GOP barrels toward vote on Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination

by JORDAIN CARNEY | The Hill
October 15, 2020

Republicans are barreling toward an end-of-month vote on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination after she avoided major landmines during hours of questions from senators over the past two days.

Barrett’s appearances before the Judiciary Committee this week have changed little about the overall dynamic of the Supreme Court battle on Capitol Hill, signaling the political fight over her nomination is likely to be settled on Election Day, not in the Senate.

GOP senators say nothing over the first three days of the four-day hearings has altered their support for Barrett, or derailed their endgame: Confirming her before the Nov. 3 election.

“The last three days of hearings have revealed very good news. They have revealed the news that Judge Barrett is going to be confirmed by this committee and by the full Senate,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) predicted Barrett’s nomination would move forward under the timeline the party began discussing before Trump tapped her to succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“I don’t know any reason why we would delay,” Cornyn said.

Democrats grilled Barrett on several hot-button issues including the fate of ObamaCare, abortion, climate change and the outcome of the Nov. 3 election.

Barrett appeared to signal that ObamaCare could survive the individual mandate being struck down, while sidestepping several other questions.

None of her answers threatened her support among Republicans and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), during her final minutes before the panel, told her: “You will be confirmed, God willing.”

Mike Davis, the president of the Article III Project that supports Trump’s nominees, predicted that Barrett “will be confirmed … and take her seat on the court before the end of the month,” calling it a “legacy-defining success” for Trump and the GOP majority.

With the intense two-days of questions behind her, Barrett’s nomination appears to be on a glide path.

Republicans will formally lay the groundwork for confirming Barrett on Thursday, when her nomination appears on the Judiciary Committee agenda for the first time. The move will allow for a final confirmation vote on the Senate floor during the last week of October.

That timeframe laid out by Graham infuriated Democrats because it takes the initial step toward confirmation before the hearing on her nomination officially wraps up. Though Barrett appeared before the committee for three days, including two days of questioning, the panel will hear from a group of outside experts on Thursday.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Republicans were continuing to “ignore norms and break promises in an effort to jam through a nominee who puts critical health care protections for 130 million Americans at risk.”

“By jumping to the next step in the process before Judge Barrett’s hearing is complete, Chairman Graham is showing that even he considers this process to be an illegitimate sham,” Schumer said.

The committee vote on Barrett’s nomination will not take place Thursday. Under committee rules, any one senator can request that a nomination be postponed for a week the first time it appears on the agenda. Nominations are routinely delayed for a week, and Graham has said he intends to honor a request from Democrats to delay Barrett’s.

That will set up a vote in the Judiciary Committee for Oct. 22.

To have a quorum at Thursday’s meeting, which allows Graham to consider Barrett for the first time, two Democrats have to be present, according to committee rules. Democrats have signaled they are likely to attend Thursday’s meeting, which will be stacked up against the hearing without outside experts.

Even if they didn’t, there’s nothing to stop Graham from waiving the rules, so long as he has the support of other GOP senators on the committee. Democrats previously accused him of violating the panel’s rules in 2019 to vote on an asylum bill after all Democrats, except Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), skipped a committee meeting where it was on the agenda for the first time. Democrats made procedural motions, but Republicans voted each of them down.

For the committee vote on Oct. 22, in addition to needing two members of the minority, a majority of the committee — 12 senators — must be present to send Barrett’s nomination to the floor. Republicans hold a 12-10 majority on the committee, meaning they can meet that on their own if every GOP senator is present. Two GOP senators recently tested positive for coronavirus, and two others self-isolated, but they were back for all or part of this week’s hearings.

If Barrett’s nomination is advanced by the Judiciary Committee on Oct. 22, that would tee her up for a final confirmation vote on Oct. 29. To hold that vote, Republicans will need to have 51 senators on the floor to show they have the amount of senators required by the Constitution to conduct business.

Republicans hold a 53-47 majority, meaning as long as no more than two GOP senators are absent they will be able to show they have a quorum.

Schumer has vowed that Democrats will not help Republicans meet the quorum during either the Oct. 22 committee vote or the full Senate vote by the end of the month if GOP senators are absent.

“When the actual vote occurs in committee and on the floor, Democrats will not supply the quorum. Period,” he said during a New York press conference earlier this week.

But Democrats acknowledge they are also powerless to stop Barrett from being confirmed to the Supreme Court absent four GOP senators deciding to vote against her — something they acknowledge is all but guaranteed not to happen — or another COVID-19 outbreak.

So far two GOP senators — Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) — have said they do not think the Senate should take up a nomination before the election. But Collins is the only Republican senator who has said she would vote against a nominee if it is brought up before Nov. 3.

“Call the Republican senators because we don’t have some special procedural way to stop this sham,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

“Well, if you just do the raw numbers, then there’s no way to stop it. But we have learned in the past that if the American people decide to stand up and speak up, it can make a difference,” Durbin said, asked if Barrett would be confirmed.

Pressed if his conversations with GOP senators made him think there were others who would oppose Barrett, Durbin replied, “I wish.”

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