Republican Sen. Susan Collins announced on Friday afternoon that she would vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, defying a well-funded, months-long campaign to sway her the other way. As a senator who occasionally votes against her own party, especially on issues of reproductive rights, Collins was considered one of two or three deciding votes on Kavanaugh. Now that she and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin have thrown their support behind him, his confirmation is all but assured.
Collins’ 40-minute speech on the Senate floor offered a wide-ranging critique of the strategies employed by Kavanaugh’s opponents and a detailed account of all the decisions in his judicial record that supposedly show his impartiality. It took about half an hour for the senator from Maine to get to the sexual assault and harassment allegations against Kavanaugh. When she did, she went on an excruciatingly cynical and unnecessarily cruel rant about the unbelievability of Christine Blasey Ford’s story, a diatribe that was utterly unconcerned with the psychology of traumatic memory recall and the specifics of Ford’s allegations.
In her soliloquy, Collins listed every reason she doubted Ford’s sworn testimony that Kavanaugh had tackled her on a bed, covered her mouth, and attempted to rape her at a high school gathering in the early 1980s. “The four witnesses she named could not corroborate any of the events of that evening gathering where she says the assault occurred,” Collins said. “None of the individuals professor Ford says were at the party has any recollection at all of that night.” She listed the people who denied the assault took place—Kavanaugh and alleged participant Mark Judge—and those Ford said were there but have professed they can’t remember any such party. Collins said it was telling that even Ford’s friend, Leland Keyser, said she didn’t know Kavanaugh or remember any such gathering. Collins implied that it was fishy that, though Ford said she couldn’t remember how she got home immediately after the alleged assault, no one has come forward to say they drove her home. Finally, she noted with audible suspicion that Ford had said she’d fled the gathering abruptly, yet no one called her the next day to ask if she was OK, “not even her closest friend, Ms. Keyser.”
There was no reason for Keyser to remember what, for her, would likely have been an unremarkable evening drinking with a group of boys she may or may not have known. There is also no reason to believe that Judge would admit to an alleged assault or that the other alleged attendee, P.J. Smyth, would throw his friend under the bus. Experts also say that it’s common among trauma survivors to remember the essential, emotionally charged facts of an assault—like the identity of a known perpetrator—while the surrounding details and aftermath get blurred.
But Collins’ unabashed disregard for these truths was still less sickening than her decision to tell the entire country why she thinks Ford is either lying about her assault or, in what seems to be an increasingly popular GOP theory, confused about who the perpetrator was. Collins said Ford’s testimony was “sincere, painful, and compelling,” that she believes Ford “is a survivor of a sexual assault and that this trauma has upended her life.” Still, she refuses to believe Kavanaugh perpetrated that assault. Is Ford lying or messed up in the head? Collins doesn’t say.
Over the past few weeks, survivors of sexual violence have watched conservatives mock them, call them paid actors, and tell them that a false accusation of sexual assault is nearly as damaging as an actual sexual assault. They have been forced to relive their own interior monologues of shame, self-blame, and self-doubt while confronting the fact that no matter how respectable a victim they are, no matter how “sincere, painful, and compelling” their testimonies, no matter how much they risk to tell their truths, they will rarely be able to bring their assailants to justice—even when justice means something as pitifully inadequate as keeping a man on the second-highest court in the land instead of the first.
Susan Collins could have just praised Kavanaugh’s judicial record, affirmed her “yes” vote, and left it at that. Instead, she made Ford out to be an unreliable narrator, a stand-in for all women who’ve been told their allegations against God-fearing, Ivy League–educated carpool dads are too far-fetched to be believed.