To get to Monday’s vote to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court, Senate Republicans had to go through a historically narrow time frame, a widespread event that has infected the President of the United States and several of theirs, and an eleventh hour. COVID-19 risk for the vice president who plans to chair the vote himself.
In the end, none of it mattered. On Monday night, the US Senate voted to confirm Barrett to the Supreme Court by a 52 to 48 vote, with only Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) crossing party lines joining all Democrats in voting no.
It only took 30 days for Barrett to be confirmed, and no High Court candidate has ever been approved – let alone received a vote – so close to a presidential election. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promised confirmation by November 3, and he did so with a week to spare. And he didn’t need Vice President Mike Pence, who has the power to sever ties in the Senate as Speaker of the House. Pence ultimately skipped the vote, with Democrats publicly urging him not to come after his chief of staff tested positive for COVID-19.
Win or lose at the polls next week, President Trump and McConnell together will have confirmed three high court justices, shaping his balance for decades to come. With Barrett on the ground, the Conservatives hold a clear majority, six to three, which could usher in decisions the right has been waiting for years.
The GOP Senate leader made clear the impact of his victory in a speech on Sunday. “Much of what we’ve done over the past four years will sooner or later be undone by the next election,” McConnell said. “They won’t be able to do much about this for a long time.”
Republicans plan to celebrate the feat by taking an oath to Barrett in the White House rose garden – the very spot where the event to announce his appointment a month ago resulted in a COVID-19 outbreak that has infected many party notables. Many GOP lawmakers said on Monday they could skip the event.
Speaking in the Senate just before the vote, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called Monday “one of the darkest days” in the Senate’s 231-year history and a key part of a “decades-long effort to shift the judiciary to the far right.” “
“You can win this vote,” Schumer told his GOP colleagues, “but you will never regain your credibility.”
Shortly after the death of Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg last month, Democrats realized they had no voice to stop another choice of Trump’s high court. They have sought to delegitimize the process – for example, boycotting last week’s Judiciary Committee vote to move Barrett’s nomination forward – and turning the process into a 2020 campaign weapon by focusing on the political implications of the confirmation. Their focus on the next court hearing over a challenge to the Affordable Care Act was so relentless that Republicans joked that they had turned the proceedings into a health insurance committee hearing.
Under heavy pressure from an outraged liberal base, many Democrats have also publicly warned that the GOP’s decision to rush a candidate just before the election – four years after barring President Obama from filling a pre-election seat – would necessarily provoke a strong Democratic response. the party takes over the Senate, a possibility McConnell raised in his remarks.
In the end, the Democrats gathered all the votes they could and presented a united front against Barrett’s nomination. Monday’s vote marks the first time in the history of the modern Senate that no member of the party opposing the president has voted to confirm any of its high court candidates. Even Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the only Democratic senator to vote for Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, said on Sunday Barrett’s process was “far from business as usual” and warned it would erode further Senate standards.
Meanwhile, the fact that only Collins – who faces a tough re-election in Maine this fall – voted against Barrett offers an equally stark demonstration of the GOP’s steadfast determination to uphold another justice. And it shows how totally comfortable the party was in abandoning its election year justification behind blocking Merrick Garland’s 2016 nomination, betting voters wouldn’t punish them for it. Republicans argued that the 2016 and 2018 elections gave them a clear mandate from voters to occupy the seat, despite the proximity of the election he opened – and despite unequivocal statements by some in 2016 that , if the shoe was on the other foot, they would not fill the seat.
The confirmation process concluded on Sunday and Monday with bitter remarks from senators on both sides and accusations that the other had permanently tarnished the institution of the Senate. But Democrats, in particular, seemed galvanized by the GOP’s aggressive power play to confirm Barrett, even party moderates speculating that there might be no choice but to respond forcefully.
“I don’t want to pack the court,” said Senator Angus King (I-ME), an independent who caucuses with Democrats, from the Senate Sunday night. “I don’t want to change the number. I don’t want to have to do this, but if all this breaking the rules is happening, what are the majority expecting? What are they expecting?”
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