At first, Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s opening confirmation hearing at the United States Supreme Court not only looked like the Senators were in different courtrooms – some were, in fact, due concerns about COVID-19 – but as if they occupy different political universes. .
In their opening remarks on Monday, each Democratic senator on the Senate Judiciary Committee presented the stakes of Barrett’s confirmation as nothing less than the fate of millions of Americans who could lose access to health insurance if Barrett joins. the High Court and overturned affordable care. Take action in a case that will be heard on November 10.
The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), quickly set the tone. She spoke of Californian Christina Munro Garcia – pictured in a poster behind Feinstein – who has benefited from ACA protections.
“We can’t afford to go back to those days when Americans could be denied coverage or be billed exorbitant amounts,” Feinstein said. “That’s what’s at stake for many of us, for America, with this nomination.”
And nearly all of the GOP senators on the panel called the confirmation fight nothing less than a referendum on the fate of religious rights and pluralism in America today, citing a handful of remarks from Democrats such as Feinstein, who suggested that Barrett’s Catholic faith might influence him. case law during its confirmation hearing before the federal judiciary in 2017.
Most aggressive was Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), who accused Democrats of trying to establish a new “religious test” for lawyers and civil servants. “The model and practice of sectarianism by members of this committee must stop,” he said. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) put it another way: “It’s pretty simple what your opponents do,” she said. “Attacking you as a mother and woman of faith because they cannot attack your qualifications.”
And so, it was five hours in a socially distanced, partially virtual Capitol Hill courtroom, with each 10-minute block of opening statements being a different party’s favorite version of the ongoing political fight.
At times these worlds collided: Republicans, in particular, tried to reconcile their years of opposition to Obamacare with an insistence that the lawyer handpicked by President Trump – a staunch opponent of the law – no wasn’t clear enough that she would hit her. down.
At other times, these worlds did not collide. Democrats were able to unravel the reality of the GOP simply by avoiding any discussion of Barrett’s faith and letting Republicans rely on older commentary and background information intended for the media.
Either way, Monday’s gabfest – dominated by the pontification of 22 senators and very little from the candidate – was useful as a snapshot of each side’s strategy for the week ahead, and as a snapshot. the bitterness of this work.
The last two Supreme Court battles, which cast a shadow over Monday’s hearing, are one of the main reasons. At every turn, Democrats have raised the GOP’s about-face on their 2016 argument to block President Obama’s final choice in the Supreme Court because he was too close to the election. Barrett, meanwhile, could be confirmed days before the Nov. 3 election and was nominated a week after Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away.
“It’s a farce when they say it’s a normal court hearing for a normal Supreme Court candidate,” thundered indignant Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). “There is nothing normal about it.”
While GOP senators spent time trying to justify the about-face, they also vented flashes of lingering anger over the confirmation of President Trump’s last nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) accused Democrats of fabricating “unsubstantiated sexual assault allegations” against judge and said we do not have “the full story” of “coordination” alleged claims. “It was a weird show!” bellowed Senator John Kennedy (R-LA).
The unprecedented backdrop of the audience, meanwhile, provided another source of animosity. Two GOP committee members, Senses Mike Lee (R-UT) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), descended with COVID-19 after attending a White House event on September 26 to honor the appointment of Barrett – challenging the security protocols put in place for the Capitol Hill hearings. Committee Chairman Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) gave members the option to appear remotely; Lee showed up in person, saying – and then posting a letter proving – that her doctor had erased it.
“This hearing itself,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), “is a microcosm of Trump’s dangerous ineptitude in the face of the COVID pandemic.” Graham, meanwhile, insisted everything was in accordance with the CDC, even though reporters in the room relayed information about inconsistent mask wearing among senators.
The tense atmosphere lent itself to shaken remarks and sniping between senators – setting the tone before the real big bang in the confirmation process began with Barrett’s questioning on Tuesday and Wednesday.
At one point, Whitehouse sarcastically attacked arguments by GOP senators that Obamacare’s fate was irrelevant, and specifically targeted Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) – who faces a competitive re-election this fall. – saying he would be responsible if thousands of Texans lose their health insurance. Cornyn took off his mask and chuckled in response. Hawley later accused Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) of preying on Barrett’s religious views. Even the few hot moments of the hearing were fraught with tension: Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) harassed Graham for personally expressing concern about his health after a cancer diagnosis while opposing a law providing health insurance for millions of people. “Do the right thing!” Hirono replied.
A litany of other elements have emerged that will likely fuel the debate in the coming days – from GOP concerns over expanding courts to Democratic arguments on other issues, from abortion and contraceptive rights to women’s rights. LGBTQ and racial equality.
In his opening remarks, however, Graham perhaps raised the most important point. While the hearings will function as a much-needed opportunity for both sides to dig into Barrett’s case for public scrutiny, he said, the outcome is beyond doubt. Virtually everyone knows she has the votes to become Trump’s third high court choice in as many years.
“It’s probably not about persuading yourself,” he said, before predicting a “controversial long week”.
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