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Democrats To Frame Barrett As Foe Of Affordable Care Act In Confirmation Hearings

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is holding hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett this week.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is holding hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett this week.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee plan to frame Judge Amy Coney Barrett as a threat to the Affordable Care Act and abortion rights in their questioning of the Supreme Court Justice nominee this week.

The hearings, they say, will let Democrats spotlight top campaign issues facing voters already heading to the ballot box in several states. They'll also call for Barrett's recusal from potential cases and underscore the coronavirus outbreak that has plagued the rushed effort.

Democrats have indicated Barrett's opening remarks, obtained Sunday by NPR, give additional pause on her potential to rule against the ACA and the landmark abortions rights case, Roe v. Wade.

"Justice Barrett's record and previous public statements clearly indicate that she would vote to strike down the ACA and overturn Roe, and nothing in her opening statement allays that concern," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters in New York Sunday. "It's a vote for an activist judge whose mission will be to implement a deeply unpopular Republican agenda that will undercut the rights and safety of all Americans."

That message is expected to be on repeat this week, with an emphasis on the 20 million who have received care through the ACA, protections for those with preexisting conditions and women's productive rights.

Health care will be the top issue of focus, said Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a member of Judiciary Committee.

"Because this is the No. 1 issue for Americans, this is the No. 1 issue for us," she recently told reporters.

Democrats will also highlight the rush to confirm Barrett despite a coronavirus outbreak that infected two GOP members of the committee and left two more quarantined following a Sept. 26 White House event in her honor. All the Republican members sidelined by the event are expected to return at some point this week; they can participate in the hearings remotely.

Democrats will also point to the effort as eclipsing an opportunity to approve another wave of coronavirus relief.

"Why are we so hell bent to get this done before Nov. 3? Well, the answer is obvious as far as I'm concerned," Sen. Dick Durbin told reporters, noting ACA arguments that will be heard before the Supreme Court on Nov. 10, and the possibility of a dispute over the outcome of the November elections.

President Trump has said he would like to have his nominee on the court in case such a dispute arose.

Meanwhile, Judiciary Democrats also say there are reporting gaps for Barrett. On Sunday, ranking member Dianne Feinstein of California and her colleagues said despite supplemental information provided on Friday, Barrett still needs to detail work related to a Pennsylvania hospital bankruptcy case and a 2006 ad related to Roe v. Wade.

"These new omissions raise more questions," the Judiciary Democratic leaders wrote in a new letter Sunday to the Justice Department.

Most of the committee's 10 Democrats spoke with Barrett in recent days by phone, including Feinstein and Durbin. Others included Sens. Patrick Leahy, Chris Coons, Sheldon Whitehouse and Cory Booker.

Some Democratic Judiciary members, such as Sens. Richard Blumenthal, declined to speak with Barrett because they didn't want to legitimize the process.

However, all appear to agree that religion won't be a focus of their questions this week, as some Republicans have claimed. Feinstein brought up the issue when Barrett testified before the committee as a federal appellate court nominee in 2017.

"I have no intention of asking Amy Coney Barrett about her religious faith or any issues concerning religion," Blumenthal told reporters. "I believe the questions should be directed to the nominee's judicial philosophy and her position on legal issues."

Coons said he told Barrett he was worried she was chosen by Trump to rule against the ACA. Barrett said she had no such conversations with the president about any potential cases, Coons said.

Coons also asked Barrett if she would recuse herself from the November ACA case or if an election dispute comes before the court. Barrett demurred, Coons said.

"She wouldn't make some commitment to that ahead of the time," Coons said.

As for calls for Democrats to derail the efforts, they admit there's not many options.

Durbin said Democrats will use some procedural tools to delay the vote somewhat. But ultimately, Barrett's fate will lie in Republicans hands.

"We're using everything under the rules of the Senate to make sure this nominee is carefully inspected," Durbin said.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.