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Democrats voice concern for Affordable Care Act as Senate panel opens Barrett hearings

Senate confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett began Monday. With her nomination, President Trump and Republican lawmakers are seeking to put a conservative stamp on the Supreme Court for years to come. But Senate Democrats expressed concerns both about Barrett’s perspective on the Affordable Care Act and the process by which she is being evaluated. John Yang reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Day one of the confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett is in the books, and the battle for this U.S. Supreme Court seat has been joined.

    President Trump and Republicans are pushing to put a conservative stamp on the High Court for years to come. Democrats are warning of what that could mean.

    John Yang begins our coverage.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.:

    The hearing to confirm Judge Amy Barrett to the Supreme Court will now begin.

  • John Yang:

    In an appropriately distanced Senate hearing room, Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett appeared before a divided Senate Judiciary Committee and a divided nation.

    Wearing a mask, Barrett was backed by her husband and six of their seven children. In her first public remarks since being nominated, she told senators her judicial philosophy was inspired by her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she was a clerk.

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    It was the content of Justice Scalia's reasoning that shaped me. His judicial philosophy was straightforward: A judge must apply the law as it is written, not as she wishes it were.

  • John Yang:

    She said making policy belongs to lawmakers, not judges.

  • Amy Coney Barrett:

    Courts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life. 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.

  • John Yang:

    But policy was what Democrats focused on.

    They said her confirmation was being fast-tracked this election year so she would be on the bench for oral arguments November 10 in a case that 20 Republican-led states brought against the Affordable Care Act, or ACA.

  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.:

    The big, secretive influences behind this unseemly rush see this nominee as a judicial torpedo they are firing at the ACA.

  • John Yang:

    Democrats spoke of constituents who they said would lose health insurance if the ACA was struck down.

    Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii:

  • Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii:

    The consequences of Judge Barrett's confirmation would be devastating for millions of Americans who would lose their health care during this pandemic.

  • John Yang:

    Some of Barrett's Republican defenders said her potential vote on the ACA case should not be prejudged.

    Senator John Cornyn of Texas:

  • Sen John Cornyn, R-Texas:

    You stand accused of intending to violate your oath before you even take it. Further, our Democratic colleagues want you to guarantee a result in a case as a quid pro quo for your confirmation. It's outrageous.

  • John Yang:

    Democrats renewed their objections to filling the vacancy so close to Election Day.

    Senator Chris Coons of Delaware:

  • Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.:

    There is no precedent in our nation's history for confirming a Supreme Court nominee by the Senate this close to a presidential election, in which a majority of states are already voting.

  • John Yang:

    Speaking from her office, committee member and vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris said lawmakers should instead be aiding financially strapped Americans.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.:

    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 a devastating economic crisis.

  • John Yang:

    Republicans said they were simply fulfilling their constitutional duty.

  • Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho:

    The Senate is today exercising its duty to move forward with processing this nomination, just like the vast majority of Senates in the past have done every time this has happened.

  • John Yang:

    Barrett describes herself as a faithful Catholic, and in her 2017 confirmation for the appeals court, some Democrats raised her faith in the context of abortion rights.

    Today, it was only Republicans who brought it up.

  • Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo.:

    When you tell somebody that they're too Catholic to be on the bench, when you tell somebody they're going to be a Catholic judge, not an American judge, that's bigotry. The pattern and practice of bigotry from members of this committee must stop.

  • Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa:

    It's really quite simple what your opponents are doing. They are attacking you, as a mom and a woman of faith, because they cannot attack your qualifications.

  • John Yang:

    Today's first of a scheduled four days of hearings lacked the usual charged atmosphere of a high-stakes Supreme Court nomination.

    Because of COVID-19, the only spectators allowed were a small number of journalists and Senate staff. Some senators appeared remotely. But outside the Hart Senate Office Building, Barrett supporters gathered on sidewalks.

  • Woman:

    And, as far as I'm concerned, the man is president.

  • John Yang:

    While a block away, on the steps of the Supreme Court building, supporters and opponents faced off.

    Committee Chair Lindsey Graham predicted that, when all was said and done, the outcome would not be surprising.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham:

    This is probably not about persuading each other. Unless something really dramatic happens, all Republicans will vote yes and all Democrats will vote no.

  • John Yang:

    Tomorrow, Barrett is to begin two days of scheduled questioning.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.

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