President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, was on Capitol Hill on Tuesday for a day of meetings with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-K.Y., and other pivotal Republican senators in preparation for her fast-track confirmation before the Nov. 3 election.
On the sidelines is Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who is refusing to meet or talk with Barrett.
Schumer called the confirmation of a Supreme Court judge an “illegitimate process” so close to an election.
“I am not going to meet with Judge Barrett,” Schumer announced on social media. “Why would I meet with a nominee of such an illegitimate process and one who is determined to get rid of the Affordable Care Act?”
When former President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, many Republican senators — including Senate Judiciary Chairman at the time, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-I.A. — still met with Garland.
Joined by Vice President Mike Pence, McConnell said he was glad to welcome Barrett to the Senate and “get the process started” on her confirmation.
Republican leader declined to answer questions about whether the judge should recuse herself if legal challenges to the election between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden land at the high court.
“We truly do believe Judge Barrett represents the best of America,” Pence said in brief remarks in the Senate’s Mansfield Room.
Democrats are confronting the limits of their power as they fight against the nomination. Others besides Schumer have said they won’t meet with the nominee, who is expected to be confirmed for the seat held by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg by the end of October.
With Republicans holding a 53-47 Senate majority, and just two GOP senators opposing a quick vote, Barrett appears to have enough support for confirmation.
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Schumer acknowledged Tuesday it will be an “uphill fight” to stop Trump’s nominee. But he said Americans are on Democrats’ side in preferring to wait until after the election so the winner can choose the next justice. He said her conservative views on health care, abortion, and other issues are “far outside” the mainstream.
“It’s not over,” Schumer said on ABC’s “The View.”
Barrett made no public remarks at the start of what is expected to be days of meet-and-greet sessions with senators, a traditional part of the confirmation process. She also was to meet Tuesday with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and other senators on the panel. Hearings at the committee are set to begin Oct. 12.
No justice has ever been confirmed to the Supreme Court so close to a presidential election. According to a national poll by The New York Times and Siena College that was released Sunday, a majority — 56% — of voters believes the winner of the Nov. 3 presidential election should fill Ginsburg’s seat, versus 41% who said Trump should as the current president.
Unable to block Trump’s pick on their own, Democrats are aimed at avoiding mistakes that could hurt their party’s candidates in November. They are arguing to voters that Barrett’s nomination threatens the protections of the Affordable Care Act — a focus that Biden has embraced and many Democrats see as a winning message. The court will hear a case challenging the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s health care law just after the election, adding to the urgency of the issue.
But there will also be ample opportunities for Democrats to make mistakes as partisans on both sides infuse the nomination battle with cultural, gender, and religious politics.
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Some in the left-wing of the Democratic Party are pushing for senators to boycott the hearings or — even more extreme — commit to “packing the court” with more justices if Biden wins the presidential election.
That has fueled concerns in the party about placing too much emphasis on procedural tactics that only delay votes by hours or days — even as precious time ticks away in the few remaining weeks before the Nov. 3 election.
Religion, in particular, could be a minefield for Schumer and his Democratic allies.
Democrats have attacked Barrett’s Catholicism, for example. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, still faces criticism for her comments during Barrett’s 2017 confirmation hearing. Feinstein had joined Republicans on the panel in asking Barrett about her faith, but then went further by telling the then-professor that “when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you.”
Republicans now use those comments against Democrats.
“The Constitution prohibits a religious test from serving in office, but I don’t expect that to stop the Democrats,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a member of the committee, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday. He described Feinstein’s words as “snidely put” and said Democrats had suggested Barrett’s religious views render her ineligible for office.
Asked about Feinstein’s comments, Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, another committee member, deflected.
He said “religious faith should not be at issue here.” He then pivoted to health care.
Democrats see health care as the perfect counter to Republican hopes that Barrett’s confirmation will bolster Trump’s reelection. More Americans now favor the ACA than have opposed it over the last few years, according to polls, and Democrats believe the coronavirus pandemic will only solidify that support.
They intend to model their strategy in fighting the Barrett confirmation on their successful 2017 fight against Trump and congressional Republicans who tried and failed to repeal the legislation.
Schumer, Biden, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have agreed that health care is a strong focus, according to two aides with knowledge of the private discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
One likely prominent messenger on the issue is the Democratic vice presidential nominee, California Sen. Kamala Harris, who sits on the judiciary panel and is expected to participate in the confirmation hearings.
On Monday, Harris told voters in North Carolina: “We will not give up, and we will not give in.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article