Politics

Divided Senators open Amy Coney Barrett's affirmative hearings with a concentrate on well being care: "That is in all probability not about convincing one another."

Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chair of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, speaks at the committee hearing for Supreme Court Candidate Amy Coney Barrett on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on October 12, 2020.

Susan Walsh | Pool | Reuters

A sharply divided Senate Judiciary Committee opened confirmatory negotiations for Judge Amy Coney Barrett on Monday, no doubt about the possible outcome and both sides looking to score political points as election day approaches.

Republicans, spearheaded by Committee Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Defended holding the hearings despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and extolled Barrett's qualifications.

They warned that the Democrats would focus inappropriately on Barrett's Catholicism and attempt to turn the process into a battle similar to the battle fought for justice Brett Kavanaugh two years ago.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, quickly tried to focus the hearings on health care.

Surrounded by large posters of people who appear to be protected by the Affordable Care Act, Feinstein made it clear that the Democrats will spend the four-day trial debating an upcoming Supreme Court case over the law's constitutionality.

"We cannot afford to go back to those times when the Americans were denied cover or charged exorbitant amounts. That is at stake for many of us," said Feinstein. "That is why the questions we are going to ask and the views you give us are so important."

The court is expected to hear a case on the legality of the ACA on November 10th. Barrett has criticized Chief Justice John Roberts' legal rationale for upholding the law in a 2012 case.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. speaks at the committee's confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Candidate Amy Coney Barrett on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on October 12, 2020.

Susan Walsh | Pool | Reuters

Both Republicans and Democrats have recognized that there is little chance Barrett's nomination will not be approved by the committee.

"This is probably not about convincing each other unless something dramatic happens," said Graham in his opening speech. He said all Democrats on the committee would vote no and all Republicans would vote yes.

"Why hold this hearing? A lot of people on our side say, just ram them through. I hear them a lot. That's why I don't listen to much radio anymore," he said.

Graham said the purpose of the hearings is for Americans to weigh Barrett's qualifications for themselves.

"Judge for yourself. Is this person qualified? Is he as qualified as Sotomayor and Kagan? I think so," said Graham, referring to President Barack Obama's candidates to the Supreme Court, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

The hearings came just weeks after two Republican members of the committee, Senator Mike Lee from Utah and Senator Thom Tillis from North Carolina, contracted the coronavirus after attending the Barrett White House nomination ceremony last month.

Lee, who tested positive for Covid-19 on October 1, attended the hearing in person on Monday and did not wear a mask while asking questions. He previously said he had received permission from the attending physician and was isolated for 10 days.

Tillis and several other senators participated virtually in the hearings. Senator Kamala Harris of California, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate and member of the judiciary committee, also attended the hearing remotely for health reasons.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Said the hearings were a "microcosm" of the Trump administration's failure to contain the coronavirus.

"The whole thing is just like Trump an irresponsible botch," he said.

In addition to health care, the Senators also focused on the appropriateness of holding nomination hearings so close to election day, especially in light of some recent comments from President Donald Trump.

Trump has said he wants his candidate to be confirmed in time to resolve any election-related litigation.

"You can't feel good when a president is cheaping this historic moment," said Sen Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

Senator Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, speaks during the committee's confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Candidate Amy Coney Barrett on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on October 12, 2020.

Susan Walsh | Pool | Reuters

Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said that "Republicans obey the constitution" and that the left "would do anything to derail the endorsement of a Republican candidate."

Republicans refused to hold hearings for Obama's Supreme Court candidate, Judge Merrick Garland, in 2016 because it would be inappropriate to do so in an election year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the difference in 2020 is that the same party will hold the Senate and the White House.

The hearing on Monday ends with Barrett's own opening speech to introduce her family to the committee and discuss their views on the role of the legal system.

"Courts have a crucial responsibility for enforcing the rule of law, which is vital to a free society. However, courts are not designed to solve every problem or correct every injustice in our public life," she said in her prepared remarks say. "Government policy decisions and value judgments must be made by the branches of politics that are elected by the people and accountable to the people."

Senators have time to ask Barrett's questions Tuesday and Wednesday, and the hearings will close on Thursday with comments from outside groups.

Graham has stated that he wants Barrett to be approved by the Justice Committee by October 22nd and that he expects the entire Senate to approve Barrett a week before election day.

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