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Senate kicks off fight over Trump's Supreme Court pick

The Senate is teeing off an explosive fight over the future of the Supreme Court just three weeks before Election Day.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett will step into the national spotlight Monday morning when the Senate Judiciary Committee begins a four-day hearing for her nomination to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgPence seeks to lift GOP in battle for Senate 'Packing' federal courts is already a serious problem McConnell and Schumer's relationship shredded after court brawl MORE.

The battle is the latest twist in an already chaotic election year that has seen an impeachment trial, a global health pandemic, a subsequent recession and, more recently, President TrumpDonald John TrumpHillary Clinton responds to Chrissy Teigen tweet: 'I love you back' Police called after Florida moms refuse to wear face masks at school board meeting about mask policy Supreme Court rejects Trump effort to shorten North Carolina mail-ballot deadline MORE and dozens in his orbit becoming infected with the coronavirus.

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“We’re in an utterly different context. ... We’re in the middle of a pandemic and a public health crisis and a presidential election that has already started,” said Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsWhat a Biden administration should look like Bitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court Ocasio-Cortez: Republicans don't believe Democrats 'have the stones to play hardball' MORE (D-Del.), about the confirmation hearing. “There is no precedent.”

Tensions are already running high among senators, and in the country, just 22 days before the Nov. 3 elections, setting a volatile backdrop for a hearing that is expected to touch on hot-button issues like abortion and health care with a nominee who could shape the future of the court for decades.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCook moves Texas to 'toss-up' Biden pushes into Trump territory Cruz: Hunter Biden attacks don't move 'a single voter' MORE (R-Texas), a member of the Judiciary Committee and adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: Battle for Senate 'a 50-50 proposition' 'Packing' federal courts is already a serious problem What a Biden administration should look like MORE (R-Ky.), said the fight would be like the political bloodbath that was the 2018 confirmation battle over Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughVermont official asks Kavanaugh to correct claim about state's voting procedures Supreme Court won't fast-track GOP bid to block Pennsylvania mail ballot extension Pence seeks to lift GOP in battle for Senate MORE but "on steroids."

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzHillicon Valley: Big Tech hearing the most partisan yet | Rubio warns about foreign election interference | Trump campaign site briefly hacked Tech CEOs clash with lawmakers in contentious hearing Trump announces intention to nominate two individuals to serve as FEC members MORE (R-Texas), another member of the committee, predicted that the hearing would be a “circus.”

With the election looming, Republicans hope the next four days will provide a megaphone to shore up support for GOP Sens. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstPence seeks to lift GOP in battle for Senate Greenfield sidelined in Iowa after staffers come in contact with person who tested positive for coronavirus Trump looks to shore up support in Nebraska MORE (Iowa), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisLate donor surges push election spending projections to new heights Pence seeks to lift GOP in battle for Senate Nearly 47 percent of all North Carolina registered voters have already cast their ballots MORE (N.C.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamLate donor surges push election spending projections to new heights Pence seeks to lift GOP in battle for Senate Wall Street backed Biden campaign with million in 2020 cycle: report MORE (S.C.), the Judiciary Committee chairman, in their tough reelection bids.

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Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisTrump fights for battleground Arizona Biden to air 90-minute radio programs targeting Black voters The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden's big battleground | Trump and Harris hit the trail in Arizona | Turnout surges among new voters MORE (D-Calif.) — the Democratic vice presidential nominee known in the Senate for her prosecutorial questioning style — will be under close scrutiny as Republicans hope for any missteps that could be used against Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenHillary Clinton responds to Chrissy Teigen tweet: 'I love you back' Supreme Court rejects Trump effort to shorten North Carolina mail-ballot deadline Overnight Defense: Trump campaign's use of military helicopter raises ethics concerns | Air Force jets intercept aircraft over Trump rally | Senators introduce bill to expand visa screenings MORE.

Democrats, meanwhile, are preparing to use the national stage to grill Barrett on her positions on issues such as health care, abortion rights and whether she would recuse herself from election-related cases, something she has so far refused to commit to.

Democrats view health care as a favorable issue that allows them to both dig into Barrett’s background and try to go on the attack against Republicans. The Supreme Court is set to hear a case that could determine the fate of the Affordable Care Act a week after the election, providing Democrats with an opening to put it front and center in both their battles for the Senate majority and the White House.

“They are determined to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat with a conservative justice as quickly as possible because of the oral arguments on Nov. 10,” Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats warn GOP will regret Barrett confirmation Democrats brace for nail-biting finish to Senate battle Democratic Senate emerges as possible hurdle for progressives  MORE (D-Ill.) told reporters on a press call. “If they succeed, 20 million Americans would lose their health care.”

Barrett’s views on Roe v. Wade are also getting fresh scrutiny after a 2006 anti-abortion ad signed by Barrett, who was then a professor, was omitted from records provided to the Judiciary Committee.

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But Democrats are also eager to avoid giving Republicans any fodder in the final stretch before Election Day. For that reason, they are expected to avoid raising Barrett’s religion.

“I don’t intend to question her about her personal views, her private religious faith or views. I don’t expect my colleagues will either,” Coons said.

Democrats warn that stumbling onto that political landmine would only feed GOP talking points. Republicans have been eager to point in recent days to an exchange from Barrett’s 2017 circuit court confirmation hearing about her Catholic faith. Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinPence seeks to lift GOP in battle for Senate McConnell and Schumer's relationship shredded after court brawl Murkowski predicts Barrett won't overturn Roe v. Wade MORE (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the committee, told Barrett at the time that “the conclusion one draws is the dogma lives loudly within you” as she questioned if Barrett would be able to separate her religious views from her job as a judge.

In many ways, the hearing will be unlike any other in modern history. The Capitol has been closed to the public since March, meaning members of the public will not be allowed in the room. That means protesters who lined the hallways and disrupted hearings during the contentious fights over Kavanaugh and Justice Neil GorsuchNeil GorsuchSupreme Court rejects Trump effort to shorten North Carolina mail-ballot deadline Vermont official asks Kavanaugh to correct claim about state's voting procedures Supreme Court won't fast-track GOP bid to block Pennsylvania mail ballot extension MORE will be limited to gathering outside.

Some senators on the committee, including those who recently tested positive for COVID-19, are expected to appear remotely — a first for a Supreme Court hearing.

Democrats have used a recent coronavirus outbreak in Washington to try to build public pressure on Republicans to either delay the hearings or require testing for those in the room after three GOP senators, including two members of the committee, tested positive for the coronavirus. An additional two members, Cruz and Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseTrump looks to shore up support in Nebraska GOP Senate confirms Trump Supreme Court pick to succeed Ginsburg President Trump: To know him is to 'No' him MORE (R-Neb.), are self-isolating but have tested negative and are expected to return in person for part or all of the hearings this week.

“We urge you against unsafely moving forward with these hearings while no clear testing regime is in place to ensure that they do not become another super-spreader of this deadly virus,” Democratic Sens. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyWorking together to effectively address patient identification during COVID-19 Schumer says he had 'serious talk' with Feinstein, declines to comment on Judiciary role Durbin says he will run for No. 2 spot if Dems win Senate majority MORE (Vt.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDemocratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry Obama endorses Espy in Mississippi Senate race Durbin says he will run for No. 2 spot if Dems win Senate majority MORE (N.J.) and Harris wrote in a letter to Graham on Friday.

Republicans have rejected those requests, arguing they are nothing but a stall tactic and that any senator who wants to participate remotely in the hearings will be able to do so.

"The first item of priority in the Senate is the Supreme Court. We have a stunningly outstanding nominee. We have a process to get through that nomination and we intend to put her on the Supreme Court in the next few weeks,” McConnell told reporters in Kentucky on Friday.

Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court would help reshape the country’s judiciary, locking in a 6-3 conservative court. A Washington Post analysis found that if Trump was able to put a third justice on the bench, it would pave the way for the most conservative court since 1950. Another analysis found that Barrett, if confirmed, would be the third most conservative justice behind Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasSupreme Court rejects Trump effort to shorten North Carolina mail-ballot deadline Supreme Court won't fast-track GOP bid to block Pennsylvania mail ballot extension 'Packing' federal courts is already a serious problem MORE and Samuel AlitoSamuel AlitoSupreme Court rejects Trump effort to shorten North Carolina mail-ballot deadline Supreme Court won't fast-track GOP bid to block Pennsylvania mail ballot extension 'Packing' federal courts is already a serious problem MORE.

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But despite the historic nature of the Supreme Court fight, which would set a new record for the closest to a presidential election a justice has been confirmed, the outcome, absent an eleventh-hour surprise, appears prebaked.

Republicans nixed the 60-vote procedural hurdle for Supreme Court nominees in 2017, meaning Barrett only needs 50 yes votes, plus Vice President Pence to break a tie, if all senators are voting.

Republicans hold 53 seats, meaning McConnell can lose three GOP senators. Only two — Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGideon holds 3-point lead over Collins in new poll The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - One week out, where the Trump, Biden race stands The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Justice Barrett joins court; one week until Election Day MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiAlaska Senate race sees cash surge in final stretch Bitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Justice Barrett joins court; one week until Election Day MORE (Alaska) — have said they do not believe a nominee should get a vote before the elections, and only Collins has specifically pledged that she would vote "no" if it is brought up before Nov. 3.

Democrats acknowledge that their leverage is limited and that without the support of four GOP senators they can’t block Barrett from being confirmed. Democrats are planning to boycott the committee votes if GOP senators are absent in order to deny Republicans the quorum they need to move forward under the rules. Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) has also hinted they also have procedural levers they could pull to stall the process once Barrett’s nomination hits the floor.

"We will have many more procedural options when it comes to a vote in the Senate committee and a vote on the floor and we will use every tool in the toolbox,” Schumer said during a recent press conference in New York.

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But Republicans have set an aggressive timeline to place Barrett on the bench before Nov. 3. Graham is expected to tee up a committee vote for Oct. 22. That would pave a way for a final confirmation vote by Oct. 29, five days before the elections.

“I support doing whatever is necessary to complete the task before us and confirm Judge Barrett and believe we will do so,” Cruz said. “If the Democrats engage in procedural shenanigans, which I think is quite likely, I believe the majority will do whatever is necessary to overcome those delay tactics and to complete the confirmation.”

Alexander Bolton contributed