Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., opened Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing Monday by acknowledging that the proceedings will surely be contentious but urging senators to hold a respectful process, saying: “Let’s remember, the world is watching.”
Graham, the committee’s chairman, also paid tribute to the woman whose seat Barrett would fill, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and noted that Ginsburg was confirmed nearly unanimously in 1993 despite a legal resume of fighting for liberal causes.
“There was a time in this country where someone like Ruth Bader Ginsburg was seen by almost everybody as qualified for the position … understanding that she would have a different philosophy than many of the Republicans who voted for her,” Graham said.
He also defended working on a Supreme Court confirmation so close to an election, acknowledging that it has never been done beyond July of an election year but that a president is elected for four years.
“This is a vacancy that has occurred through the tragic loss of a great woman, and we’re going to fill that vacancy with another great woman,” Graham said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, wasted no time painting the GOP’s move to quickly confirm Barrett as an attempt to upend the Affordable Care Act and its protections for people with preexisting medical conditions.
Democrats over the past several days have agreed to hammer the health-care issue over and over during the Barrett hearings, convinced they could turn voters away from the GOP and Trump simultaneously.
“Health-care coverage for millions of Americans is at stake in this nomination,” the Democrat from California said, noting that the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on the constitutionality of Obamacare in mid-November.
Democrats have insisted that Barrett recuse herself from the case, arguing that she cannot rule impartially on a law that the president who nominated her has said he wants axed.
Trump, Feinstein pointed out, said eliminating Obamacare would be “a big win for the USA.” And she noted that Barrett previously criticized Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. for how he ruled to uphold the health-care law, saying he “pushed the [ACA] beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute.”
“I hope you will clarify that in this hearing,” Feinstein said.
Later, When Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, removed his mask to speak at Barrett’s hearing, it was that act—more than his words—that resonated across the room.
Lee announced 10 days ago that he had tested positive for the coronavirus and although he had said he has been cleared by a doctor, he still has not produced a negative coronavirus test.
Lee’s presence was all the more striking because of the room’s absences. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, appeared remotely—because he self-quarantined after being exposed to Lee. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus on the same day as Lee, also was expected to tune in to the hearing via video from home.
How widely the coronavirus has affected the Republican ranks of the Judiciary Committee is an open question. Graham has refused to take a coronavirus test, arguing that he doesn’t have to because he was cleared by the attending physician of the Capitol, Brian Monahan, despite his exposure to Lee within days of that senator’s positive diagnosis.
Lee’s letter from Monahan said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t recommend repeat testing in the absence of a fever.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., expressed panel Democrats’ alarm about the situation Monday morning.
“I do not know who has been tested, who should be tested, who is a danger, what contact tracing has been done on infected and exposed senators and staff,” Whitehouse said. “Nothing. The whole thing, just like Trump, is an irresponsible botch.”
Graham offered only a passing quip about Lee’s health.
“Senator Lee’s enthusiasm for the dormant Commerce Clause convinces me you’ve made a full recovery,” he said after Lee’s opening statement.
In other developments:
– Barrett is expected to pledge in her opening remarks that she will remove politics from her legal reasoning as a future justice, stressing that “policy decisions” need to be made by Congress and the White House, not the courts.
– A slight majority of American voters oppose holding confirmation hearings now, although opposition has eased since Trump announced his choice to replace Ginsburg, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
– The American Bar Association late Sunday rated Barrett as “well qualified” to sit on the Supreme Court amid criticism about her relatively short experience on the bench, compared with that of some of her predecessors.