Carefully Considering Nothing

The story was over before it began. The inevitable really was inevitable. At the New York Times, Nicholas Fandos drew the short straw. He had to cover nothing much at all:

Republicans and Democrats offered sharply divergent arguments on Monday in a Supreme Court confirmation fight whose outcome is likely to steer the court to the right for years, vying to define Judge Amy Coney Barrett and frame the political stakes of President Trump’s rush to install her before he faces voters.

In a marathon day of opening statements, Democrats assailed Judge Barrett as a conservative ideologue who would overturn the Affordable Care Act and abortion rights, and whose nomination amounted to an illegitimate power grab by a president in the last days before the election.

Republicans steered clear of addressing Judge Barrett’s anticipated effect on the court, instead promoting her sterling qualifications and accusing Democrats of unjustly attacking her because of her Catholic faith, despite the fact that they made no mention of it on Monday.

That was a lot of talk for the opening day of a process that could only end one way. Her confirmation is certain. Republicans have all the votes they need for that. They’ve had those votes for years. They just needed one more Supreme Court justice to die. Ruth Baden Ginsburg did, and that was that, and Barrett just sat back and watched:

Judge Barrett, a former Notre Dame law professor, appeals court judge and mother of seven, sat in silence for much of the day; her expressions were rendered unreadable by a plain black mask she had donned in accordance with the Senate Judiciary Committee’s coronavirus protocol. When it was her turn to speak, she tried to avoid being pulled into the political or policy fray.

“Courts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life,” Judge Barrett said. “The policy decisions and value judgments of government must be made by the political branches elected by and accountable to the people. The public should not expect courts to do so, and courts should not try.”

She said no more. This was already over and this really wasn’t about her:

With Republicans confident they had the votes to confirm Judge Barrett and cement a lasting 6-to-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, they sought to energize their base by portraying Democrats’ opposition to Judge Barrett as anti-religion while reassuring wary moderates by highlighting her status as a working mother who had risen to the highest echelons of the law.

“This is probably not about persuading each other unless something really dramatic happens,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and the committee’s chairman, said as he opened the hearing. “All the Republicans will vote yes, all the Democrats will vote no.”

All that was left was posturing, or fervent statements attesting to unshakable abiding values, which in politics is the same thing. Barrett has twice written that the Affordable Care Act was clearly unconstitutional – the matter has been wrongly decided by the Roberts court – and the Supreme Court is scheduled to consider the matter one more time, in just a few weeks. Trump wants it gone. A large group of Republicans state attorneys general brought the case to end it. Trump’s fine with that. Barrett could be that one extra vote to end it. Democrats accepted that gift:

Democrats, returning to the issue that helped them win control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections, focused relentlessly on what Judge Barrett’s confirmation could mean for the health care law, which Mr. Trump and Republicans have pressed to repeal. They filled the hearing room with large posters of Americans who had benefited from the Affordable Care Act, including its protections for pre-existing medical conditions, and offered anecdotes to illustrate what voters had to lose should it be invalidated, as the Trump administration is arguing it should be.

“The truth is, America, that this judicial nominee has made her view so clear, and this president, is trying to put herself in a position of power to make decisions about your lives,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota. “The Affordable Care Act protects you from getting kicked off of your insurance. That is on the line.”

They kept hammering away at that. About twenty-two million Americans would suddenly lose health insurance and the whole system, now with ten years of policies and procedures and rules and complex systems firmly in place, would collapse. That might teach Obama, now in retirement, that he’d been too uppity, but this would make the current Republicans the greatest villains of all time. And the Democrats had the current situation on their side:

Piles of masks, pumps of hand sanitizer, and a new socially distant layout awaited lawmakers inside the sparsely populated hearing room. And members of the public were not allowed in at all, casting an unusual calm over a proceeding that has stirred intense passions. Outside the Capitol complex, where protesters from the right and left gathered, some dressed in hazmat suits, at least 21 people were arrested.

Democrats sought to capitalize on the juxtaposition, raging against Republicans’ insistence on holding a hearing in the middle of a deadly pandemic that has sickened the president and at least two Republican members of the committee after they attended the White House event that Mr. Trump held last month to present Judge Barrett as his nominee. One of those members, Senator Mike Lee of Utah, attended the hearing in person, prompting concerns although he presented a doctor’s note clearing him to be in public. Mr. Graham, for his part, refused to be retested, saying it was not necessary.

He saw himself as a Real Man, but then there was a Kamala Harris:

Ms. Harris was one of the Democrats who led the charge. She argued that Republicans should drop the hearings to give Americans what polls show they overwhelmingly want: an economic stimulus bill to help the millions of unemployed workers and small business owners who are struggling.

“Senate Republicans have made it crystal clear that rushing a Supreme Court nomination is more important than helping and supporting the American people who are suffering from a deadly pandemic and economic crisis,” she said, appearing by video from her office.

As they laid out an unusually disciplined case, Democrats said the hearing was entirely in keeping with what Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island called Republicans’ “hypocritical, tire-squealing 180” from 2016, when they refused to consider President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee because it was an election year.

But Democrats spent a majority of their time on the Affordable Care Act, reducing Judge Barrett’s confirmation to a single issue: the future of the health law that has expanded coverage for millions of Americans and grown more popular despite Republican attempts to repeal it. Dredging up her past legal writings, they argued that the judge, if confirmed, would be the decisive vote to strike down the health care law when the Supreme Court hears a challenge backed by the Trump administration days after the election.

And then the Big Man exploded:

An irritated Mr. Trump appeared to be watching from the White House, where he is still recovering from his own case of the virus, offering commentary as the day wore on. In many cases, it was not entirely helpful to Republicans.

In one Twitter post, sent not long after Mr. Graham explained why it was important for Judge Barrett to face a thorough, bipartisan vetting, the president said Republicans were giving Democrats too much time “to make their self-serving statements relative to our great new future Supreme Court Justice.” He suggested cutting off the hearing and approving “STIMULUS for the people!!!”

Yes, that’s what Democrats had been saying all along. Go figure. But everyone was ignoring him anyway:

Republicans largely bypassed the policy implications of the court’s rightward tilt in favor of Judge Barrett’s personal story. Trailing in the polls, they were working to use the confirmation fight to stoke enthusiasm among their base but also coax back independent voters, especially women, who are abandoning the party in droves.

Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said his constituents “want to know how you do it. How do you and your husband manage two full-time professional careers and at the same time manage your large families?”

“I’ll bet there are many young women, like my own two daughters, who marvel at the balance you have achieved,” he added.

They didn’t want to talk about the Affordable Care Act or Roe or the Covid disaster or anything else, but they knew that they too had to be angry, so they gave that a try:

Several Republican senators tried to put the Democrats on the defensive by accusing them of targeting Judge Barrett over her Catholic faith, even though no Democrat mentioned or even alluded to it.

“This committee is not in the business of deciding which religious beliefs are good, which are bad and which religious beliefs are weird,” said Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska.

Because no Democrat has directly raised Judge Barrett’s religious beliefs since her nomination to the Supreme Court, he and other Senate Republicans repeatedly cited the 2017 hearing on her nomination for an appeals court seat, when some Democrats questioned whether she could set aside personal beliefs rooted in her religion to rule impartially.

That was lame, but they do have a bit of a problem:

Judge Barrett has identified Catholicism as a central aspect of her life. She is part of an insular religious community, the People of Praise that has fewer than 2,000 members and is inspired by the traditions of charismatic Christianity, including speaking in tongues.

Until recently, the group called female leaders “handmaids” but recently dropped the term after the popular TV adaptation of the dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” gave the term a sinister cast.

Oops. But speaking in tongues might be useful as the hearings roll on. She will have to talk, later, maybe, but for now, Robin Givhan sees this:

The opening day of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court was kid-friendly. It was child-obsessed. It was a little over five hours of children as talking points and visual aids and proof of unwavering conservative values. It’s hard to recall a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee that was so focused on the well-being, the deportment and the birth story of our youngest citizens.

Rare was the Republican on the committee who was able to deliver an opening statement without referring to the seven children in the Barrett family. This feat of parenting seemed to leave them gobsmacked with admiration and utterly mystified as to how a two-parent household with significant financial resources was capable of wrangling such a large brood without the missus showing up with oatmeal on her clothes…

The many references to Barrett’s children were a not-so-subtle pronouncement that her prolific motherhood was especially good and admirable and a sign that she was not shirking her womanly duty while she was unleashing her ambition. Barrett had it all – on terms that were acceptable to social conservatives.

And then they drifted off into another universe:

The Republicans spent a great deal of their time bragging that Barrett’s résumé was remarkable and that she was eminently qualified for the Supreme Court. But in their opening statements there was little teasing or foreshadowing of supporting data points – aside from the fact that as a law professor, her students really, really liked her. Instead, they spent an inordinate amount of time crowing about her school-age children, her two adopted children and the sheer number of children under her care. To hear the Republicans tell it, children are Barrett’s most distinguished qualifications.

And on the other side:

The Democrats mostly ignored Barrett’s offspring. Instead, they spoke of the children of their constituents and the many ways in which they would suffer if the Affordable Care Act were dismantled. For Democrats, health care was their near-singular focus, as the party fears that if Barrett reaches the court she will do as President Trump so desperately wants and vote against the Affordable Care Act in an upcoming case.

Democrats came with poster-size photos of smiling children who would all suffer without the ACA. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) told the story of Kenny, whose congenital heart ailment had rung up $1 million in medical costs over the first four months of his life. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) offered up a photo of twin girls from her home state, one of whom was living with diabetes and needed the ACA for reliable health insurance. Her sister also had received a similar diagnosis.

That hardly seemed fair, and then there was Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham:

He was really just holding the hearings to be polite. And then he puffed himself up on sanctimony and warned that everyone should be on their best behavior because “the world is watching.”

What exactly did the world see – if it hasn’t already turned away from this country in horror? It saw children used as messaging devices. It saw Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) describe the 2018 confirmation hearings for Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh as a “freak show,” because apparently asking a Supreme Court nominee to address credible accusations of sexual assault is against the natural order of things. “It looked like the cantina bar scene out of ‘Star Wars,’ ” Kennedy added.

The world saw flailing Democrats and self-righteous Republicans.

In short, it was just another day in Washington, which Dana Milbank saw this way:

Democrats weren’t talking about Barrett because this confirmation isn’t about Barrett; Republicans have already declared they have the votes to ram her through, without hearings if necessary. The confirmation, rather, is to be a decisive vote about the future of the Supreme Court, and whether that august body will shed its last vestige of legitimacy and credibility.

Confidence in the Supreme Court has fallen dramatically since Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation. Fifty-six percent of Americans had high confidence in the high court back in 1985, according to Gallup. That figure has averaged in the high 30s lately. Views are overwhelmingly partisan: Fifty-three percent of Republicans have confidence, compared with 33 percent of Democrats.

And that was before President Trump proposed, as Ruth Bader Ginsburg lay in state, to replace the liberal icon with her jurisprudential opposite, forming the most right-wing court in 70 years. On top of this is the rank hypocrisy of Republicans breaking their promises not to hold confirmation hearings so close to an election; their haste to do so even as they resist passing covid-19 relief; and the naked political maneuver of making sure Barrett, openly hostile to Obamacare, is seated on the court before it hears arguments on the law on Nov. 10.

This is why Republicans would rather pretend it’s a fight about Barrett’s character and credentials.

It was all bullshit:

Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) walked to the microphones during a recess Monday, whipped off his mask and announced: “Judge Barrett has been called so far a racist, a colonialist, a religious bigot.”

“Who said that?” a reporter asked. (Nobody had.)

“I’m not going to argue with you guys,” Kennedy replied, adding that “some of my colleagues” suggest “because she’s a Christian, she’s unfit to serve in public service.”

Reporters tried again: “Seriously, can you name one of your colleagues who has attacked Judge Barrett?”

“I don’t want to go there,” Kennedy said…

And there was this:

“The pattern and practice of bigotry from members of this committee must stop,” warned Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), with no such pattern or practice in evidence.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), for his part, accused his “Democratic colleagues” of saying “they intend to pack the court with more justices.” No Democrat said anything about court-packing Monday.

And several Republicans used their opening statements to accuse Democrats of an “absolute disgrace” (Cornyn), a “freak show” (Kennedy) and a “crusade to tarnish a nominee” (Chuck Grassley, Iowa). Barrett? No, they were all talking about Brett M. Kavanaugh – two years ago.

But that might have been their only option:

The Republicans conjured these fantasies, no doubt, because the reality of this confirmation is indefensible. Republicans shut down the Senate floor because of a covid-19 outbreak that apparently began at Barrett’s nomination ceremony at the White House. But they are still pushing through, mere days before an election that Trump appears likely to lose, a nominee who Trump hopes, by his own account, will help him delegitimize the election result.

She would owe him, but then this intervened:

As the Senate begins confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, two-thirds of voters say Congress should focus instead on passing more COVID-19 relief for struggling workers and businesses, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll.

The survey, which was conducted from Oct. 9 to 11, found that large majorities of the public think Congress has its priorities backward. Not only do more than three-quarters (77 percent) of registered voters want legislators to approve another major pandemic relief package; 66 percent want the Senate to vote on it before voting on Barrett’s nomination. A full third of Republicans (33 percent) agree.

Someone is losing here. Jennifer Rubin knows who:

The first day of hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett summed up the essence of the two parties: Republican senators played victims, whining that Barrett was the target of anti-Catholic animus among Democrats, for which Republicans would be hard-pressed to come up with examples. (This is what comes of living inside the right-wing news bubble; you fail to grasp that actual voters do not care or even understand your latest grievance.) Democrats, on the other hand, were, for once, using their time wisely to hit Republicans for a power grab (which polls show will resonate with voters) and to sketch out the likely consequences of Barrett’s ideology, especially the evisceration of the Affordable Care Act.

Some Democrats were more succinct and compelling than others, but they all seemed to understand that their job is to create a tsunami of opposition to right-wing gamesmanship and highlight the GOP’s opposition to positions that key voters – such as suburban women – find objectionable (e.g., striking down the ACA).

If they save the seat, it would be a windfall; if they send more and more Republicans packing on Nov. 3, that’s a win, too.

And they have the better arguments:

Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), the vice-presidential nominee, appeared remotely, seated in front of a children’s book about the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She effectively delivered an advertisement against Republicans, ripping into senators who were putting Senate staff at risk. “This hearing has brought together more than 50 people to sit inside of a closed-door room for hours, while our nation is facing a deadly airborne virus,” she said. “This committee has ignored common-sense requests to keeping people safe, including not requiring testing for all members, despite a coronavirus outbreak among senators of this very committee.”

She railed at the Republican attempt to usurp the right of voters to pick their leaders. “More than 9 million Americans have already voted and millions more will vote, while this illegitimate committee process is underway,” she said. “Every American must understand that with this nomination, equal justice under law is at stake, our voting rights are at stake, workers’ rights are at stake, consumer rights are at stake,” she said. “The right to a safe and legal abortion is at stake. And holding corporations accountable is at stake.” Harris added, “I believe we must listen to our constituents and protect their access to health care and wait to confirm a new Supreme Court justice.”

Rubin is impressed:

Public opinion is with Democrats – on waiting to select the next justice until after the election, on the ACA, on abortion rights. For a change, Democrats finally seem to know how to use these confirmation charades as a way of highlighting Republicans’ increasingly out-of-touch views and anti-democratic tendencies.

Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman note those odd views:

President Trump, eager to prove he is healthy and energetic despite his recent hospitalization for Covid-19, returned to the campaign trail on Monday night in Florida, speaking for just over an hour in a state that his advisers think he must win in November, but where voters were overwhelmingly repelled by his performance in the first general election debate.

Mr. Trump, whose voice sounded hoarse and strained as he began to speak onstage at a hangar at Orlando Sanford International Airport, claimed he was fully recovered and therefore immune to the coronavirus – a claim for which there is no conclusive scientific backing.

“I feel so powerful,” said the president, who did not wear a mask while boarding Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews before leaving Washington. “I’ll kiss everyone in that audience. I’ll kiss the guys and the beautiful women. Just give you a big fat kiss.”

He’s back:

Onstage, Mr. Trump also mocked questions about whether he would agree to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost. He claimed, falsely, that President Barack Obama had spied on his 2016 campaign and noted, “We’ll take care of it after the election,” adding that it “gives you another reason to go out and vote.”

For the most part, however, the president was back to delivering his regular, factually challenged campaign stump speech, in which he brags about killing terrorists and building a wall along the southwestern border, and accuses the news media of being “frauds.”

But what about Amy Coney Barrett? Kevin Drum offers this:

Republicans will all vote to confirm Barrett, and Democrats will all vote to oppose her. None of this has anything to do with judicial philosophy. It’s because Barrett will almost certainly support Republican positions and oppose Democratic positions. There have been cases in the past when Republicans have nominated candidates who turned out to be only weak partisans, but those days are long gone. Nobody with questionable loyalties makes it past their filters any longer…

All the words being spilled on both sides are little more than a charade. Republicans will vote for Barrett because she’s a Republican and they have enough votes to confirm her. That’s it. That’s the whole story.

And there’s nothing more to say.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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