Meanwhile, behind the scenes, GOP officials were working at a rapid clip to move her nomination through the Senate Judiciary Committee, which had sent Barrett the usual nominee questionnaire on Sunday as lawyers and aides continued to vet her paperwork ahead of at least three days of confirmation hearings beginning Oct. 12. Democrats continued to weigh their options for a deeper scrub of her record, including additional document requests, according to aides — although Barrett, with limited service in government aside from her judgeship, would lack a lengthy paper trail aside from her legal writings and opinions.
Barrett had submitted the questionnaire — which reveals her most monumental cases, work history, public writings and details of her selection process — as of Tuesday evening.
“We truly do believe that Judge Barrett represents the best of America personally, in terms of her great intellect, her great background,” said Vice President Pence, who attended Barrett’s meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “We have every confidence that as the American people learn more about Judge Amy Coney Barrett, they will be as inspired as President Trump was when he made her nomination.”
McConnell said he was pleased to begin the process, though he continued on Tuesday to decline to say whether Barrett would be confirmed before the election. Republican leaders have crafted a timeline to do precisely that, barring no surprises.
“I left our discussion even more convinced that President Trump has nominated exactly the kind of outstanding person whom the American people deserve to have on their highest court,” McConnell said later Tuesday. “Americans deserve brilliant judges with first-rate legal minds. Judge Barrett is that and then some.”
Democrats continued to decry the process, as a growing chorus of Democratic senators insisted that Barrett would need to recuse herself from any election-related cases if she is seated on the Supreme Court, considering Trump’s explicit link between getting his nominee confirmed and justices hearing any election-related legal challenges that would arise.
“I think, given the situation, it would certainly be appropriate from an ethics standpoint,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), the fourth-ranking Senate Democrat. “I mean, he clearly is looking for a way to create some kind of chaos or distrust in the results and somehow get that into the court.”
Republicans dismissed the question of recusal and whether it was a conflict of interest for Barrett to hear such a case. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said that it was “one of the most absurd ideas I’ve ever heard” and that Barrett had “no legal disqualification.”
“The entire reason the Senate should act and act promptly to confirm a ninth justice is so that the Supreme Court can resolve any cases that arise in the wake of the election,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). “This election is a closely contested election.”
In 2016, with a vacancy on the court and the election looming, Cruz suggested that Republicans could indefinitely block any nominee of Democrat Hillary Clinton if she won the presidency.
“There is long historical precedent for a Supreme Court with fewer justices,” Cruz said then.
In addition to McConnell, Cruz, and Graham, Barrett met with former Judiciary Committee chairman Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Rick Scott (Fla.), John Thune (S.D.) and Mike Lee (Utah). The Republican senators largely praised her record and jurisprudence, and made pointed nods to her being a conservative female pioneer in the mold of the liberal justice she would replace, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“She’s had an outstanding [career] as I said in academia but she is also well-known for mentoring women in the law, and something that you could surely say you followed Justice Ginsburg on,” Grassley told Barrett as they sat in socially distanced chairs in a meeting room at the Capitol.
Several key Senate Democrats have said outright that they will not meet with Barrett, including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) who said, “We need to treat this nomination like the illegitimate power grab it is.”
It was unclear Tuesday what Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, would do. Other Democrats on the committee, such as Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.) and Cory Booker (N.J.), have indicated they would meet with her.
As they continued to hash out their procedural strategy, Democrats also pressed forward in their concerted effort to make the Supreme Court fight about health care and the fate of the Affordable Care Act, whose constitutionality will be argued before the justices the week after the elections.
Schumer, in a rare move, successfully teed up a procedural vote on legislation attempting to bar the Justice Department from fighting to kill Obamacare in the courts. It is highly unusual for anyone other than the majority leader to make such a move in the Senate, and it was unclear whether Republicans were aware of Schumer’s action beforehand.
Though the largely symbolic measure will not advance in the GOP-controlled Senate, it allows Democrats to force Republicans to go on record with an uncomfortable vote on the issue of health care and the ACA’s coverage for people with preexisting medical conditions.
“The American people should make no mistake,” Schumer said. “A vote by any senator for Judge Amy Coney Barrett is a vote to strike down the Affordable Care Act and eliminate protections for millions of Americans with preexisting conditions.”
The administration has eschewed a traditional outside liaison to help Barrett navigate Capitol Hill throughout her confirmation process, relying primarily on White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Counsel Pat Cipollone to guide her through her fight.
Both West Wing officials were present for the meetings on Tuesday.
Trump nominated Barrett, 48, a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, on Saturday to replace Ginsburg, who died Sept. 18 at age 87. Since the hours after Ginsburg’s death, Senate Republicans have moved quickly to affirm that her replacement will get confirmed this year, despite the proximity to the election and their decision four years ago to block President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court for eight months, insisting the voters that November should decide which party got to fill the seat.
Only two Republican senators — Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — out of the 53 have said the Senate should wait on the nomination until after the election.
“It’s very legitimate,” Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said of the process. “It’s very constitutional.”