Republicans are ramping up their plan to try to confirm President Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee before the Nov. 3 election.
With Trump announcing on Saturday his intent to nominate circuit judge Amy Coney Barrett to succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Republicans are set to begin a five-week sprint to work through the paperwork, committee hearing and floor action needed to seat Barrett on the court.
“If you can look at the – in the number of days that are allowed for the hearings, and then the reporting of the judge to the floor in the time it would take the process her on the floor, I think it’s certainly possible that we could complete action on this toward the end of October,” Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, told Fox News on Monday.
Both the House and Senate are set to start the work week on Tuesday.
Barrett will begin meeting on Tuesday with top Republicans including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). She’s also scheduled to meet with GOP members of the Judiciary Committee including Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah).
No Democratic senator has firmly announced, yet, that they will meet with Barrett, though Graham disclosed during a Fox News interview that she had called Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
The closed-door meetings come as Republicans are set to begin the confirmation hearings for Barrett in less than two weeks, on Oct. 12. The hearings, which Graham’s staff estimated would last three-to-four days, will be followed by a Judiciary Committee vote on Oct. 22.
Because Republicans have a 12-10 majority on the committee, they will be able to send Barrett’s nomination to the floor without the need for any Democratic support as long as they remain united, setting up a final floor vote on the Senate floor the week of Oct. 26.
The GOP plan will keep the explosive Supreme Court fight, which gives Republicans the chance to cement a 6-3 conservative majority, in the spotlight up until the election. If confirmed, Republicans will set a record on voting for a Supreme Court nominee so close to a presidential election. Though other nominees have been confirmed in a fewer number of days, those were further away from a presidential election.
Democrats are powerless to stop Barrett’s nomination on their own, but they can slow it down with procedural roadblocks and have vowed that it will not be “business as usual” in the Senate. They are also planning to hone in on the potential impact Barrett’s confirmation could have for healthcare, including the future of the Affordable Care Act. If Barrett is confirmed before the election, she will be able to take part in a November case that could determine the fate of the Obama-era healthcare law.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged Democrats to remain focused on healthcare, arguing it was the party’s shot to build opposition to Barrett’s nomination and put pressure on Republicans to potentially oppose her. If Democrats are going to prevent Barrett from being confirmed, they face an uphill battle of winning over four GOP senators.
“Here is my suggestion for the best strategy for fighting back: health care, health care, health care. Our number one job is to communicate exactly what is at stake for the American people if Republicans jam through this nominee. The elimination of the Affordable Care Act is at the top of the list,” Schumer wrote to his caucus.
“All the data show that with COVID raging, the number one priority for the American people is health care-its affordability, accessibility and quality. We must focus like a laser on health care because Judge Barrett’s record is so clear on this issue. It gives us the ability to clearly define what is at stake for the American people’s top priority,” he added.
In addition to healthcare, some Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have indicated they will ask Barrett if she would recuse herself from cases involving the election if it reaches the court. Trump, and some GOP lawmakers, have pointed to the potential need for a litigated outcome if the election is close as a need to have all nine justices on the Supreme Court.
“One of the things I want to ask her is will she recuse herself in terms of any election issues that come before us, because if she does not recuse herself, I fear that the court will be further delegitimized. In other words, President Trump has said, ‘I will not accept the results of the election unless I win. I’m going to push it to the Supreme Court. And oh, by the way, during the election I’m going to put somebody on the Court as well,'” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) told “Meet the Press.”
House Democrats unveiled a slimmed down $2.2 trillion COVID-19 relief package on Monday as there is an aim to revitalize talks on a bipartisan measure that can pass both chambers and win the support of the White House ahead of the November election.
Its introduction comes just days before the House is scheduled to fly out for its October recess, and as swing district Democrats have publicly clamored for some action as the coronavirus keeps the economy on edge with roughly 205,000 Americans dead.
But despite parties having remained at an impasse for months, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke shortly after the scaled-back package was revealed. They have agreed to speak again on Tuesday in an attempt to strike a deal.
The new package’s price tag comes in at $1.2 trillion less than the initial Heroes Act, which was passed largely along party lines earlier this spring. It faced strong pushback from Republicans over spending levels. The GOP-controlled Senate initially rolled out a $1.1 trillion package, before coming out with a pared down $500 billion bill earlier this month.
The new House bill includes $436 billion for state, local, territorial and tribal governments struggling from the financial fallout from pandemic; $75 billion for additional testing, another round of direct payments, extending increased unemployment benefits, provides $225 billion for child care and schools and would authorize additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program among other provisions.
“This $2.2 trillion Heroes Act provides the absolutely needed resources to protect lives, livelihoods and the life of our democracy over the coming months,” Pelosi said in a dear colleague letter on Monday.
“It includes new funding needed to avert catastrophe for schools, small businesses, restaurants, performance spaces, airline workers and others.”
Pelosi has not said if and when the House will vote on the measure on the floor. But Democratic lawmakers and aides said, barring a last-minute agreement with Mnuchin, they anticipated a vote on the legislation on Wednesday or Thursday.
The Senate will go down to the wire with its debate over a stopgap government funding bill.
The Senate is expected to wrap up work on the bill Wednesday, hours before the current funding runs out.
The continuing resolution (CR) would fund the government through Dec. 11 at current fiscal year 2020 levels. Lawmakers and Trump will have to work out later this year if they can get a deal on the 12 fiscal year 2021 funding bills, or pass another stopgap bill in December to kick the funding fight into next year.
The stopgap bill previously passed the House last week, after last-minute haggling over farm aid. The agreement struck between the two parties adds $8 billion in nutrition assistance programs and allows for the farm aid distributed through the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) to continue but with measures sought by Democrats to prohibit payments to fossil fuel refiners and importers.
Former FBI Director James Comey is stepping back into the congressional spotlight this week when he testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
Comey will go before the panel as part of Graham’s months-long investigation into “Crossfire Hurricane,” the FBI’s probe into Russian election meddling and Trump’s campaign, the subsequent former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and the use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance, or FISA, court.
Comey’s testimony comes after former Deputy Attorneys General Rod Rosenstein and Sally Yates testified publicly as part of Graham’s investigation.
Graham, in an interview with Fox News, indicated he would be asking Comey about the so-called Steele dossier, the controversial opposition research into then-candidate Donald Trump.
“The information we received from Barr and Christopher Wray and – Attorney General Barr and Director Wray – have been very helpful to me to get information out of the system. Durham had the first look at the fact that the primary subsource was suspected by the FBI of being a Russian agent,” Graham said.
Video: Dems to introduce bill setting term limits for Supreme Court justices (Reuters – US Video Online)