Amid the tumult of President Trump’s brief hospitalization with the coronavirus, and Democrats’ rising fortunes in the polls ahead of the November elections, Senate Republicans are quietly organizing a judicial nomination poised to entrench conservative power in Washington for years to come. While Senate Democrats have attempted to mobilize public opposition to Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court on the basis of a perceived threat to Obamacare, Republican leadership is confident that they will have the votes to secure her confirmation.
DEMOCRATS ALIGN IN OPPOSITION, FOCUS ON THREAT TO ACA
Almost immediately after her nomination was announced, leading Democratic Senators announced they would boycott the traditional meetings with Judge Barrett. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee and is likely to play a key role in confirmation hearings, said he would oppose her confirmation “as I would any nominee proposed as part of this illegitimate sham process, barely one month before an election as Americans are already casting their votes.” Blumenthal went on to outline what have since shapen up to be Senate Democrats’ main lines of attack on Judge Barrett: “Judge Barrett, like any Trump nominee, has already been vetted and screened to meet two tests: a commitment to striking down the Affordable Care Act and to overturning Roe v. Wade… If Judge Barrett’s views become law, hundreds of millions of Americans living w/pre-existing conditions would lose access to their health care.”
While a considerable portion of anxiety on the Left undoubtedly originates in the perceived threat to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion across the United States, leading Democrats are keen to avoid stressing culture war issues in the lead up to a highly competitive election. This holds all the more so when polling indicates that Democratic candidates have a substantial hope of victory in erstwhile culturally conservative states such as Kansas, North Carolina, and Iowa. As a result, Democratic senators have centered their criticisms of Judge Barrett around the possibility that she might vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, in an upcoming court challenge.
As Patrick Ruffini, a Republican pollster, observed, “You look in a lot of states where Republican [Senate candidates] are performing below their fundamentals — Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina — and they need these Trump voters to come out for them.” Likewise Brad Todd, a Republican strategist working on Senate races in battleground states, noted that “You take suburban Republican women who don’t like Trump and didn’t want to vote for him, and when the media attacks Amy Coney Barrett over her faith or over the fact that she has seven children, they are going to see it as an attack on them.”
REPUBLICANS CONFIDENT OF THE OUTCOME
For their part, Senate Republican leadership have shown little concern that any of these lines of attack could derail Barrett’s confirmation process. On October 5th, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings — the first formal step in the confirmation process — would begin on October 12, saying “Judge Barrett’s hearings will begin one week from today. Chairman Graham has all the tools to conduct a hybrid hearing, just like the 150 others the Senate has held this year. We will not stop working for the American people because Democrats are afraid they may lose a vote.”
Among Republican leaders, there is a pervasive sense that the party is rallying behind the nomination, leaving little incentive for GOP senators to demotivate their base voters by not voting to confirm Barrett as a Supreme Court Justice. “Republicans like to confirm Republican nominees,” said White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on Fox Business. “You’ve got a number of senators in difficult races. When Republicans vote like Republicans, it works well for them.”
To date, that calculus has held firm. So far, only Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine have indicated they oppose moving forward with a confirmation before the election. Given the Republican 53-47 advantage in the Senate, and the unlikelihood of further defections in an election year, most observers favorably asses Barrett’s chances of confirmation to the Supreme Court and, with it, a decisive tilting of the balance in favor of conservatives in one of Washington’s most esteemed institutions.