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Supreme Court nominee gives no clues in GOP meeting

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhen it comes to Georgia's voting law, keep politics out of business Pelosi to offer even split on 9/11-style commission to probe Capitol riot Senate GOP crafts outlines for infrastructure counter proposal MORE (R-Ky.) left nothing to chance Tuesday as he launched Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation process with carefully-scripted meetings in which Republican senators were mindful not to ask the judge how she might rule on high-profile cases.

Barrett gave Republican senators no indication of how she might rule on a challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark case establishing the right to an abortion, or the 2010 Affordable Care Act or litigation challenging the results of the 2020 presidential election.

The top GOP objective for the day was to prepare the nominee for what could be a bruising confirmation fight without giving Democrats any ammunition.

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Barrett arrived at the Capitol shortly before 10 a.m. in Vice President Pence’s convoy of more than a dozen large black SUVs and police escort cars. She was also accompanied by White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsBoehner finally calls it as he sees it Stephen Miller launching group to challenge Democrats' policies through lawsuits A year with the coronavirus: How we got here MORE and White House counsel Pat Cipollone.

She spent most of the day cloistered in the wood-paneled Mansfield Room just off the Senate floor where she met with a handful of GOP senators in private sessions.  

Senate Majority Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate GOP keeps symbolic earmark ban Senate GOP crafts outlines for infrastructure counter proposal On The Money: Senate GOP faces post-Trump spending brawl | Senate confirms SEC chief Gensler to full five-year term | Left-leaning group raises concerns about SALT cap repeal MORE (R-S.D.), a staunch anti-abortion Republican, said he did not ask Barrett about how she would rule if the court revisited Roe v. Wade.

Instead, he and the judge discussed more generally her views on precedent, which are expected to be a main topic of her confirmation hearings next month.

“I asked her more generally about precedent,” Thune told reporters after the meeting. “She is someone who is very deferential to, respectful of precedent and I think when she described herself as somebody who is in the tradition of [late] Justice [Antonin] Scalia that was something that was welcome news to a lot of us who were very big Scalia fans.”

Thune and other Republicans are trying to establish at the outset of the process that Barrett cannot be expected to answer questions about how she might rule on a challenge to Roe v. Wade or ObamaCare.

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“You can’t give her hypothetical cases, that’s not fair. I don’t think anybody should do that. It’s kind of the Ginsburg standard,” Thune said, invoking the standard late Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgMcConnell vents over 'fake news' Democrats seek Barrett's recusal from case tied to conservative backers Court packing legislation straight out of Maduro's playbook MORE set when asked about hypothetical cases during her 1993 Senate confirmation hearings.

Thune said he instead asked Barrett about “her view of the law, her view of the Constitution, her view of precedent.”

“I was very satisfied with her answers,” he said.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzChauvin likely to face uphill battle in expected appeal Senate GOP keeps symbolic earmark ban Senate confirms Gupta nomination in tight vote MORE (R-Texas) has cited the possibility the Supreme Court could hear litigation challenging the results of the presidential election as a reason to confirm Barrett before Election Day, yet he was careful not ask the nominee how she might rule in a hypothetical Biden v. Trump.

“It would be inappropriate for me to ask and it would be even more inappropriate for her to answer a question like that,” Cruz said when asked if he attempted to solicit a commitment on how she might rule in a post-election dispute.

Asked if Barrett would be inclined to back Trump over Biden, Cruz said “I think she would be inclined to follow the law and follow the Constitution, which is what I want to see in a justice.”

Some Democrats, such as Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinCornyn, Sinema to introduce bill aimed at addressing border surge Harris casts tiebreaking vote to advance Biden nominee Bipartisan group of senators holds immigration talks amid border surge MORE (Ill.), are calling on Barrett to pledge to recuse herself from any litigation that comes before the high court on the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Cruz, after meeting with Barrett, argued she has no obligation to do so.

“It’s an absurd argument. The same standard should apply to her as applies to Justice Elena KaganElena KaganThe Supreme Court creates a new religious aristocracy Biden's court-packing theater could tame the Supreme Court's conservatives Supreme Court says California must allow in-home prayer meetings MORE and Justice Sonia SotomayorSonia SotomayorWill Jan. 6 come for our courts next? Supreme Court says California must allow in-home prayer meetings Progressive group ramps up pressure on Justice Breyer to retire MORE, who were appointed by the Obama-Biden administration,” he said. “There’s a federal statute that lays out the standards for recusal, and it is not the case that justices are required to recuse from cases involving whatever president appointed them.”

Barrett, McConnell and Pence declined to answer when a pool reporter asked during their 10 a.m. meeting if the judge would recuse herself from litigation related to the election if it came before the Supreme Court.

Knowing that Democrats want to make Barrett’s nomination about how she might rule in cases likely to come before the court, Senate Republicans who met with her Tuesday sought to keep their conversations focused on judicial philosophy.

Several of the meetings were short, wrapping up well before the hour or 45 minutes allotted to each senator.

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Barrett started her day with a 10 a.m. meeting with McConnell and followed it with back-to-back meetings with seven other Republican senators.

“We’re glad to have her here and glad to get the process started,” McConnell told reporters at the beginning of their meeting.

She also met with Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoSenate GOP crafts outlines for infrastructure counter proposal Left-leaning group: SALT cap repeal would worsen racial income disparities On The Money: Inflation rears its head amid spending debate | IRS chief warns of unpaid taxes hitting T | Restaurants fret labor shortage MORE (R-Idaho), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleySenate locks in hate crimes deal, setting up Thursday passage Conservative House members call on Senate to oppose ATF nominee House votes to extend ban on fentanyl-like substances MORE (R-Iowa), Cruz, Thune, Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate locks in hate crimes deal, setting up Thursday passage Tech companies duke it out at Senate hearing Big Tech set to defend app stores in antitrust hearing MORE (R-Utah), Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamBipartisan group of senators holds immigration talks amid border surge Senate GOP keeps symbolic earmark ban Overnight Energy: Biden reportedly will pledge to halve US emissions by 2030 | Ocasio-Cortez, Markey reintroduce Green New Deal resolution MORE (R-S.C.).  

Usually a Supreme Court nominee is accompanied by a former senator of the president’s party who acts as a “Sherpa” to help guide the person around the upper chamber.

Aides to McConnell and Pence were not aware of anyone playing such a role with Barrett this month and next month in what is expected to be truncated confirmation process.