Democrats Aim for Court Fight Focused on Policy, Not Personality
(Bloomberg) -- Democrats are wading into the confirmation fight over Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, aiming to avoid the vitriol that accompanied President Donald Trump’s last court pick and focusing on what they see is a winning election issue -- the future of Obamacare.
Party leaders from presidential nominee Joe Biden to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered the cues for Democrats to follow over the next few weeks as the White House and Senate Republicans speed Barrett through to confirmation.
With little chance to block or hold up the nomination, Democrats are looking to Election Day.
“The clear focus is this is about your health care. This is about whether or not the ACA will exist,” Biden told reporters in Delaware on Sunday. “This is about whether or not pre-existing conditions will continue to be covered. This is about whether or not a woman can be charged more for the procedures as a man. This is about people’s health care in the middle of a pandemic.”
The Republican timetable would install Barrett on the court before the Nov. 3 election, putting her on the bench when the justices will review a federal appeals court decision that found part of the original 2010 Affordable Care Act unconstitutional and left doubt about the rest of it. Trump’s administration, along with several Republican-controlled states, are urging the court to say that the law, including its protections for people with pre-existing conditions, is invalid.
The battle lines will be more clearly drawn this week as the White House begins delivering vetting materials followed by rounds of meetings between Barrett and senators. A few Democrats, including Schumer and Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Judiciary Committee, have already said they will refuse a meeting with Barrett. But others, including second-ranking Senate Democrat Dick Durbin, have said they would.
As with any court nominee, the White House is emphasizing Barrett’s scholarship and experience. But Republicans also are raising another issue aimed at motivating their base -- the bitter 2018 fight over the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“After Kavanaugh, they try to destroy Judge Barrett at their own peril,” Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham said of Democrats on Fox’s “Sunday Morning Futures” program.
Democrats, so far are staying on message.
“I want to be respectful,” Durbin, a member of the Judiciary Committee said on ABC’s “This Week.” But, he said, “I want to ask her point-blank, as I’m sure others will, whether or not her position is that we should end the Affordable Care Act.”
Warnings about Republican threats to the law known as Obamacare were central to the Democrats’ campaign when they netted more than 40 seats to win the House in 2018. As the party eyes the presidency and Senate majority in the midst of a pandemic, they believe health care will again be a winning issue.
Biden leads Trump 54% to 40% with voters on the question of who is trusted more to deal with health-care issues, according to an ABC News-Washington Poll of registered voters conducted last week. The Democratic nominee is also more trusted to handle the coronavirus pandemic, leading 53% to 51% in the same poll.
Yet Democrats may be betting on an issue that has lost salience with voters as the economy has faltered during the pandemic. The share of voters who say health care will be their deciding factor has dropped 16 percentage points since February, according to a poll published this month from the Kaiser Family Foundation. About 10% of voters say health care is the top issue for them in the presidential election, with about 32% citing the economy, according to the poll.
In homing in on health care, Democrats are casting aside other arguments that they might, at a different moment, have focused on, including Barrett’s anti-abortion stance and her ties to a conservative Catholic group.
Some Democrat-aligned groups are turning up the volume. The National Organization for Women called Barrett’s nomination “dangerous and illegitimate” and that Republicans are engaging in a “process that short-circuits democracy to guarantee a corrupt outcome.”
The progressive advocacy group Indivisible said Republicans were moving the country closer to a status “where women are forced to back alleys and dangerous home remedies to terminate a pregnancy.”
Pelosi said Barrett’s stance on health care was more pressing than reproductive rights because of the case in front of the Supreme Court in November. Schumer said Barrett’s religion will play “no role.”
Democrats are coupling the health care threat with their broader procedural complaint, that Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have embarked upon what would be one of the fastest justice confirmation processes in history, all as voters are already casting votes to decide the presidency and control of the Senate.
“Before Justice Ginsburg could be laid to rest, and after hundreds of thousands of Americans have already cast their ballots, the president nominated a successor to her seat,” Biden said Sunday. Suggesting the GOP is anticipating losses in November, “they see an opportunity to overturn the Affordable Care Act on their way out the door.”
Political attacks or procedural hurdles are unlikely to compel McConnell to slow down the confirmation process, which will begin Oct. 12 with hearings in the Judiciary Committee, where Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris is a member. Democrats say they hope their unified argument will galvanize swing voters concerned about heath care to vote against Trump and congressional Republicans.
Pelosi said if the Supreme Court guts the ACA, Congress can pass new legislation to preserve popular benefits, including coverage for pre-existing health conditions and allowing adult children to stay on parent’s plans.
“Vote, vote, vote. Congress can come back,” Pelosi said Sunday on CNN. “We have to win the House, we have to win the Senate, we have to win the White House.”
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