Following the bitterly partisan, acrimonious confirmation battle over Associate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., warned in an interview on Tuesday that heated political rhetoric has the potential to turn deadly.
"I fear that there's going to be an assassination," Paul told a Kentucky radio show. "I really worry that somebody is going to be killed, and that those who are ratcheting up the conversation ... they have to realize they bear some responsibility if this elevates to violence."
Paul's comments came the same day former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton declared that Democrats "cannot be civil" with Republicans any longer.
Paul's wife, Kelley, revealed in a Breitbart News interview on Friday that she sleeps with a "loaded gun by my bed," has updated her home's security system and has "deadbolts all around my house." Kelley also wrote an op-ed published by CNN in which she called on Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., to tone down his rhetoric; in June, Booker suggested his supporters “get up in the face of congresspeople.”
The Kentucky senator reiterated his wife's criticism on Tuesday. "When people like Cory Booker say get up in their face ... What he doesn't realize is that for every 1,000 persons who want to get up in your face, one of them is going to be unstable enough to commit violence," Paul said.
"I fear that there's going to be an assassination."
Last week, Paul was chased and verbally harassed by anti-Kavanaugh activists at Washington's Reagan National Airport. And last fall, Paul was attacked and beaten in his yard in Kentucky by his neighbor -- an episode that a Kentucky Democrat joked about earlier this year.
Paul was attending the congressional baseball practice last summer when a gunman opened fire, hitting House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., in the hip and injuring two Capitol police officers and an aide. The episode was very nearly a "massacre," lawmakers said.
"When I was at the ballfield and Steve Scalise was nearly killed, the guy shooting up the ballfield, and shooting I think five or six people, he was yelling, 'This is for health care,'" Paul told host Leland Conway on Tuesday. "When I was attacked in my yard and had six of my ribs broken, and pneumonia, lung contusion, all that -- these are people that are unstable, we don't want to encourage them."
The uncorroborated sexual assault accusations against Kavanaguh, Paul said, didn't justify keeping him off the Supreme Court, much less the partisan rancor surrounding his confirmation. (Paul, who was initially skeptical about Kavanaugh's constitutional views on privacy, ultimately became one of the 51 senators who supported his confirmation.)
"We don't want this to be the standard, that anyone can accuse anybody of anything," he continued. "That would sort of be the standard they had in Venice in the 15th century, when people would put their complaints into the mouth of the lion .... And you'd put your complaint in, and people would lose their head over that."
Paul then echoed President Trump's comments at a ceremonial swearing-in for Kavanaugh in the East Room on Monday evening, as well as dramatic remarks by Maine moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins last week. The president apologized to Kavanaugh "on behalf of our nation" and, before thanking Collins, emphasized that "in our country, a man or a woman must always be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty."
"You are presumed to be innocent," Paul agreed. "I just feel really sorry for Kavanaugh and his wife and his children for having to go through that."
Hundreds of protesters have been arrested by Capitol Police in the past three weeks, with some briefly staying in jail. Kavanaugh, his family, his accusers and lawmakers all received death threats.
Protests outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday, the first day Kavanaugh publicly sat on the bench for oral arguments, were relatively sparse. On Saturday, when Kavanaugh was formally sworn in, demonstrators outside banged on the Supreme Court's doors and attempted to claw their way inside.
And a teacher in Minnesota announced she had resigned this week after asking on Twitter, "So whose gonna take one for the team and kill Kavanaugh?" Supreme Court justices receive protection from the Supreme Court Police and the U.S. Marshals Service while in Washington, D.C., although they must ordinarily request protection on domestic or international trips outside that metropolitan area.
On Tuesday, President Trump suggested some of the demonstraters in the nation's capital were paid to protest, and were angry primarily because "they haven't gotten their checks." Some of the anti-Kavanaugh protesters who accosted senators on Capitol Hill have ties to liberal billionaire George Soros.
A 27-year-old Democratic congressional intern was arrested last week and accused of posting the personal information of at least one Republican senator during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Kavanaugh. The intern, who has since been fired, was denied bail on Tuesday.
Also speaking in a radio interview on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he was proud of his Republican colleagues for standing up to what he called "mob tactics" during the Kavanaugh confirmation battle.
McConnell also said that he would have no problem appointing a conservative justice in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election if Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg were to retire from the bench. He distinguished that hypothetical from the situation with failed Obama nominee Merrick Garland in 2016 because at that time, different parties controlled the White House and the Senate.
"It will depend largely if the Senate is in Republican hands or Democratic hands," McConnell said, saying it is exceedingly rare for a lame-duck president whose party does not control the Senate to nominate a Supreme Court justice.
"I think they overplayed their hand."
The GOP is currently favored to retain control of the Senate after November's midterm elections, buoyed in part by a newly energized base after the Kavanaugh fight.
"This has been like a shot of adrenaline to Republican voters who probably were not as interested or energized in an off-year election with the president not on the ballot," McConnell said. "I think they overplayed their hand. I think the tactics turned off people and turned on our base."