Sep 27, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Democrats feel boxed in on strategy for Barrett confirmation fight

Mike Allen
Trump and Amy Coney Barrett
Photo: Chen Mengtong/China News Service via Getty Images

Democrats privately fear that going too hard on Judge Amy Coney Barrett in her confirmation hearings could wind up backfiring if senators are perceived as being nasty to an accomplished woman.

Driving the news: Yesterday afternoon, NBC posted a video of Barrett outside her house in South Bend, Indiana, loading four of her seven children — two of the seven adopted from Haiti, and another with Down syndrome — into her Honda Odyssey minivan, then driving them all to her Air Force ride to Washington. "Good luck, Democrats," a Republican tweeted.

Between the lines: Senate Democrats recognize the danger. A top Democratic strategist pointed to three pitfalls: "liberals mishandling this by boycotting or treating her with disrespect; [Sen. Dianne] Feinstein [top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee] screwing it up; someone looking like a religious bigot."

  • "One more fear on Barrett: the adoption thing," the strategist added. "Gotta avoid that."
  • Some liberals (not elected officials) tweeted slurs about adoption yesterday and were slapped down.

A top Senate Democratic aide said the party has a three-part plan for avoiding those traps: "Health care, health care, health care."

That's the Dem playbook:

  • Focus attacks and questioning on Barrett's views on health care, including the Affordable Care Act and reproductive rights.
  • Argue that she'd help take away coverage and protection during a pandemic.
  • Give the spotlight to Sen. Kamala Harris.
  • Stick to issues, including labor rights.

Democrats also feel boxed in by the calendar and the realities of the Senate.

  • Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham outlined four days of hearings beginning Oct. 12 — 16 days from nomination. (24 of the 42 Supreme Court justice who've had hearings were done within 16 days, Graham said.)
  • Graham, talking to "Judge Jeanine" Pirro on Fox News, said he plans to send the nomination to the full Senate by Oct. 26. That means the vote will most likely be held the week before Election Day.

Democrats know there's little they can do to stop any of that: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has the votes.

  • "We could slow it down — perhaps hours, maybe days at the most," Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat, said on ABC's "This Week."
  • "But we can't stop the outcome. What we should do is to address this, now, respectfully."

The Democratic base is pressuring senators "to go as far as boycotting the confirmation hearing," the WashPost reports.

  • But there won't be much of that. The top aide told me that would just speed up the hearing process and give Republicans a free platform to promote Barrett without scrutiny.
  • When Graham was asked on Fox about the possibility of Dems boycotting the hearings, the chairman chuckled and said, "Well, it'd make 'em quicker!"

Some Democrats on the committee may refuse the traditional courtesy calls with Barrett, however.

  • "The more things Democrats do that confer legitimacy on this process," a leading progressive operative said, "the less patient progressives will become with them."
Go deeper