Democrats focus on future of Affordable Care Act at Amy Coney Barrett confirmation hearing

Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings began Monday in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Refresh this page for updates.

Planned Parenthood, conservative groups demonstrate outside hearing

Dozens of demonstrators gathered outside the Supreme Court Monday as the first day of Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation is underway.

Democratic groups like Planned Parenthood, who are protesting Barrett’s confirmation, and conservative groups like Students for Life, were both present in Washington, D.C.

Amanda Matos, director of constituency campaigns with Planned Parenthood, said that there should be “no nomination until inauguration.”

“Our reproductive rights are on the line,” Matos said. “Instead the Senate should be focusing on COVID. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and right now, Republicans are focusing on a nomination, not on actually protecting our health care.”

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, said “the pro-life movement has been waiting for more than 40 years for a pro-life majority on the Supreme Court.”

Hawkins said that Democrats opposing Barrett for her stance on the Affordable Care Act is “really a euphemism for allowing the violence of abortion.”

Amid a constant drizzle, protestors against Barrett’s confirmation chanted “Ho, ho, hey hey, we need the ACÁ,” while protestors for the conservative judge’s confirmation chanted back “we have the votes.”

– Rebecca Morin

Sen. Whitehouse: Barrett hearing ‘a microcosm of Trump’s dangerous ineptitude’

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., began his opening statement during the first confirmation hearing of Amy Coney Barrett by blasting President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Trump can’t even keep the White House safe,” Whitehouse said, referring to the recent outbreak that ensnared the president as well as top aides and two Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, including Sen. Mike Lee – who attended the hearing in-person Monday and occasionally removed his mask.

Whitehouse criticized Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham for holding the hearing without any kind of testing regimen in place.

“The whole thing, just like Trump, is an irresponsible botch,” Whitehouse said.

“The irony is that this slapdash hearing targets the Affordable Care Act,” he added, echoing other Democrats’ contention that Barrett’s confirmation could lead to the overturning of the health care law amid the pandemic.

– William Cummings

Graham recalls days of bipartisan Supreme Court confirmations

Bork. Thomas. Alito. Kavanaugh.

The most contentious Supreme Court nominations in history were recalled Monday, not by Democrats seeking to block the confirmation of federal appeals court Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the high court, but by the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., urged his Democratic colleagues, “Don’t take that path.” Rather, he said, they should recall the days when both parties joined together to confirm Supreme Court nominees unanimously, or in the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s case, 96-3.

But that seems unlikely. All Democrats in the Senate are likely to oppose Barrett because of the circumstances surrounding her nomination in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the presidential election.

That will seem more like Bork, Thomas, Alito and Kavanaugh. Federal appeals court Judge Robert Bork was blocked as extreme by Democrats, forcing President Ronald Reagan to nominate a judge – Anthony Kennedy of California – who turned out to be relatively moderate.

Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh were confirmed, but only after bitter confirmation battles. Thomas survived 52-48, Alito 58-42 and Kavanaugh 50-48.

– Richard Wolf

Sen. Mike Lee, who tested positive for COVID, gives opening statement without mask

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, returned to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday for Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings following a 10-day quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19.

Lee announced a positive COVID-19 result on Oct. 2 after “experiencing symptoms consistent with longtime allergies.” The CDC says it is safe for those who tested to interact with others 10 days after symptoms begin and if they are fever-free for at least 24 hours.

He entered the confirmation hearing wearing a surgical mask but removed it for his opening statement on Barrett’s nomination. He did not respond to questions from reporters before the hearing when asked if he had tested negative.

Lee’s office released a letter from the Office of the Attending Physician saying he’s met the criteria to end isolation.

“Based upon current CDC guidelines, you have met criteria to end COVID-19 isolation for those with mild to moderate disease,” the letter states. “Specifically, it has been greater than 10 days since symptom onset, you have had no fever in absence of fever reducing medication for at least 24 hours, and your other symptoms have improved. The CDC does not recommend repeat SARS-CoV-2 PCR testing if these criteria are met.”

-Nicholas Wu

Durbin attacks GOP for ‘shameless, self-serving, venal reversal’ on Supreme Court confirmations

The second-ranking Democrat in the Senate attacked Republicans Monday for their reversal on confirming a Supreme Court justice during a presidential election year.

Noting Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in 2016 that the American people should decide as reason to deny President Barack Obama’s nominee a hearing, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called the current confirmation hearing of Judge Amy Coney Barrett “a shameless, self-serving, venal reversal.”

Durbin said the reason could be summed up in two dates: Election Day on Nov. 3, and the high court’s Nov. 10 date with the Affordable Care Act. It is then that the justices will consider killing the law.

“In the midst of the pandemic, the Republicans want to strike down a law that 23 million Americans rely on,” Durbin said.

Like other Democrats on the panel, Durbin displayed a large photo of a family from his state that has depended on the health care law for crucial insurance coverage. In his case, it was a young boy who went on to play baseball after receiving the care he needed.

Durbin quoted the boy’s mother: “Kenny is a real person whose life depends on the Affordable Care Act.”

– Richard Wolf

Grassley: It’s ‘outrageous’ to assume Barrett would end ACA

In his opening statement, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, praised Barrett while deriding Democrats’ past efforts to derail Republican nominees to the Supreme Court, saying he expected them to “rustle up baseless claims and scare tactics” against Barrett “as they’ve done for decades.”

The former Judiciary Committee chairman took particular issue with Democrats’ claims that “Barrett’s confirmation would be the demise of the Affordable Care Act and the protection for pre-existing conditions,” based on her previously stated opinions.

“That’s outrageous,” Grassley said. “As a mother of seven, Judge Barrett clearly understands the importance of health care.”

He said that as a professor, Barrett had only criticized Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion that the penalty enforcing the ACA’s individual mandate was actually a tax, noting that was a provision of the law that was no longer in effect.

“Democrats shouldn’t claim to know how any judge would rule in any particular case,” pointing to previous nominees who had not gone on to be the staunchly conservative justices Democrats had feared, such as David Souter and John Paul Stevens.

Grassley advised Barrett to follow the example of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who believed, he said, that a Supreme Court nominee “should offer no forecast, no hints of how he or she will vote” on any specific case.

-William Cummings

Affordable Care Act front and center at Barrett hearing

More than 10 years after its passage, the Affordable Care Act was front and center again in Congress.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee made the health care law signed by President Barack Obama in 2010 the centerpiece of their effort to defeat federal appeals court Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

Their effort reflects the politics of the moment: Rather than attacking Barrett over her devout Catholicism, which backfired on Democrats in 2017 when she was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, they focused on the popular health care law instead.

“The stakes are extraordinarily high for the American people,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., top Democrat on the panel. “Health care coverage for millions of Americans is at stake.”

What if there’s a tie?:How the Supreme Court works when there are only 8 justices

That’s because the Affordable Care Act will come back before the high court next month, when a challenge mounted by Texas and other states led by Republicans is heard by eight – or nine, if Barrett is confirmed by then – justices. The Trump administration backs the challenge.

The challenge stems from a $1.5 trillion tax cut passed by the Republican-dominated Congress in 2017, which repealed the health care law’s tax on people who refuse to buy insurance. That tax was intended to prod them into the health insurance marketplace rather than let them seek emergency care while uninsured.

Many health care law analysts expect the court to save most, if not all, of the law’s provisions, even with Barrett on the court.

– Richard Wolf

Barrett confirmation:Amid pandemic and presidential race, Supreme Court confirmation hearing will be unprecedented

Sen. Dianne Feinstein: ‘The stakes are extraordinarily high’

Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the top Democratic member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, warned of the stakes of the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett in her opening statement.

Feinstein first reflected on the life of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her impact on the law before pivoting to the implications of her potential replacement to the high court.

“In filling Judge Ginsburg’s seat, the stakes are extraordinarily high for the American people, both in the short term and for decades to come,” Feinstein said.

“Most importantly, health care coverage for millions of Americans is at stake with this nomination,” she continued, a nod to Democrats’ fears that a Supreme Court with Barrett on the bench will overturn the Affordable Care Act.

“So, over the course of these hearings, my colleagues and I will focus on that subject,” Feinstein said.

– Matthew Brown

Graham opens hearings, warns of a ‘long, contentious week’

Sen. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, opened the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Amy Coney Barrett by warning of a “long, contentious week.”

“This is probably not about persuading each other,” he said, noting that all Republicans would likely vote to send her nomination to the full Senate, and all Democrats would vote against her.

Calling for respect in the process, Graham said, “We’ve taken a different path at times – Bork, Thomas, Alito, Kavanaugh. I hope we don’t take that path with Judge Barrett. She doesn’t deserve that,” he said, referencing the the confirmation processes of other Supreme Court nominees.

Graham acknowledged the proximity of the elections to the confirmation process, saying no nominee had been confirmed in an election year “past July.” Democrats have called for the confirmation process to be postponed until after the election in the hope former Vice President Joe Biden wins the presidency and Democrats take control of the Senate.

But Graham contended, “this is a vacancy that occurred through the tragic loss of a great woman. And we’re going to fill that vacancy with another great woman.”

-Nicholas Wu and Richard Wolf

Senators sport masks at Barrett hearing

As Senate Judiciary members arrived for Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s first day of confirmation hearings, most were clad in disposable masks, including Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 2.

As he arrived, Lee did not respond when reporters asked if he had been tested for COVID-19 on Monday. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., was seen wearing his mask around his neck and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. – who has refused to say whether he has been tested for the virus – removed his mask to speak, as did ranking Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.

Many have expressed concern about the safety of Feinstein, 87, and other older members of the committee who are considered at high risk from the virus such as Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who is also 87. Three GOP senators – including committee members Lee and Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina – tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month. Tillis attended Monday’s hearing virtually as did Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris and Patrick Leahy. 

Barrett and her family entered wearing tight-fitting cloth masks. Barrett continued to wear her mask as she listened to Graham and Feinstein’s opening statements. She removed it to take sips of water. 

– William Cummings

Barrett arrives for confirmation hearing

Judge Amy Coney Barrett arrived on Capitol Hill on Monday for the first day of her confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her seven children and husband are all in the audience, all wearing face masks, according to ABC News’ Trish Turner.

She will be presenting her opening statement, where she is set to say, “courts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life.”

– Nicholas Wu

Protesters gather outside during Barrett hearing

Activists opposing the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court gathered in front of the Supreme Court and Senate office buildings Monday morning, as the Senate began confirmation hearings for Barrett take place.

Clad in Hazmat suits and gas masks, protestors held signs reading “Hazard COVID” and “No COVID Test No Hearing.” The protests were organized in part by the Center for Popular Democracy Action, a progressive advocacy group.

“If Senate leadership forces a nominee before the next congress and president are installed, it would deprive the people of their voice and further destabilize a nation already gripped by crisis,” Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director at CPD Action, said in a statement.

Conservative groups supporting Barrett’s nomination to the court were also present, chanting “law and order” as progressives chanted in front of the Senate Hart Building.

– Matthew Brown

Senate to begin confirmation hearings for Barrett

WASHINGTON – The Senate began confirmation hearings Monday for President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett as Republicans aim to confirm her before Election Day.

Monday’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee is the first of four days of confirmation hearings. All 22 senators on the panel will give opening 10-minute statements, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Barrett will be introduced by Indiana’s two Republican senators Todd Young and Mike Braun, and former Notre Dame Professor Patricia O’Hara, one of Barrett’s mentors. The judge will also deliver her own opening statement

“Courts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life,” Barrett says in her planned remarks. “The policy decisions and value judgments of government must be made by the political branches elected by and accountable to the People. The public should not expect courts to do so, and courts should not try.”

Don’t expect a vote on Barrett this week. The committee won’t vote until after it holds Barrett’s nomination for one week, a common practice by the panel. The committee vote is expected around Oct. 22 and is likely to split along party lines, 12-10. Then her nomination will go to the full Senate, where she’ll need at least a majority to be confirmed to the high court. 

Republicans are determined to advance Barrett’s confirmation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said at a Friday event in Kentucky “the first item of priority in the Senate is the Supreme Court.”

Democrats have called for the nomination to be postponed until after the election but acknowledge they neither have the votes to delay the hearing, nor do they have the votes to block Barrett from ultimately being confirmed to the high court. Instead, they aim to highlight parts of Barrett’s record they view as problematic, especially with regards to health care. 

Barrett’s judicial philosophy:We binge-watched 15 hours of Amy Coney Barrett’s speeches. Here’s what we learned about her judicial philosophy

More on Barrett:Amy Coney Barrett: Talented judge, popular professor brings solid conservative credentials

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the second-ranking Senate Democrat and a member of the committee, said Sunday on “Meet the Press” Barrett had been sent “on assignment” by Trump to the Supreme Court to overturn the Affordable Care Act and to rule on election-related cases.

Democrats plan to avoid asking about Barrett’s personal background and beliefs, however. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, also a member of the Judiciary Committee, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” Barrett’s religion was “immaterial” to her confirmation. Hirono was instead “totally focused” on Barrett’s views regarding the Affordable Care Act, she said. 

Democratic lawmakers have also expressed concerns about safety at the hearing as multiple Republican senators tested positive for COVID-19 this month. Congress does not have a COVID-19 testing program.  

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.; Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said Friday in a letter to Graham that the hearing posed “serious risks” and they urged him against “unsafely moving forward with these hearings while no clear testing regime is in place to ensure that they do not become another super-spreader of this deadly virus.”

Harris and Leahy have since said they would take part in the hearings remotely in the absence of a standardized COVID-19 testing program in the Senate. 

Two of the panel’s members, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, announced positive tests for COVID-19 on Oct. 2 and went into quarantine, though both senators indicated they would attend the hearings either virtually or in-person. 

Graham has said the hearings would be conducted “safely,” limits will be placed on the number of people in the hearing room, and the hearing itself has been moved to a larger room. 

More:5 things you need to know about Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee

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