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GOP clears key hurdle on Barrett's Supreme Court nomination, setting up Monday confirmation

Republicans cleared a key hurdle Sunday for Judge Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettGraham reports 'record-breaking' 9M haul during 2020 campaign The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates Supreme Court sees new requests for religious COVID-19 carve-outs MORE’s Supreme Court nomination, paving the way for her confirmation on Monday.

Senators voted 51-48 to begin winding down debate on Barrett’s nomination. GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Congress inches closer to virus relief deal Lawmakers pressure leaders to reach COVID-19 relief deal Biden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Congress inches closer to virus relief deal Lawmakers pressure leaders to reach COVID-19 relief deal Biden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him MORE (Alaska) voted with Democrats against moving forward.

A final vote to confirm Barrett to the Supreme Court is expected to take place by Monday evening, roughly a month after President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE announced his intention to nominate her to succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgSupreme Court sees new requests for religious COVID-19 carve-outs Cuomo likens COVID-19 to the Grinch: 'The season of viral transmission' For Thanksgiving, the Supreme Court upholds religious liberty MORE.

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While Sunday’s vote is only a procedural step, it underscores that Republicans have the votes to place Barrett on the Supreme Court just days before the Nov. 3 election. The timetable will set a new record for how close to a presidential election a nominee has been confirmed to the country’s highest court.

The Supreme Court fires up the GOP base, handing Republicans a victory to tout as they try to shore up support in the final days before the election. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Unemployment gains lower than expected | Jobs report lights fire under coronavirus relief talks GOP senators back Christian school's push for COVID-19 carve-out Bipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package MORE (R-Ky.), in particular, has put a premium on confirming Trump’s judicial nominees, arguing it's the best thing the party can do to have a long-term impact on the direction of the country.

"I think the voters are very much paying attention," said Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP senators back Christian school's push for COVID-19 carve-out Senate committee approves nominations of three FEC commissioners Cruz urges Supreme Court to take up Pennsylvania election challenge MORE (R-Texas) on Sunday. "I think defending the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is incredibly important, possibly the most important issue in the election."

The push to confirm Barrett comes four years after Republicans refused to give Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandThe five biggest challenges facing President-elect Biden Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight McConnell pushed Trump to nominate Barrett on the night of Ginsburg's death: report MORE, then-President Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee, a hearing or a vote in 2016. Republicans argue that the political shift from 2016, when a Democrat was in the White House, to 2020, when Republicans control both the Senate and the presidency, is a key distinction in line with precedent.

Democrats, however, fumed as Republicans quickly made it clear they would rally behind McConnell’s pledge to give whomever Trump nominated to succeed Ginsburg a vote. Similar to 2016, when McConnell waited only hours to announce the Senate would not take up a successor for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the GOP leader quickly made it clear after Ginsburg’s death that he would bring up Trump’s nominee.

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“This SCOTUS nomination process was illegitimate from Day 1. Instead of allowing the American people to finish voting, we had the Senate GOP saying they would confirm the nominee before she was even named. It’s all a sham,” Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyDemocrats introduce legislation to strike slavery exception in 13th Amendment Overnight Defense: Defense bill among Congress's year-end scramble | Iranian scientist's assassination adds hurdles to Biden's plan on nuclear deal | Navy scrapping USS Bonhomme Richard after fire Supreme Court declines to hear case challenging unlimited super PAC fundraising MORE (D-Ore.) tweeted on Sunday.

Democrats have unsuccessfully tried dozens of times over the past week to delay Barrett’s nomination, including with attempts to adjourn the Senate until Nov. 9 or take up and begin debates on long-stalled legislative priorities. In Saturday’s hours-long session alone, they tried to take up roughly two dozen bills; each maneuver was blocked by Republicans.

Republicans expect Democrats to keep the Senate in session throughout Sunday night to give speeches about Barrett’s nomination before the final vote on Monday.

But Democrats have acknowledged that, absent the help of four GOP senators, they are powerless to prevent Republicans from placing Barrett on the court just days before the election and in time to take part in the Nov. 10 case that could determine the fate of the Affordable Care Act.

Collins, who is in a tough reelection bid, is the only Republican expected to vote against Barrett on Monday. Collins said she was voting against Barrett because she does not believe Republicans should move her nomination before the election, after refusing to take up Garland in 2016. 

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"To be clear, my vote does not reflect any conclusion that I have reached about Judge Barrett’s qualifications to serve on the Supreme Court. What I have concentrated on is being fair and consistent, and I do not think it is fair nor consistent to have a Senate confirmation vote prior to the election," Collins said in a statement on Sunday. 

Democrats have argued that the reason Republicans are moving quickly to get Barrett on the court is so she can hear the health care case and so she can hear any election-related cases if the outcome of Nov. 3 ends up before the Supreme Court. Trump has indicated that he wants the Supreme Court to strike down ObamaCare and that he believes nine justices are needed in case the election is contested.

Barrett, during her days-long confirmation hearing, largely sidestepped weighing in on the presidential election and declined to say if she would recuse herself from election-related cases, if she thought a president should commit to a peaceful transition of power or if a president could unilaterally delay the election.

Despite the high stakes of confirming Barrett, who will lock in a 6-3 conservative majority on the court, and the injection of election-year drama, there have been no eleventh-hour surprises that threatened to derail GOP support for Trump's nominee. It’s a turnaround from 2018, when decades-old sexual assault allegations against then-nominee Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughGOP senators back Christian school's push for COVID-19 carve-out Supreme Court sees new requests for religious COVID-19 carve-outs For Thanksgiving, the Supreme Court upholds religious liberty MORE injected last-minute chaos into the Senate’s debate.

Barrett also got a surprise boost when Murkowski announced that she would ultimately support Barrett during Monday’s confirmation vote, despite her objections to the decision to hold a vote before the 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,” Murkowski said on Saturday. “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.”

Updated at 4:23 p.m.