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Supreme Court battle turns into 2020 proxy war

The fight over Judge Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettJudge Judy on expanding Supreme Court: 'It's a dumb idea' Court watchers buzz about Breyer's possible retirement Five hot-button issues Biden didn't mention in his address to Congress 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 GrahamGOP governors move to cut unemployment benefits as debate rages over effects Trump critics push new direction for GOP Graham warns about trying to 'drive' Trump from GOP: 'Half the people will leave' 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.

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“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 Kavanaugh Klobuchar offers tribute to her father, who died Wednesday Conservative justices split in ruling for immigrant fighting deportation Supreme Court weighs whether to limit issuance of exemptions to biofuel blending requirements 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 TrumpVirginia GOP gubernatorial nominee acknowledges Biden was 'legitimately' elected Biden meets with DACA recipients on immigration reform Overnight Health Care: States begin lifting mask mandates after new CDC guidance | Walmart, Trader Joe's will no longer require customers to wear masks | CDC finds Pfizer, Moderna vaccines 94 percent effective in health workers 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 McConnellFormer OMB pick Neera Tanden to serve as senior adviser to Biden Lawmakers reach agreement on bipartisan Jan. 6 commission The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Masks off: CDC greenlights return to normal for vaccinated Americans 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.”

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

Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenate hears from Biden's high-profile judicial nominees for first time Senate Democrats take aim at 'true lender' interest rate rule Former North Carolina chief justice launches Senate campaign 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 Ernst Overnight Defense: Capitol security bill includes 1M to reimburse National Guard | Turner to lead House push against military sexual assault | Pentagon drops mask mandate GOP Rep. Turner to lead House push to address military sexual assault The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Masks off: CDC greenlights return to normal for vaccinated Americans 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 HarrisHere's why Joe Biden polls well, but Kamala Harris does not Immigration experts say GOP senators questioned DHS secretary with misleading chart Carper urges Biden to nominate ambassadors amid influx at border 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 HawleyNYPD Asian Hate Crimes Task Force chief: Attacks are 'not new' More than 75 Asian, LGBTQ groups oppose anti-Asian crime bill Senate Commerce Committee advances Biden's FTC nominee Lina Khan MORE (R-Mo.), in one of several swipes from Republican members at Harris over the week.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzFormer OMB pick Neera Tanden to serve as senior adviser to Biden Seth Rogen says he's not in a feud with 'fascist' Ted Cruz, whose 'words caused people to die' GOP votes to replace Cheney with Stefanik after backing from Trump MORE (R-Texas) added during the hours-long Q&A of Barrett that “we have seen repeatedly Joe BidenJoe BidenVirginia GOP gubernatorial nominee acknowledges Biden was 'legitimately' elected BuzzFeed News finds Biden's private Venmo account Kid reporter who interviewed Obama dies at 23 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 WhitehouseJudge's decision on Barr memo puts spotlight on secretive DOJ office On The Money: Incomes, consumer spending soared in March | Harris, senators work behind scenes on jobs package | Biden cancels some border wall construction Harris, senators work behind scenes on jobs package MORE (D-R.I.) also called out Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP split on counteroffer to Biden's spending Police reform talks hit familiar stumbling block CNN asks Carol Baskin to comment on loose Texas tiger MORE (R-Texas), who is up for reelection, as he warned about Americans who could lose their health insurance.

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"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 HironoMore than 75 Asian, LGBTQ groups oppose anti-Asian crime bill Biden-McConnell cold war unlikely to end at White House If you want Julie Su at the DOL, don't point to her resume 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 GinsburgJudge Judy on expanding Supreme Court: 'It's a dumb idea' Court watchers buzz about Breyer's possible retirement Five hot-button issues Biden didn't mention in his address to Congress 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 Klobuchar Klobuchar offers tribute to her father, who died Wednesday The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting Senate panel deadlocks in vote on sweeping elections bill 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.”