Harris, fellow Democrats target Trump Supreme Court nominee on Obamacare
Barrett has criticized a 2012 Supreme Court ruling authored by conservative Chief Justice John Roberts that upheld Obamacare. Harris, the running mate of Trump's Democratic election opponent Joe Biden, called the confirmation process so near the election "illegitimate." "I do believe this hearing is a clear attempt to jam through a Supreme Court nominee who will take away healthcare from millions of people during a deadly pandemic that has already killed more than 214,000 Americans," Harris said, speaking via a video link. "A clear majority of Americans want whomever wins the election to fill this seat and my Republican colleagues know that.Reuters | Washington DC | Updated: 13-10-2020 00:25 IST | Created: 12-10-2020 23:09 IST
Democratic senators including vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris on Monday painted President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett as a threat to the Obamacare healthcare law during a deadly pandemic and denounced the Republican drive to approve her before the Nov. 3 U.S. election. As the Senate Judiciary Committee began its four-day confirmation hearing for Barrett, Democrats voiced their strong opposition to Trump's nominee even though they have little hope of derailing her nomination in the Republican-led Senate.
Barrett's confirmation would give the court a 6-3 conservative majority that could lead to rulings rolling back abortion rights, expanding religious and gun rights, and upholding voting restrictions, among other issues. But it was the fate of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA), Democratic former President Barack Obama's signature domestic policy achievement that has enabled millions of Americans to obtain medical coverage, that was the focus of Harris and her fellow Democrats. Barrett has criticized a 2012 Supreme Court ruling authored by conservative Chief Justice John Roberts that upheld Obamacare.
Harris, the running mate of Trump's Democratic election opponent Joe Biden, called the confirmation process so near the election "illegitimate." "I do believe this hearing is a clear attempt to jam through a Supreme Court nominee who will take away healthcare from millions of people during a deadly pandemic that has already killed more than 214,000 Americans," Harris said, speaking via a video link.
"A clear majority of Americans want whomever wins the election to fill this seat and my Republican colleagues know that. Yet they are deliberately defying the will of the people in their attempt to roll back the rights and protections provided under the Affordable Care Act," Harris said. Barrett, a conservative appellate court judge nominated to replace the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, sat at a table facing the senators wearing a black face mask amid the pandemic. Her husband and seven children sat behind her, also wearing protective masks.
Barrett could be on the Supreme Court in time to participate in a case due to be argued on Nov. 10 in which Trump and Republican-led states are seeking to invalidate Obamacare. The hearing started with senators making opening statements. Barrett will make her own opening statement later on Monday and will face questioning from senators on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The hearing is a key step before a full Senate vote by the end of October on her confirmation to a lifetime job on the court. Republicans have a 53-47 Senate majority so Barrett's confirmation seems almost certain. A key Obamacare provision that would be thrown out if the court strikes it down bars insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions. In the hearing room, Democrats displayed posters of patients who could lose their medical coverage if Obamacare is struck down, with senators recounting their individual stories.
Repeated Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare in Congress have fallen short, and Republicans have taken the effort to the courts. Republican Senator Ted Cruz said the Democratic focus on healthcare and other policy issues showed they were not contesting Barrett's qualifications to serve as a justice.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who chairs the committee, opened the hearing by saying it would be "a long contentious week." "Let's make it respectful. Let's make it challenging. Let's remember, the world is watching," Graham added.
Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy condemned the Republican "mad rush" to fill the vacancy. "They see the ability to take the courts from being independent to making them instead an arm of the far right and the Republican Party, with the potential to accomplish in courts what they have failed to accomplish by votes in the halls of Congress. And at the top of the hit list is the Affordable Care Act," Leahy said.
Graham defended the Republican approach even while acknowledging that four years earlier they had refused to act on Obama's nominee to fill a Supreme Court vacancy because it was an election year, and that no Supreme Court nominee had a confirmation process so close to an election. The Senate's Republican leaders rejected Democratic pleas to delay the hearing over COVID-19 concerns.
Due to the pandemic, Harris and some other senators participated remotely. Republican Senator Mike Lee attended in person nine days after revealing he head tested positive for the coronavirus, arriving wearing a light-blue surgical mask. He took off the mask while giving his opening statement. Barrett is a devout Catholic who has expressed opposition to abortion. Christian conservative activists long have hoped for the court to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.
"We're here because in the middle of a deadly pandemic, in the middle of an ongoing election, Senate Republicans have found a nominee in Judge Barrett who they know will do what they couldn't do - subvert the will of the American people and overturn Roe v. Wade," Democratic Senator Cory Booker said. Republicans sought to portray the Democrats as attacking Barrett on religious grounds, though the Democrats have steered clear of doing so throughout confirmation process.
Speaking to reporters in Delaware, Biden said Barrett's Catholic faith should not be considered as the Senate considers her confirmation. Biden was the first Catholic U.S. vice president. "This nominee said she wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. The president wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act," Biden said. "Let's keep our eye on the ball."