As the U.S. Senate prepares for a showdown vote on Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, two Harvard alumni traveled from New York City on Thursday to hand-deliver a petition condemning the nominee to the D.C. office of Sen. Ben E. Sasse ’94 (R-Neb.).
The petition calls on Sasse to vote “no” on Kavanaugh, urging him to “demonstrate the bravery and commitment to the American democratic principles you have so often celebrated on the Senate Judiciary Committee.” The two alumni — Allison A. Hill-Edgar ’94 and Melissa A. Bender ’94 — graduated from Harvard in 1994, the same year Sasse did.
“If you vote in support [of] Judge Kavanaugh, it is a political choice about the meaning of the constitution and our vision of democracy; a choice that will have real consequences for real people,” reads the petition, available online and signed by roughly 350 Harvard affiliates as of Thursday evening.
At least two women have stepped forward in recent weeks to accuse Kavanaugh — whom President Donald Trump nominated to sit on the nation’s highest court over the summer — of sexual assault perpetrated decades ago. The FBI completed an investigation into the women’s allegations late Wednesday, allowing the Senate to proceed with a vote.
It is unclear what the outcome of that vote will be; the Senate has split over Kavanaugh along partisan lines, with most Republicans vowing to support the conservative judge while Democrats promise to oppose him. The votes cast by four key undecided senators — Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) — will likely determine Kavanaugh’s fate. Sasse, who hails from a deep-red state, is all but certain to vote for the embattled nominee.
Bender said she and Hill-Edgar were unable to meet with Sasse in person Thursday, though staffers in his office took the printed-out petition. The two women said Sasse’s staff told them the senator had left D.C. for a “family commitment” earlier in the morning.
“They kindly accepted the petition but said, ‘No, sorry,’” Bender said.
After the two women waited around D.C. for several hours, Bender said, one of Sasse’s staffers agreed to meet with them. But the staffer was unable to offer any response to the petition on the senator’s behalf, the women said.
Sasse’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Hill-Edgar and Bender said they were willing to make the hours-long trip from New York to Capitol Hill because the issues raised by Kavanaugh’s possible confirmation are crucial — not only to them personally, but to women across the nation.
“This is a really historic moment where the Senate could serve as a model for the world of showing people what this powerful body of men does when women come forward,” Bender said in an interview Thursday. “And if women come forward and nothing happens, there’s no consequences, then what does this say for certain individuals in this country and for people all over the world?”
“This was really important to us,” Hill-Edgar said.
Aren R. Cohen ’94, who helped organize the petition to Sasse, said she, Hill-Edgar, and Bender repeatedly tried to coordinate a meeting with Sasse by emailing and sending LinkedIn messages to his staffers throughout the day Wednesday and Thursday.
Eventually, Cohen said, she received a response from Tyler Grassmeyer, Sasse’s deputy chief of staff: Grassmeyer wrote that the senator would have to decline a meeting.
“The reality of it is that it was incredibly short notice,” Cohen said, adding that she thought Sasse’s office was on the whole “very considerate.”
Hill-Edgar said she hopes the fact that she and Bender hand-delivered the petition to Sasse’s office might spur the senator to actually read it “instead of it just being a stack of papers that he ignores.”
“We’ll just have to see what will happen,” Hill-Edgar said. “I’m very much hoping that people will think about this outside of just picking along their traditional party lines.”
—Staff writer Simone C. Chu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @simonechu_.
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