Meeting Trump Supreme Court pick a bridge too far for some Democrats

Bonnie Cash

Democrats face a tough decision with President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, and for many it’s not a question about whether to vote for Judge Amy Coney Barrett. It’s a question of whether to even meet with her.

Barrett had her first round of meetings on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, as Republicans prepare to confirm her to the bench before the Nov. 3 elections, an outcome that appears likely absent an eleventh-hour surprise setback. 

With Republicans plowing forward — a reversal from 2016 when they refused to move Merrick Garland, then-President Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee — Democrats are under pressure from progressives to play hardball to show that they won’t treat the nomination as “business as usual.” 

There are already signs that the question of courtesy meetings with Barrett will divide the 47-member caucus, including members of leadership and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is not planning to meet with Barrett, questioning in a tweet why he would “meet with a nominee of such an illegitimate process and one who is determined to get rid of the Affordable Care Act?”

Asked during an appearance on ABC’s “The View” if it would be better to meet with her, Schumer dug in. 

“Her views are so pronounced that I don’t think meeting with her would change anything,” he said. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also announced Tuesday that she would not meet with Barrett, and no Democratic senator has announced, yet, that they have a meeting scheduled.

But Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Schumer’s No. 2 and a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, indicated that if Barrett wants to meet with him, he’ll agree to at least a phone call — in an effort to speak but also maintain a social distance given the coronavirus pandemic. 

“I’ve met with every Supreme Court nominee since I’ve been in the Senate. I will extend that courtesy, if she requests it, for at least a socially distanced, safe meeting, perhaps over the phone,” Durbin said during an interview with ABC News’s “This Week.” 

Judd Deere, a spokesman for the White House, said they had reached out to Democratic senators to try to schedule meetings. 

“Invitations to meet with the nominee have been extended to senators — including to Democrats — on behalf of Judge Barrett. We hope Senate Democrats take their constitutional duty to advise and consent seriously and confirm this well-qualified nominee,” he said. 

More than a dozen Democratic senators, including Schumer, met with then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. They used the closed-door meetings to press the judge on the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights, on whether a president must comply with a subpoena and on the Affordable Care Act. 

But they’re under pressure to take a harder line against Barrett, who, if Republicans are successful, will set a record for the closest Supreme Court confirmation to a presidential election in history.

The GOP push to confirm Barrett comes after Republicans refused to give Garland a hearing or a vote in 2016. Republicans argue the difference — that in 2020 the White House and the Senate are both in the GOP’s hands — is a significant distinction. 

One group is urging Democrats to boycott the hearings, gum up the Senate by denying unanimous consent requests and force Republicans to show they have 51 GOP senators needed to have the quorum necessary to run the Senate. 

Adam Jentleson, a longtime staffer for former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), also acknowledged that Democratic options were limited but then floated a similar range of tactics that would “brand the process as the illegitimate farce it is and lay the groundwork for desperately needed reform” if Democrats win back the Senate in November.

Democrats have brushed off calls to boycott the hearing, arguing it would just give Republicans an opening to move faster and ask softballs. GOP leaders are warning that they believe Democrats will keep them in Washington after this week, though most senators were expected to leave town until late next month when Barrett’s nomination is on the floor. 

“I think we’re prepared for that … but it will keep them here too. And what that means is we’ll be doing more judges … there’s a price to pay for that,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). 

Republicans have gone on offense against Democrats for suggesting they might not meet with Barrett. GOP leadership staff circulated a memo titled “Senate Dems Flip-Flop On The Importance Of Meeting A Supreme Court Nominee” that includes quotes from Democratic senators in 2016 talking about the importance of a meeting. 

At least two Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), have said they will not meet with Barrett. 

“I refuse to treat this process as legitimate and will not meet with Judge Barrett,” Blumenthal said.   

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Warren, who are not members of the committee, have also committed to not meeting with Barrett. Warren, on Tuesday, said Democrats should “treat this nomination like the illegitimate power grab it is.”

Several Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have not said if they will meet with Barrett. A source told The Hill that there was not a meeting scheduled this week between Barrett and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the top Democrat on the panel. And Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), the party’s vice presidential nominee who is also a member of the committee, told reporters that she has not yet made a decision one way or the other.

Others have signaled they are open to meeting with Barrett, underscoring the division within the caucus. 

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who made an unsuccessful run for his party’s presidential nomination, said over the weekend that he would sit with Barrett and that he wanted to use the closed-door meeting to ask if she would recuse herself if the presidential election was litigated before the Supreme Court. 

“It’s my intention to do so … I’m going to make it very clear,” Booker told “Meet the Press” when asked about a meeting. “One of the things I want to ask her is will she recuse herself in terms of any election issues that come before us, because if she does not recuse herself, I fear that the court will be further delegitimized.”

Tags Brett Kavanaugh Chuck Schumer Cory Booker Democrats Dianne Feinstein Dick Durbin Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Harry Reid John Thune Kirsten Gillibrand Mazie Hirono Merrick Garland nomination Senate Supreme Court vacancy

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