Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight
McConnell tees up Barrett nomination, setting up rare weekend session
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Friday teed up Judge Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination, paving the way for a rare weekend session roughly a week before the November election.
McConnell's move sets up a vote to end debate on Barrett's nomination for Sunday, with a final vote to confirm her to the Supreme Court expected by early Monday evening.
The Senate is expected to be in session on both Saturday and Sunday debating Barrett's nomination, though her confirmation is guaranteed absent an unlikely last-minute surprise.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters on Thursday that there were negotiations ongoing between McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) about if senators would have to be physically in the Capitol all weekend, with some senators indicating they wanted to go back to their home states on at least Saturday.
"It's mixed. There's some who want to get home for political reasons. And there's some who want to stay hell or high water. It's the usual situation. Let me tell you, the whole caucus takes this very seriously, whatever the final decision is we're going to stick together," Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, told reporters about the schedule.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), Durbin's counterpart, indicated that whether senators are stuck in town on Saturday is largely up to Democrats, adding that "whenever they decide what they want to do, which votes they want to trigger."
"Our members are prepared to be here through the weekend to, you know, defeat any votes that they want to bring up," Thune said.
Guidance from McConnell's office on Friday morning indicated that there was "expected procedural harassment" from Democrats, who have been forcing votes on the Senate floor this week, and that reporters "should prepare for a long weekend."
The votes on Barrett's nomination will come roughly a month after President Trump announced his intention to nominate her to succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg during a Rose Garden ceremony on Sept. 26. Ginsburg's death kicked off an explosive fight over the future of the Supreme Court.
Republicans, when they confirm Barrett, will set a new record for the closest to a presidential election a Supreme Court nominee has been confirmed.
It comes four years after they denied a hearing or a vote to Merrick Garland, then-President Obama's final Supreme Court nominee, though Republicans argue the fact that they now control both the Senate and the White House is a significant difference.
Despite the closeness of the election, and the significance of the seat, there were few surprises in Barrett's nomination, with Republicans quickly rallying behind McConnell's plan to give her a vote.
Democrats have protested the GOP plan, including forcing votes to gum up the Senate floor and boycotting the Judiciary Committee vote on her nomination on Thursday.
But they've also acknowledged that absent GOP help they are unable to stop Barrett from being confirmed, which would lock in a 6-3 conservative court.
Because Republicans hold a 53-47 seat majority in the Senate, Barrett can lose three GOP senators if all Democratic senators vote no and still be confirmed by letting Vice President Pence break a tie.
Only Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has said she will oppose Barrett because she does not believe the Senate should vote on a nominee before the Nov. 3 election.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has also said she does not believe the Senate should take up a nominee before the election, but hasn't said how she will vote on Barrett.
Murkowski met with Trump's nominee this week, a one-on-one that she used to discuss Alaska-related issues and Barrett's legal philosophy.
"I've shared for a while that I didn't think we should be taking this up until after the election and I haven't changed," Murkowski told a reporter on Capitol Hill after the meeting.
Asked if she was saying she would vote no on Barrett's nomination, Murkowski added, "That means I haven't changed my mind on that."
A spokesperson for Murkowski said on Thursday that the moderate GOP senator has not publicly stated how she will vote for Barrett.
"Early on I announced my preference that the Senate not take up a Supreme Court nomination this close to a presidential election, applying the same standard I used in 2016, but the process moved forward and we are now just days away from a vote to fill the vacancy left by the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg," Murkowski said in a statement.
"Whether to confirm the nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, is a decision each Senator has to make on their own. I appreciated the opportunity to have a lengthy discussion with Judge Barrett, just as I met with Judge Garland in 2016," Murkowski added.