Two women who said they were survivors of sexual assault angrily confronted Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona in an elevator Friday morning over his decision to vote yes on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Later in the day, Flake voted to move Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate — but also moved to delay a final vote for a week to allow time for an FBI investigation into allegations of sexual assault. Senate leadership and the White House also agreed to the supplemental investigation.
So who were the two women who confronted Flake? And was their confrontation a factor in Flake’s last-minute move that shook up the confirmation?
The two women were Ana Maria Archila, 39, the co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, and Maria Gallagher, 23, the New York Times reports. A spokeswoman for the Center for Popular Democracy said Gallagher was not directly affiliated with the organization but was “just a passionate person.”
“I wanted him to feel my rage,” Archila said of her encounter with Flake, according to the Times. “He knows that this is wrong and it sends the wrong message to my children and his children. But despite all that, he chooses party.”
But Archila’s confrontation with Flake didn’t just make him aware of the sexual assault she said she survived at 5 — it shared her story with countless viewers, including her own father, who messaged her after seeing the clip saying “I’m so sorry for not being able to protect you,” according to the Times.
The encounter was broadcast live on CNN and lasted several minutes.
“You’re telling me my assault doesn’t matter,” Gallagher said to Flake, who remained in the elevator listening to her and Archila. “You’re letting people who do these things into power. That’s what you’re telling me when you vote for him. Don’t look away from me.”
Gallagher looked at the senator and spoke through tears.
“Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me, that you will let people like that go into the highest court of the land and tell everyone what they can do to their bodies,” Gallagher said.
Flake, looking stricken, nodded his head and looked at her.
Then Archila began speaking.
“You are allowing someone who is unwilling to take responsibility for his own actions to sit in the highest court in the country,” Archila said.
Flake repeatedly thanked the women and said he needed to get to the hearing.
“I need to go to the hearing, I just issued a statement. There have been a lot of questions here,” Flake told reporters, according to a full transcript of the exchange provided by the New York Times.
After Flake’s call for an FBI investigation added a new twist to Kavanaugh’s confirmation process, a reporter for the Washington Examiner said she asked the senator if the women had an impact.
“No, no,” Flake said as he shook his head, according to reporter Laura Barrón-López.
Bloomberg News said it asked Flake why he called for a delay as well.
“There were a lot of people on the phone in email and text and walking around the capitol,” Flake said, according to a Tweet from Bloomberg reports Erik Wasson. “It’s been remarkable the number of people who saw Dr Ford and were emboldened to come out and say what happened to them including close friends.”
Archila released a statement to McClatchy after confronting Flake Friday morning.
“Earlier this week, I shared my survivor story for the first time in front of Senator Jeff Flake’s office and I know that I am not alone. Survivors from Arizona and across the country have been flooding his office with their stories,” Archila wrote. “By announcing he will vote ‘yes’ on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, Flake showed us that he does not care about our truths and does not care about women. He claims to support civility, but has proven today that he would rather ignore women’s stories and support a disrespectful sexual abuser than stick to his values.”
Archila emigrated to the United States from Colombia when she was 17, and has since “become a leading voice for racial justice, economic justice and immigrant rights in New York and nationally,” according to the Center for Popular Democracy.
Her biography on the group’s website says Archila spent years working at Make Road New York, an advocacy group for “immigrant and working class communities,” before moving to her position at the Center for Popular Democracy in 2014.
The Center for Popular Democracy says it aims to “deepen and grow the progressive movement infrastructure, and to advance a pro-worker, pro-immigrant, racial and economic justice policy agenda nationwide.”
“I went to Jeff Flake’s office because I think of him as someone who sometimes chooses his conscience over his party,” she said in an interview with ABC News. “We weren’t really willing to let him go without actually looking at us and forcing him to listen to our stories and making him understand the gravity of the message he was sending to the country.”
Gallagher said she became angry because Flake wouldn’t meet her gaze, and because he “wasn’t taking into account what his actions would be doing to millions of people,” the Daily Beast reports.
“It was all kind of a blur,” Gallagher said, according to The Daily Beast. “We all ran after him. We held open the elevator and I just started telling him why it was important and what had happened to me and why he should not let Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.”