WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican senators praised President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Tuesday as Judge Amy Coney Barrett held one-on-one meetings at the Capitol, but Democrats said her conservative views are out of step with Americans as they object to a fast-track confirmation before the Nov. 3 election.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was “even more convinced” of Barrett after their brief meeting. Noting she is a working mother of seven children, he scoffed at Democratic objections that the judge would put Americans' access to health care at risk or turn back the clock on women's rights. “What a joke,” he said.
But the Republican leader declined to answer questions about whether Barrett should recuse herself if legal challenges in the election between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden land at the high court. One key Republican, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, said that's “the entire reason” why the Senate should rush to fill the vacant seat — "so that the Supreme Court can resolve any cases that arise in the wake of the election.”
Democrats are confronting the limits of their power as they fight against the nomination and some have said they won’t meet with Barrett, who is expected to be confirmed for the seat held by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg by the end of October.
Ginsburg, who died Aug. 18 at the age of 87, was buried Tuesday in a private service at Arlington National Cemetery.
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. At the Capitol, Vice President Mike Pence said Barrett “represents the best of America.” The White House formally submitted the nomination Tuesday.
"She’s got a good chance of getting my vote," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the former Judiciary Committee chairman who now helms the Finance Committee.
Ahead of one meeting, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the GOP whip, said the two were set "to talk about judicial philosophy and background and experience, and also whether or not she thinks ‘Hoosiers’ is the greatest movie ever.”
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham, said that barring any unusual developments, “I'm going to vote for her."
Senate Democratic leader Chuck 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 is among those refusing to meet with Barrett, calling the process “illegitimate,” and 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. Hearings at the Senate Judiciary 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 clear 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 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.
Religion, in particular, could be a minefield.
Democrats worry that Barrett has tied her Catholicism too closely to some of her statements and decisions, and 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.”
Some in the left wing of the Democratic Party are pushing for senators to boycott the hearings or commit to adding more justices to the court if Biden wins the presidential election.
For now, Democrats see health care as the perfect counter to Republican hopes that Barrett’s confirmation will bolster Trump’s reelection. More Americans 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 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.
Associated Press writers Bill Barrow in Atlanta, Kathleen Ronayne in Raleigh, N.C., and Emily Swanson in Washington contributed to this report.