A highlight of the opening day of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination was how committee member and vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris would frame Democratic opposition.
To start, Harris attacked the idea of even holding a hearing amid the COVID-19 epidemic and an outbreak among members of the committee.
Appearing remotely from her office Monday, Harris said, “This hearing has brought together more than 50 people to sit inside of a closed door room for hours, while our nation is facing a deadly airborne virus. This committee has ignored common sense requests to keeping people safe, including not requiring testing for all members, despite a coronavirus outbreak among senators of this very committee.”
She also noted that the Senate postponed floor votes this week, but the committee did not. Republicans plan for a vote on the confirmation October 22 and a full Senate vote about a week later.
“This hearing should have been postponed,” Harris said. “The decision to hold this hearing now is reckless and places facilities workers, janitorial staff and congressional aides and Capitol police at risk.”
Monday’s hearing was devoted to opening statements among all of the senators on the committee, with Barrett due to give her statement later in the day.
Republicans have emphasized Barrett’s credentials while some claim that liberals are mounting attacks on her religion. But Harris and other Democrats were almost uniformly focused on what Barrett’s nomination would mean for the Affordable Care Act. A challenge to the healthcare law is before the Supreme Court on November 10. Barrett has previously criticized aspects of Chief Justice John Roberts’ 2012 decision upholding the health care law.
“I do believe this hearing is a clear attempt to jam through a Supreme Court nominee who will take health care away from millions of people during a deadly pandemic,” Harris said.
Two members of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) tested positive for the coronavirus, having attended a White House Rose Garden ceremony to introduce Barrett. The ceremony itself was identified as a “super spreader” event, as Dr. Anthony Fauci called it, with many participants not wearing masks or socially distanced.
Lee attended the hearing in person and, as he gave his opening remarks, did not wear a mask. But he said that his doctor has given him the OK and that he was not contagious. Tillis appeared remotely.
Still, the issue was front and center even outside the hearing room. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows stopped to speak to reporters during one of the breaks, but left when some asked that he leave his mask on. “I’m not going to talk through a mask,” he said.
The last Supreme Court confirmation battle, of Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, lingered over this hearing as well. Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) compared it to the cantina scene in Star Wars, while Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) said that Democrats “took an ax” to the process then by dropping “unsubstantiated sexual assault allegations about Justice Kavanaugh.” “What we do know is that they turned that confirmation into a circus,” she said.
As they did in 2018, costumed characters posing as handmaids from Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale protested the hearings. This time, they turned up at the Supreme Court.
But even as heated as things are so close to another election, the Barrett hearing on Monday was relatively tame, in part because the pandemic leaves no room for an in-person gallery. Democrats kept their opposition largely focused on healthcare rather than other issues, like Roe vs. Wade and LGBTQ rights.