WASHINGTON — Kate Byrne sat on the cold tile floor outside the office of Maine Sen. Susan Collins.

Four floors below, in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building, police were arresting hundreds of protesters who had swarmed the nation’s capital to oppose Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court. Upstairs, in the quiet hallway, a small contingent of women from Collins’ home state staked out her office.

“I kind of hope I get to see her face to face,” said Byrne, 34.

Byrne was one of dozens of Maine women who converged Thursday on Washington with that same desire. They rallied as Collins got the results of an FBI investigation into the allegations of sexual assault and misconduct against Kavanaugh. Her upcoming and still-unknown vote on the judge’s confirmation has deeply personal meaning to women who have survived sexual assaults, but it also could have political consequences for Collins herself.

“If you vote to confirm him, we are not stopping,” Marie Follayttar Smith, co-founder of Mainers for Accountable Leadership and a supporter of sexual assault survivors, shouted into the microphone during an afternoon rally on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. “We are coming for your Senate seat.”

The Republican senator was not available for meetings Thursday, but her staff met with multiple groups of Mainers throughout the day. A spokeswoman from Collins’ office said the senator spent nearly five total hours in a secure room in the U.S. Capitol reviewing the FBI’s investigation report.

One group of elected women from Maine – city councilors, state senators and mayors – caught early morning flights to visit Collins’ office.

Samantha Paradis, the mayor of Belfast, said she would bring her own story of sexual assault to Collins’ staff. She said she was unexpectedly emotional when she watched Christine Blasey Ford testify last week that Kavanaugh assaulted her when they were teenagers.

“I wasn’t expecting to relive the same feeling, saying that she is not believed and the comments that followed,” Paradis said. “Sen. Collins is in the position to ensure that women know that we’re heard and that our voices matter and that we’re not going to appoint someone to the Supreme Court who is not of fit character.”

NATION ‘COUNTING ON OUR GROUP’

Another two dozen people, mostly women who said they have experienced sexual violence, rode more than 600 miles overnight on a bus from Portland. Byrne, who lives in Portland, traveled in that group. She said hearing the testimony of Ford, a California psychology professor, reminded her of the day 20 years ago when a man groped her in a movie theater in Portland. So when she learned about the bus trip on Facebook, she put in a last-minute request for time off from her job at a call center in South Portland.

She said she felt compelled to take action for herself and her friends.

“I have friends who have lived the doctor’s story when we were kids, high school, college and beyond,” Byrne said. “I believe them, and I can’t be a part of minimizing their experience.”

The bus group arrived in Washington at 8 a.m. Thursday as the morning fog lifted.

Former state legislator Diane Russell, who organized the trip and arrived in the city the day before, met the group at Union Station. She updated them on the latest news. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had scheduled a key vote to advance the judge’s confirmation for Friday.

“While you were on the bus, Mitch McConnell pushed the button to move this forward,” Russell told them. “Everyone in the country is counting on our group to persuade (Collins).”

As the group walked through the station and to the office building, passers-by waved at the sight of their signs. “Go get ’em,” one woman yelled. One man jogged past, chanting, “Trump! Trump! Trump!” Russell led them in chants of their own.

“Maine is wise to Kavanaugh’s lies,” they shouted from the sidewalk.

FLASHBACKS TO THEIR OWN ASSAULT

Friends Heather Everly Berube and Lynnea Hawkins came together from Lewiston.

Hawkins, 38, said she was sexually abused as a girl and has suffered from panic attacks ever since. When she listened to Ford testify about Kavanaugh assaulting her when they were teenagers, she had flashbacks to her own life.

“It was like, ‘Oh, wait a second, I’m not the only one who has been carrying this for years,’ ” Hawkins said. “I felt like she was speaking for me.”

Berube, 33, said she experienced sexual assault as a teenager and in an abusive relationship as an adult. Now, she wants to protect her young daughter. She wanted to tell Collins that nothing will change if the senators do not take the allegations against Kavanaugh seriously.

“I feel like it’s too late for us, but our children and our grandchildren are only going to have it worse,” she said.

In a chaotic day in the capital, the group split up and bounced between congressional offices. Some women went to get cash for bail money just in case. Maine Sen. Angus King offered a conference room as a home base for them. King, an independent, met with the group of elected women to hear their concerns about Kavanaugh, and he intercepted the group from the bus on the sidewalk near his office building.

“This is a tough time,” he told them. “And we can’t lose hope.”

Half of the bus group met with a member of Collins’ staff in her office. Rowan Bost, a legislative correspondent who works on the judiciary portfolio, took notes while the women spoke about their experiences and their concerns with Kavanaugh’s nomination.

“Thirty-seven years ago, I was a victim of sexual assault,” said April Caricchio, 55, of South Portland. “I called the police, and the police came and told me that they couldn’t help me, because nobody saw it happen. That’s the culture that Dr. Ford was dealing with at that time. Anybody my age that dealt with sexual assault at that time would tell you that was the norm. So for her not to be believed just blows my mind.”

DOUBTS THAT COLLINS WILL VOTE ‘NO’

The meeting lasted about 45 minutes. Bost at one point paused to roll her wrist, tired from holding her notebook. The women encouraged each other with nods of agreement, passing of tissues, hugs and applause.

“She needs to stand up,” Mistie Smith, 42, from Fort Fairfield, said of Collins. “I shouldn’t have to be here doing a little song and dance. All these women shouldn’t have to be here telling their sob stories, pouring their heart and soul out just to get their senator to do what I know the majority of Maine constituents want.”

The Mainers repeatedly expressed disappointment that they could not meet with the senator herself. Later, as they stood in the hot sun at the afternoon rally, they seemed both invigorated by the protesters around them and less confident than ever that their senator would vote against Kavanaugh. They cheered the news that North Dakota Democrat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp would vote “no,” but they worried about the lack of news from Collins.

Amanda DoAmaral, 28, of South Portland, had written the trip organizer’s phone number on her arm in purple marker in case she got arrested. But she debated whether that would be an effective way to influence Collins’ decision. Ultimately, no one from the bus group went to jail, but DoAmaral ultimately decided to skip the bus ride home because organizers from the Women’s March said they would help her find lodging and pay her way home later in the weekend.

“It just doesn’t feel right to leave,” she said.

As the other Mainers sat in the hallway outside Collins’ office, hoping she would appear in their final hours in Washington, Portland resident Kali Bird Isis said she was proud to see so many people speaking about sexual assault.

“I don’t necessarily feel more hopeful about Collins,” said Bird Isis, 60. “I feel more hopeful about the human race.”

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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