Senators settle old grudges as Barrett confirmation hearing starts

Senators settle old grudges as Barrett confirmation hearing startsOctober 12, 2020

The Senate Judiciary Committee kicked off formal proceedings Monday to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court with an effort by senators to settle old scores over Republicans’ decision to move forward with her nomination in an election year.

While lawmakers were addressing Barrett directly, she may as well have not been present. Senators on both sides of the aisle largely acknowledged the inevitability of Barrett’s confirmation — even as they harangued each other during their opening statements in partisan terms.

“Unless something really dramatic happens, all Republicans will vote yes and all Democrats will vote no,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said, though he acknowledged that “this is going to be a long, contentious week.”

With the presidential election less than a month away, Democrats have displayed a united front heading into the four-day slate of hearings, calling attention to the Trump administration’s efforts to get rid of the Affordable Care Act and what they see as Senate Republicans’ hypocrisy in seeking to confirm Barrett, 48, to the high court so close to the election. In 2016, Republicans blocked former President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, and at the time said it was because the vacancy opened up during an election year when the Senate and the White House were controlled by different parties.

The Supreme Court is set to hear the administration’s challenge to the 2010 health care law just one week after Election Day, and President Donald Trump has said he wants his judicial appointees to rule against Obamacare, thrusting health care to the forefront as Americans are already heading to the polls.

Graham acknowledged that the Senate was confirming a Supreme Court justice in an election year after voting has already started — an apparent nod to Democrats’ criticisms — but said the committee was running the process “constitutionally.”

Democrats have said the entire process is illegitimate, contending that Republicans broke their word about confirming Supreme Court nominees in an election year. In their opening remarks, Democrats focused more of their criticism on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Trump. They paid little attention to Barrett’s qualifications or her record as a federal judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Voting is underway in 40 states. Senate Republicans are pressing forward, full speed ahead, to consolidate a court that will carry their policies forward,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s ranking Democrat.

The first day of hearings, which is featuring opening statements from senators and Barrett, comes less than two weeks after two GOP committee members, Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), tested positive for Covid-19, and two more were forced into quarantine.

As a result, some senators did not attend Monday’s session in person, instead opting to give their opening statements remotely. Lee, however, attended the hearing. His office posted a letter from the congressional physician Monday saying that the Utah Republican has “met criteria to end COVID-19 isolation for those with mild to moderate disease.”

Ahead of the hearing, a group of Democrats called on Graham to require coronavirus tests for all senators, citing the recent outbreak. Graham rejected those calls, citing guidance from the Office of the Attending Physician of the Capitol.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Barrett will field questions from senators on a wide range of topics. On Thursday, outside witnesses will testify about Barrett, and the committee will vote on her nomination next week. Republican leaders are aiming to hold a final confirmation vote on the Senate floor the week before the election.

Senate Republicans in their opening statements suggested that Democrats planned to attack Barrett for her Catholic faith. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) suggested that “some of my colleagues may once again try to disparage Judge Barrett’s religious beliefs and affiliations.”

But so far Democrats are staying away from discussing Barrett’s religion.

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