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Supreme Court battle turns into 2020 proxy war

The fight over Judge Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettSupreme Court's Pennsylvania mail ballot ruling tees up test for Barrett Schumer says he had 'serious talk' with Feinstein, declines to comment on Judiciary role Progress, but no breakthrough, on coronavirus relief 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 GrahamDemocratic Senate campaign arm outraises GOP counterpart in September Hug or heresy? The left's attack on Dianne Feinstein is a sad sign of our times Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein 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 KavanaughSupreme Court's Pennsylvania mail ballot ruling tees up test for Barrett Lindsey Graham says two women confronted him in airport over Barrett 51 percent want Barrett seated on Supreme Court: poll 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 John TrumpBiden holds massive cash advantage over Trump ahead of Election Day Tax records show Trump maintains a Chinese bank account: NYT Trump plays video of Biden, Harris talking about fracking at Pennsylvania rally 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 McConnellOn The Money: McConnell says he would give Trump-backed coronavirus deal a Senate vote | Pelosi, Mnuchin see progress, but no breakthrough | Trump, House lawyers return to court in fight over financial records Progress, but no breakthrough, on coronavirus relief LGBTQ voters must show up at the polls, or risk losing progress 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 TillisCunningham, Tillis locked in tight race in North Carolina: poll Senate Republicans offer constitutional amendment to block Supreme Court packing Push to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw 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 ErnstPush to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw Supreme Court battle turns into 2020 proxy war Trump hits road in scramble to shore up support from 2016 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 HarrisTrump plays video of Biden, Harris talking about fracking at Pennsylvania rally Overnight Defense: US, Russia closer on nuclear treaty extension after Moscow accepts warhead freeze | Khashoggi's fiancee sues Saudi crown prince | Biden nets hundreds more national security endorsements Democrats make gains in Georgia Senate races: poll 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 HawleyJustice Department charges Google with illegally maintaining search monopoly Conservatives seize on New York Post story to push Section 230 reform Hillicon Valley: Trump refuses to condemn QAnon | Twitter revises its policy, lets users share disputed article | Google sees foreign cyber threats MORE (R-Mo.), in one of several swipes from Republican members at Harris over the week.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Two weeks out, Trump attempts to rally the base Senate Republicans offer constitutional amendment to block Supreme Court packing 10 bellwether counties that could signal where the election is headed MORE (R-Texas) added during the hours-long Q&A of Barrett that “we have seen repeatedly Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden holds massive cash advantage over Trump ahead of Election Day Tax records show Trump maintains a Chinese bank account: NYT Trump plays video of Biden, Harris talking about fracking at Pennsylvania rally 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 WhitehouseDurbin signals he isn't interested in chairing Judiciary Committee Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein Supreme Court battle turns into 2020 proxy war MORE (D-R.I.) also called out Sen. John CornynJohn Cornyn'Seinfeld' cast members reuniting for Texas Democratic Party fundraiser Senate GOP eyes Oct. 26 for confirming Barrett to Supreme Court GOP noncommittal about vote on potential Trump-Pelosi coronavirus deal 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 HironoDurbin signals he isn't interested in chairing Judiciary Committee Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing 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 GinsburgLGBTQ voters must show up at the polls, or risk losing progress Cunningham, Tillis locked in tight race in North Carolina: poll 51 percent want Barrett seated on Supreme Court: poll 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 KlobucharDurbin signals he isn't interested in chairing Judiciary Committee Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing 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.”