Inside Democrats’ campaign against Amy Coney Barrett

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“We’re focused on the issues and the merits. And on the illegitimacy of the process. We are not focusing on the personal characteristics of Amy Coney Barrett. Zero,” Schumer said. “The Republicans are so afraid of the issues of health care and women’s reproductive rights … they’re trying to create a diversion.”

Senators have been preparing for the possibility of a vacancy for months. Senate Republicans vowed in May that they’d fill an opening this year, shortly after Ginsburg was hospitalized. That same month, Senate Democratic leadership and Judiciary Committee aides began to plan for a possible vacancy, according to a Democratic leadership aide. In these discussions, Democrats strategized on their messaging, including maintaining a focus on health care.

With no procedural tools to stop Barrett from getting confirmed to the Supreme Court, the only weapon Democrats have is messaging. But Brian Fallon, executive director of the liberal Demand Justice group, says that Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have been “sleepwalking” so far.

“Dianne Feinstein, Chris Coons, Dick Durbin have been going around sulking about how the Republicans have the votes. And they ought to be convincing the country about what a partisan power grab this is,” said Fallon, whose group is spending millions against Barrett’s nomination. “Get passionate.”

Coons responded that he will be as “passionate and forceful” as he can be.

“There are some folks who are literally never happy no matter what we do,” he said.

Democrats will scrutinize Barrett’s previous writings on Obamacare, including her criticism of Chief Justice John Roberts for ruling to uphold the law. Her views on abortion will also come up. She has described abortion as “always immoral,” but she’s also suggested that Roe v. Wade will endure in some form.

“This nominee poses a clear and present danger to everybody’s health care, that should be uppermost in everyone’s minds, but that’s only the start,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii.), who also sits on the Judiciary Committee. “She has a position on abortion.”

Democrats hope their questions create tension between the committee’s conservatives who want the ACA repealed and Roe struck down and those up for reelection who are staying away from such suggestions.

Schumer refused to directly comment on how Senate Republicans’ confirmation of Barrett might affect key Senate races. Ever the optimist, he said that this is a fight like the one to save Obamacare, when Schumer helped convince former Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to tank his party’s repeal effort.

“This is our job to push this as hard we can, knowing it’s not an easy fight, knowing that Trump is a vindictive guy and anyone who goes against him has suffered,” Schumer said of Senate Republicans who tangle with the president.

Yet there were always enough senators complaining about Obamacare repeal to conceivably tank the bill. When it comes to Barrett, only two of 53 GOP senators oppose her confirmation before the election. Getting two more looks borderline impossible.

Democrats are “making this far-fetched argument that somehow this is part of a vast right-wing conspiracy against the ACA.” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas.), a Judiciary committee member. As for potential drama at the hearing, he observed: “I don’t think it’s so much about what we [Republicans] do but what they do.”

Heather Caygle contributed to this report.

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