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Supreme Court nominee gives no clues in GOP meeting

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell says 'no concerns' after questions about health Overnight Health Care: Trump says he hopes Supreme Court strikes down ObamaCare | FDA approves remdesivir as COVID-19 treatment | Dems threaten to subpoena HHS over allegations of political interference at CDC The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden face off for last time on the debate stage 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 Randall MeadowsTrump tests negative for COVID-19 on day of debate The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Iran, Russia election bombshell; final Prez debate tonight GOP power shift emerges with Trump, McConnell 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 ThuneGOP power shift emerges with Trump, McConnell GOP coronavirus bill blocked as deal remains elusive Clyburn predicts action on coronavirus relief after elections 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 GinsburgThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden face off for last time on the debate stage Clean energy opportunities in a time of crisis Trump when asked if he'd be kinder in his second term: 'Yes, I think so' 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 CruzQuinnipiac poll finds Biden, Trump tied in Texas China could cut our access to critical minerals at any time — here's why we need to act The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Two weeks out, Trump attempts to rally the base 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 DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinBipartisan group of senators call on Trump to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning Republicans advance Barrett's Supreme Court nomination after Democrats boycott committee vote The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Pelosi, Mnuchin push stimulus talks forward, McConnell applies brakes 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 KaganSupreme Court reinstates ban on curbside voting in Alabama Key moments from Barrett's marathon question-and-answer session Barrett fight puts focus on abortion in 2020 election MORE and Justice Sonia SotomayorSonia SotomayorSupreme Court reinstates ban on curbside voting in Alabama Supreme Court grants Trump request to halt 2020 census Amy Coney Barrett tells Senate panel she signed ad decrying Roe v. Wade as 'infamous' 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 CrapoBarrett says she did not strike down ObamaCare in moot court case GOP Sen. Thom Tillis tests positive for coronavirus 22 GOP attorneys general urge Congress to confirm Barrett as Supreme Court justice MORE (R-Idaho), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits Grassley: Voters should be skeptical of Biden's pledge to not raise middle class taxes GOP to Trump: Focus on policy MORE (R-Iowa), Cruz, Thune, Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeEnd the American military presence in Somalia Ted Cruz won't wear mask to speak to reporters at Capitol Michigan Republican isolating after positive coronavirus test MORE (R-Utah), Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHarrison says campaign had to spend record M haul 'to get this thing to toss-up status' BlackPAC rolls out Senate race endorsements for the first time The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by the Walton Family Foundation — Sights and sounds outside the Amy Coney Barrett vote 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.