Senators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session

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Senators battled in a rare Saturday session as the chamber barrels toward a key vote on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination. 

Several senators took to the floor on Saturday to discuss Barrett and spar over election interference, immigration, the coronavirus pandemic and voting rights. 

Senators are working through the weekend on Barrett’s nomination. The upper chamber is expected to hold a key test vote on her nomination on Sunday, paving the way for her confirmation vote likely on Monday evening. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) traded barbs on the floor on Saturday afternoon, laying out their arguments in the election-year Supreme Court fight. 

“Tomorrow we’ll vote on advancing her nomination toward final confirmation on Monday. Our recent debates have been heated but curiously talk of Judge Barrett’s actual credentials or qualifications has hardly featured in,” McConnell said. 

“Democrats want President Trump to keep repeating that the election will be legitimate regardless of whether he wins. But here in the Senate they say that our vote will only be valid if they like the outcome. .. Of course they are not happy. That doesn’t make anything about this illegitimate. That kind of recklessness … leads down a road none of us want to travel,” he added. 

Schumer called McConnell’s comments a “warped, distorted and convoluted history lesson” and that the “contradiction” between 2016 — when Republicans refused to give Merrick Garland, then-President Barack Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee, a hearing or a vote — and 2020 is “glaring.” 

“The contradiction will be a stain on the leader’s forehead and on the entire Republican caucus if it continues,” Schumer said. “We know how defensive he is about the blatant 180-degree hypocritical turn he made on Supreme Court nominations.” 

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), speaking from the floor, called the GOP’s treatment of Garland a “very low moment. It was one we haven’t forgotten.”

Republicans have defended their decision to confirm Barrett to the Supreme Court just days before the election, arguing that the political shift between 2016, when a Democrat was in the White House, and 2020, when Republicans control both the Senate and the presidency, is a key distinction. 

Schumer, however, argued that the GOP push marked the “most unprincipled, partisan, most hypocritical, and least legitimate Supreme Court confirmation in our nation’s history.” 

Though Supreme Court nominees have previously been confirmed during a presidential election year, Republicans will set a new record for how close this confirmation will be to Election Day. Though other nominees have been confirmed in a fewer number of days, they were further away from the election. 

Democrats tried at several points during Saturday’s session to shift the Senate away from Barrett’s nomination and toward taking up a litany of legislative proposals, including a House-passed coronavirus bill, a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and immigration, election interference and suicide prevention-related legislation. 

Each of the efforts were blocked by Republican senators, who argued that the Senate should focus on the task at hand: Confirming Barrett to the Supreme Court. 

“The minority leader is requesting to move to legislation after having repeatedly this week requested and asked for votes to adjourn, multiple times, leave town. Now all of the sudden he wants to legislate. I think there’s a serious question about the sincerity of the minority leader’s request here,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said in response to Schumer trying to turn the Senate toward COVID-19 relief. 

“This is all about politics. This is a bogus issue to detract the Senate from the work at hand, which is to confirm a well-qualified judge to the Supreme Court,” he added. 

Democrats have tried several times over the past week to adjourn the Senate until after the Nov. 3 election, though Schumer has routinely included the caveat that lawmakers would return if the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) strike a deal. 

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), blocked Democrats from bringing up election interference-related legislation, added that while the bill “may have merits that we need to discuss, should not be done in this format.” 

“Continuing to consider this highly qualified nominee to the Supreme Court is the utmost most important thing we should do here,” he added. 

Despite the hours-long session, Barrett’s nomination is on a path to glide to confirmation. 

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) announced that she will vote “yes” to help confirm Barrett to the Supreme Court on Monday. 

Murkowski, part of the chamber’s fledging moderate coalition, was considered a vote to watch because she had previously said that she did not believe a nominee should be brought up before the Nov. 3 election. 

“While I oppose the process that has led us to this point, I do not hold it against her as an individual who has navigated the gauntlet with grace, skill and humility. I will vote no on the procedural votes ahead of us but yes to confirm Judge Barrett when the question before us is her qualification to be an associate justice,” Murkowski said. 

Tensions also flared in dueling speeches from Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). 

Trump “wanted her on quickly because he said, ‘I want her there when the election is contested after the election,'” Brown said. “And …51 spineless senators do whatever the president tells McConnell to tell them on issue after issue after issue. That’s the way this place works. That’s the corruption of this place.” 

Johnson fired back that “by the way, to call every member on this side spineless is offensive.” 

And Sens. Steven Daines (R-Mont.), who is up for reelection, and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) got in a lengthy back-and-forth.

Daines argued that Republicans are in a “very different situation” in 2016 versus 2020. Whitehouse, however, pulled out a poster board with quotes from Daines in 2016, saying he did not believe the nominee should be moved in an election year. 

“If that is the rule that Republicans are prepared to adopt here, that what matters around here … isn’t what is right but it just because we can, then please don’t feign surprise in the months and years ahead if we on the Democratic side follow that same rule,” Whitehouse said.

Tags Amy Coney Barrett Barack Obama Chuck Schumer Dick Durbin Donald Trump John Thune Lisa Murkowski Merrick Garland Mike Braun Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Ron Johnson Sheldon Whitehouse Sherrod Brown

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