The scene was striking: Two women blocking an elevator door, angrily demanding to be heard as a senator stood by, listening quietly, nodding and looking away.
“On Monday, I stood in front of your office,” one of the women, Ana Maria Archila, forcefully told Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona. “I told the story of my sexual assault.”
Mr. Flake had just announced his intention on Friday morning to vote to confirm Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, despite emotional testimony a day earlier from Christine Blasey Ford, who had accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
Reporters swarmed around as Mr. Flake waited in the elevator, but the two women interrupted and demanded that he listen.
“I need to go, I need to go to the hearing,” Mr. Flake told Ms. Archila, 39, in the widely shared video of the moment.
Ms. Archila persisted. “I told it because I recognized in Dr. Ford’s story that she is telling the truth,” she said, her voice breaking. “What you are doing is allowing someone who actually violated a woman to sit on the Supreme Court. This is not tolerable. You have children in your family. Think about them.”
Hours later, in a surprise development, Senator Flake said that he would not support confirmation without a one-week F.B.I. investigation into the allegations, as he joined his fellow Republicans in advancing the nomination. There was widespread speculation that the elevator encounter had played a role.
[Watch the full exchange, and scroll down for a full transcript]
Ms. Archila, a national committee member of the Working Families Party and an executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, a New York-based liberal organizing group, said the moment had come together in a flash of righteous rage. She had spent the week in Washington protesting Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, she said, and had just read about Mr. Flake’s decision when she saw him in a Capitol Hill hallway.
Ms. Archila and Maria Gallagher, 23, who had also come to protest the confirmation, raced to block the elevators Mr. Flake was heading toward, she said, and confronted him as he entered.
“I wanted him to feel my rage,” Ms. Archila said in an interview on Friday afternoon.
As she spoke to him, Mr. Flake nodded and looked down, his eyes darting between her, the floor and the elevator wall — a moment captured live on CNN.
Then Ms. Gallagher spoke.
“I was sexually assaulted and nobody believed me,” she said. “I didn’t tell anyone, and you’re telling all women that they don’t matter.”
Later, as she tearfully reprimanded Mr. Flake for his decision to support Judge Kavanaugh, Ms. Gallagher demanded the senator’s attention.
“Don’t look away from me,” she said. “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.”
Ms. Gallagher declined to be interviewed, but confirmed many details through a spokesman.
Ms. Archila said that when they confronted Mr. Flake, it was one of the first times either had publicly shared their accounts of sexual assault. Ms. Archila, who says she was assaulted when she was 5, said she was moved to tell her story after seeing Dr. Blasey’s testimony.
“When the #MeToo movement broke out, I thought about saying it — but I wrote things and deleted it and eventually decided I can’t say, ‘Me too,’” Ms. Archila said. “But when Dr. Blasey did it, I forced myself to think about it again.”
Mr. Flake was in a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday afternoon after the exchange and could not be immediately reached for comment. In the video, he can be seen bowing his head as the women tell their stories, and murmuring, “Thank you,” without answering their questions.
[For more coverage of Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation and the Senate Judiciary Committee’s actions on Friday, read here]
Ms. Archila said “he looked ashamed” and “had a hard time looking us in the face.”
“He knows that this is wrong and it sends the wrong message to my children and his children,” Ms. Archila said. “But despite all that, he chooses party.”
The exchange channeled anger among liberals over how Republicans have run the confirmation. Shortly after the women confronted Mr. Flake, several Democrats walked out of the committee’s hearing.
“This is just a total railroad job,” yelled Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, before walking out of the room.
For each woman, the encounter meant that her family now knew about an assault that was once private, given how widely video footage of the exchange had been shared.
Ms. Archila said that her father messaged her after finding out: “I’m so sorry for not being able to protect you,” he said.
“It was Dr. Ford’s story that allowed me to tell this secret to my parents,” she said. “I now have to do the work of how me and my parents process this experience, and I don’t know how this is going to go.”
Following is a full transcript of the conversation between Mr. Flake, Ms. Archila and Ms. Gallagher, as prepared by The New York Times.
PROTESTER: On Monday, I stood in front of your office [inaudible]. I told the story of my sexual assault. I told it because I recognized in Dr. Ford’s story that she is telling the truth. What you are doing is allowing someone who actually violated a woman to sit on the Supreme Court. This is not tolerable. You have children in your family. Think about them. I have two children.
I cannot imagine that for the next 50 years they will have to have someone in the Supreme Court who has been accused of violating a young girl. What are you doing, sir?
ANOTHER PROTESTER: I was sexually assaulted and nobody believed me. I didn’t tell anyone, and you’re telling all women that they don’t matter, that they should just stay quiet because if they tell you what happened to them you are going to ignore them. That’s what happened to me, and that’s what you are telling all women in America, that they don’t matter. They should just keep it to themselves because if they have told the truth, you’re just going to help that man to power anyway.
That’s what you’re telling all of these women. That’s what you’re telling me right now. Look at me when I’m talking to you. You are telling me that my assault doesn’t matter, that what happened to me doesn’t, and that you’re going to let 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.
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.
REPORTER: Do you want to respond, Senator Flake?
PROTESTER: Senator Flake, do you think that Brett Kavanaugh is telling the truth?
AIDE: Thank you.
PROTESTER: Do you think that he’s able to hold the pain of this country and repair it? That is the work of justice. The way that justice works is you recognize hurt, you take responsibility for it and then you begin to repair it. You are allowing someone who is unwilling to take responsibility for his own actions and willing to hold the harm he has done to one woman, actually three women, and not repair it. You are allowing someone who is unwilling to take responsibility for his own actions —
REPORTER: Do you want to respond?
PROTESTER: — to sit in the highest court of the country and to have the role of repairing the harm that has been done in this country to many people.
SENATOR JEFF FLAKE: Thank you.
PROTESTER: No, no thank you. What do you think?
REPORTER: Senator, do you care to respond?
AIDE: Ma’am, do you want to talk to this staffer out here?
PROTESTER: No. I want to talk to him. Don’t talk to me. What do you think?
MR. FLAKE: I need to go to the hearing.
PROTESTER: I understand, but tell me. I’m standing right here in front of you.
PROTESTER: What do you have — do you think he’s telling the truth?
MR. FLAKE: Thank you. I’m going to go to —
PROTESTER: No. Do you think that he’s telling the truth to the country?
ANOTHER PROTESTER: You have power, but so many women are powerless.
MR. FLAKE: Thank you. [Inaudible]
UNKNOWN: Can you not give them an answer, senator?
AIDE: We have our press available to talk to you. Thank you. Thank you. You can either come in or out. Thank you.
PROTESTER: Saying thank you is not an answer. This is about the future of our country, sir. You are appointing him to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court —
AIDE: We’ve gotta go. We’re calling security.
PROTESTER: That’s fine. Find security.
UNKNOWN: Senator, why not be a hero and vote no?
PROTESTER: Why now? Why not wait? Why not wait for the investigation? There is no harm —
PROTESTER: How can you be speechless?
PROTESTER: We demand to know what you’re thinking. Do you stand with these women? Do you stand with this nation who deserves due process?
REPORTER: Senator, do you want to respond to their complaints? Senator, do you care to respond to their complaints?
MR. FLAKE: No. I need to go to the hearing. I just issued a statement. I’ll be saying more as well.
PROTESTER: We can’t get an answer?
MR. FLAKE: No, there have been a lot of questions here, and I don’t want to —
PROTESTER: There is only one question.
REPORTER: The American Bar Association says that they should wait for an F.B.I. investigation. Do you not believe that?
PROTESTER: — being heard by the highest people in power that they’re —
PROTESTER: Do what is right.
MR. FLAKE: Thank you.