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Democrats, with election in view, focus on healthcare in Supreme Court fight

With Republicans controlling the Senate, Democrats have little leverage to prevent a quick vote on Barrett before the Nov. 3 election and almost no hope of preventing her confirmation. Instead, their attacks appeared aimed at energizing their political base with an issue that is already a talking point for Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden.

Reuters | Washington DC | Updated: 27-09-2020 21:21 IST | Created: 27-09-2020 21:16 IST
Democrats, with election in view, focus on healthcare in Supreme Court fight
Representative Image Image Credit: Wikipedia

Democratic lawmakers on Sunday warned that if the U.S. Senate approves President Donald Trump's third Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, she could cast a decisive vote to strike down the Obamacare health law. With Republicans controlling the Senate, Democrats have little leverage to prevent a quick vote on Barrett before the Nov. 3 election and almost no hope of preventing her confirmation.

Instead, their attacks appeared aimed at energizing their political base with an issue that is already a talking point for Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden. In a White House Rose Garden ceremony on Saturday, Trump announced Barrett, 48, as his selection to replace liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Sept. 18 at age 87. Barrett said she would be a justice in the mold of her mentor, the late staunch conservative Antonin Scalia. Her confirmation would result in a 6-3 conservative majority on the court.

Healthcare is a live issue because Barrett could be on the bench for the court's Nov. 10 oral arguments in a case in which Trump and fellow Republicans are seeking to invalidate Obamacare, the 2010 law officially called the Affordable Care Act. "I want to ask her point blank ... whether or not her position is that we should end the Affordable Care Act providing health insurance for 20 million Americans and protections for Americans from one coast to the other from pre-existing conditions being used against them to buy health insurance," Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said on ABC's "This Week."

Durbin is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that will hold hearings on the nomination starting Oct. 12. Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat who voted for Trump's two previous Supreme Court nominees, also raised Obamacare as a key issue.

"How do I explain to the 800,000 people that their pre-existing conditions are not going to be covered and that they're not going to have the ability to even buy insurance?" he said. Biden will deliver a speech on Trump's nomination of Barrett in his home state of Delaware on Sunday afternoon.

Republican senators have made it clear they plan to have a final vote on Barrett before the election, with Senator Mike Lee saying on ABC that he did not expect a backlash at the polls because Trump had campaigned in 2016 on appointing conservative justices. "This is exactly what he promised to do and he is fulfilling that promise," Lee said.

Lee said he believes Obamacare is unconstitutional but that it would be up to Barrett to vote as she saw fit. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said on Fox News Channel that the Democratic base is "going nuts" about the court vacancy and that activists are putting pressure on senators to "destroy" Barrett.

Trump said on Twitter on Sunday that if the Supreme Court strikes down the health law, "Obamacare will be replaced with a MUCH better, and FAR cheaper, alternative." Trump failed in attempts to repeal Obamacare when Republicans controlled the Senate and House of Representatives, and Republicans have yet to say what they would replace the law with. Trump last week signed two executive orders on healthcare.

Trump urged Republicans, who hold a 53-47 Senate majority, to confirm Barrett, a federal appeals court judge and a favorite of religious conservatives, before the election. He has said he expects the justices to have to resolve the election, which has prompted Democrats to say Barrett should recuse herself from such cases. The only time in U.S. history that the Supreme Court has had to resolve a presidential election was in 2000. Trump has declined to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses this year.

Barrett is expected to begin meetings with individual senators on Tuesday. Like Trump's two other appointees, Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, Barrett is young enough that she could serve for decades in the lifetime job, leaving a lasting conservative imprint. Trump's two previous appointments were surrounded by controversy.

Trump was able to appoint Gorsuch to fill the vacancy left by Scalia's 2016 death only because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to let the Senate consider Obama's nominee Merrick Garland because it was an election year, an action with little precedent in U.S. history. Democrats now accuse McConnell of hypocrisy. Barrett, a devout Roman Catholic who earned her law degree and taught at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, was appointed by Trump to the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017.

An emboldened Supreme Court conservative majority could shift the United States to the right on hot-button issues by, among other things, curbing abortion rights, striking down gun control laws, halting the expansion of LGBT rights, and endorsing new restrictions on voting rights.


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