Democrats Coalesce Behind Central Argument At Barrett Hearing: The ACA Is In Peril

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 12: U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) speaks during Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett's Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice on Capitol Hil... WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 12: U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) speaks during Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett's Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice on Capitol Hill on October 12, 2020 in Washington, DC. With less than a month until the presidential election, President Donald Trump tapped Amy Coney Barrett to be his third Supreme Court nominee in just four years. If confirmed, Barrett would replace the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Photo by Greg Nash - Pool/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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October 12, 2020 3:02 p.m.

Flanked by blown-up pictures of people whose health would be in dire straits without the Affordable Care Act, Democratic senators stayed on message at Monday’s hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. 

Every senator followed a similar formula: reminding viewers why health care is crucial, especially amid a pandemic, explaining why the ACA would be at risk with a Justice Barrett and giving examples of sympathetic constituents with everything to lose from the law’s demise. 

Some members also tied in the rushed confirmation — their “this process is not normal” argument — to the ACA case currently before the Supreme Court. 

“There are two dates on the calendar which explain the timetable: November 3rd and November 10th,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said of the rapid process, alluding to the election and oral arguments in the case challenging the ACA before the Supreme Court. 

“On September 27th, President Trump tweeted that he wants to see the Affordable Care Act ‘terminated’ in the Supreme Court,” Durbin added. “Let’s be honest about this: This President has never suffered an unuttered thought. He gives us 25 tweets a day tell us what’s going through that fertile mind. We know what he thinks because he tells us — and he made it clear that he wants the Supreme Court and this nominee to join him in eliminating the Affordable Care Act.”

Trump’s candor in his opposition to the ACA got many citations from the Democratic members, as did Republicans’ repeated failure to defang or dismantle the law legislatively. 

“My Republican colleagues here and in the House have voted over and over and over to repeal the Affordable Care Act since it was passed a decade ago,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE). “Thankfully, for the people of our nation and my state, they too have been unsuccessful. And yet today, to make good on this promise, to achieve what they couldn’t accomplish through the democratic process, they’re looking to the courts, in fact, to the Court — they’re looking to this nominee.”

Most of the senators referenced Barrett’s writing on the subject — academic writings and judicial opinions that served as an “audition,” in Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s (D-CT) words, to satisfy Trump’s anti-ACA litmus test. 

Some of the most effective senators added a personal spin to their presentations. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) talked about the stark contrast between how her Republican colleagues treated her upon finding out about her kidney cancer diagnosis in 2017, and their callousness at the prospect of millions of Americans losing their coverage. 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) cited her husband and elderly father, both of whom were infected with coronavirus.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) referenced the Rose Garden ceremony-turned-super spreader event, saying that he’s “really glad” his colleagues had access to the health care they needed after testing positive. 

“The problem is,” he went on, “the people who will come through here today to wipe down the desks and empty the garbage, that will vacuum the floor like people all over our country who are working today in factories, teaching children in schools — they don’t have a direct line to the nation’s top health experts. They cannot show up to work sick.”

Democratic lawmakers and the Biden-Harris campaign selected the threat to the ACA as their primary counterpunch soon after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who twice voted to uphold the law, last month. It’s a neat way for them to tie in the administration’s bungled handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and may resonate with more voters than would procedural complaints about Republicans’ bum-rush confirmation.

Republicans, for their part, tried during the hearing to paint the Democratic opposition as anti-woman, anti-Constitution, and particularly, anti-Catholic. But Democrats stayed on message.

“Her faith should not be considered,” Biden said when asked the question after getting off of his campaign plane while the hearing was going on, adding that he had the same stance now as he had when asked about the Mormon faith of then-Utah Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012: “No one’s faith should be questioned.” 

And with that, Biden pivoted: “We’re already in the midst of a real fight here. Everyone knows that in 28 days, 20 million Americans may lose their health care. This nominee said she wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. The President wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. Let’s keep our eye on the ball.” 

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