Supreme Court battle turns into 2020 proxy war

The fight over Judge Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettSenate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster New York Girl Scouts seek to get out of lease with Trump Wall Street building Capitol Police Board — the structural flaw in leadership MORE's Supreme Court nomination is turning into a proxy war over the looming November elections.

With Barrett's nomination on a glide path, senators in both parties are instead using the chamber's debate to make their case to voters in the final weeks of the Nov. 3 elections, where both control of the White House and the Senate majority are up for grabs.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamImpeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP An attack on America that's divided Congress — and a nation The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history MORE (R-S.C.) — while acknowledging that he believes Democrats have a “good chance” of winning the White House — predicted that the Supreme Court fight would influence voters when they cast their ballots.


“I think the public will go into the voting booth, and they’ll say, ‘OK, I’ve seen the kind of judges Democrats will nominate. I’ve seen the kind of judges Republicans will nominate,’ and that will be important to people,” Graham said.

Both sides are predicting the Supreme Court fight will pay political dividends in an already volatile election. Democrat believe the potential implications for health care give them a potent political force, and Republicans are hoping for a redux of 2018, when several Democratic senators who opposed then-nominee Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughWhy we need Section 230 more than ever 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate Murkowski says she is not considering joining Democratic caucus MORE lost. 

Republicans are tying themselves closely to Barrett, believing the Supreme Court energizes their voters and could shore up support for Republican, or Republican-leaning, voters that might have grown exhausted by President TrumpDonald TrumpFacebook temporarily bans ads for weapons accessories following Capitol riots Sasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP Section 230 worked after the insurrection, but not before: How to regulate social media MORE.

“What’s really going to help the Senate races I think is putting the Supreme Court justice front and center,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBoebert communications director resigns amid Capitol riot: report Urgency mounts for new voting rights bill Senate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster MORE (R-Ky.) said in a recent interview with Fox News. “Every single challenger to every one of my incumbents is opposed to this nominee, every one of them.”

Republicans find themselves playing defense in several states where their incumbents are up for reelection, and GOP senators privately say they would rather talk about the courts than Trump’s tweet of the day or the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

As he and his Democratic opponent, Amy McGrath, fielded several questions during a debate this week about Washington’s response to the coronavirus, McConnell noted that while they could spend the whole debate talking about the coronavirus “there are some other issues going on here, like a new Supreme Court justice.”


And several Republicans in tough races quickly tied themselves to Barrett.

Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Seven Senate races to watch in 2022 Top GOP senators acknowledge Biden as president-elect after Electoral College vote MORE (R-N.C.), who has trailed Democratic nominee Cal Cunningham in several polls, wrapped up his questioning of Barrett by telling her that “I look forward to supporting your nomination.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Military survivors of child sex abuse deserve more NASA selects the next Artemis moonwalkers while SpaceX flies a Starship MORE (R-Iowa), another member of the committee who like Tillis is in a competitive race in November, praised Barrett for “setting such a great example for women of all different thought processes.”

A New York Times poll released on Thursday noted that Graham, who is fighting for his political life in South Carolina, got a bump over the course of the four days of the committee hearings on Barrett’s nomination. 

Graham is facing a tougher-than-expected political battle as he runs for a fourth term in the Senate. Asked if he thought confirming Barrett was worth losing his seat, Graham laughed.

“I think that is not even a remote consideration for me. Trust me, I know South Carolina. Amy Barrett fits South Carolina pretty good,” he said.

Republicans used the hearing to try to go on offense in two areas: asking if Democrats will expand the Supreme Court if they win the White House and the majority and running attacks on Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisHarris to be sworn in by Justice Sotomayor using Thurgood Marshall's Bible In calling out Trump, Nikki Haley warns of a more sinister threat On The Money: Retail sales drop in latest sign of weakening economy | Fast-food workers strike for minimum wage | US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the committee and the Democratic vice presidential nominee.

“We welcome her presence in the United States Senate. We welcome her presence on the Judiciary Committee. She's missed I think something like 40 straight Judiciary Committee votes,” said Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleySasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP Democratic super PAC targets Hawley, Cruz in new ad blitz Hotel cancels Hawley fundraiser after Capitol riot: 'We are horrified' MORE (R-Mo.), in one of several swipes from Republican members at Harris over the week.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDemocratic super PAC targets Hawley, Cruz in new ad blitz Boebert communications director resigns amid Capitol riot: report Hotel cancels Hawley fundraiser after Capitol riot: 'We are horrified' MORE (R-Texas) added during the hours-long Q&A of Barrett that “we have seen repeatedly Joe BidenJoe BidenMissouri woman seen with Pelosi sign charged in connection with Capitol riots Facebook temporarily bans ads for weapons accessories following Capitol riots Sasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP MORE and Kamala Harris refuse to answer whether they would pack the court.” 

Democrats have tried to tamp down talk of whether they would expand the Supreme Court if they win back both the Senate and the White House, acknowledging that it's become a GOP talking point. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden told reporters that he "not a fan,” in what was viewed by some as a signal about where he would go if he wins the White House.

And Democrats got in hits of their own during the hearing. Harris, who participated remotely, citing the GOP’s response to a recent coronavirus outbreak among senators, name-checked several states where GOP senators on the committee are up for reelection as she talked about the number of Americans who could lose their health insurance if the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is struck down.

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocrats seize on GOP donor fallout Senior Democrat says Hawley, Cruz should step down from Judiciary Hawley, Cruz face rising anger, possible censure MORE (D-R.I.) also called out Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCruz, Cornyn to attend Biden inauguration McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Rick Scott will 'likely' join challenge to election results MORE (R-Texas), who is up for reelection, as he warned about Americans who could lose their health insurance.


"Sen. Cornyn has filed brief after brief arguing for striking down the ACA. ... When Texans lose their ACA health care protections, hop, hop, hop, to see whose doorstep that steps on," Whitehouse said.

Democrats view health care as an issue that both motivates their own base of voters, as well as picks up swing voters and independents, after they successfully won back the House majority in 2018 with a focus on GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocratic senator raises concerns about inauguration security Senate Democrats urge Google to improve ad policies to combat election disinformation Senate gears up for battle over Barr's new special counsel MORE (D-Hawaii) said that while Democrats may “lose this battle,” referring to being unable to prevent Barrett from being confirmed, that “the war is to be won. And that war is the election.”

"Every single senator, Republican senator, who is up this year including four on the Judiciary Committee should be asked why are you so eager to put this person on the court who will strike down our health care,” she said. 

They also believe they have the American public on their side. Several polls since Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader Ginsburg, George Floyd among options for 'Remember the Titans' school's new name Bipartisan anger builds over police failure at Capitol Lindsey Graham praises Merrick Garland as 'sound choice' to serve as attorney general MORE's death have shown that a majority support letting the next president fill the vacancy. Republicans, under a timeline laid out by Graham and McConnell, are set to confirm Barrett to the Supreme Court only days before the Nov. 3 elections.

“I don’t come out of this with cries of defeat, you know why, because it’s motivating more people to vote. You choose to do it in the middle of an election, so let’s all go out there and vote,” said Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharGoogle completes Fitbit acquisition Hillicon Valley: Fringe social networks boosted after Capitol attack | Planned protests spark fears of violence in Trump's final days | Election security efforts likely to gain ground in Democrat-controlled Congress US Chamber of Commerce to stop supporting some lawmakers following the Capitol riots MORE (D-Minn.). 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), another member of the Judiciary Committee, added that while Republicans “have the majority, they have the votes, but we have the American people on our side.”