this week to force the Trump administration to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request, in what would be a first for a Supreme Court nomination.
But the sharp rhetoric from activists and some of Collins's constituents contrasted with the tactics from top Senate Democrats on Wednesday.
Schumer didn't mention Collins or the fundraising effort against her in a Senate floor speech but instead focused on urging Republicans to review the Judiciary Committee hearing.
"If a nominee provides false or misleading testimony to a committee that should weigh heavily, very heavily on the minds of every senator when it comes time to vote," Schumer said.
Schumer himself is under fierce pressure from progressives over frustration that he hasn't united the 49-member caucus in opposition to Kavanaugh.
Heidi Hess, a co-director for Credo Action, said it was wasn't "realistic" to think Democrats would publicly "trash" or critique Schumer's strategy, but they hope they are "giving the progressive champions in the Senate room to talk about this behind closed doors in their caucus."
"We absolutely continue to think that this is a test of his leadership," Hess said. "And if he can't get it done then we think that we need new leadership."
-- Updated 11:43 a.m.