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Durbin: Senate should be delivering pandemic aid, not SCOTUS confirmation

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin is the Senate's second highest-ranking Democrat and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which supported the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. Durbin joins Judy Woodruff to discuss why he has found the judicial confirmation process for Barrett “very troubling,” what he expects from her on the court and the “desperate” need for more coronavirus relief.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dick Durbin of Illinois is the second highest ranking Democrat in the Senate. He is also a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And he joins us now from Capitol Hill.

    Senator Durbin, thank you very much for talking with us.

    As you know, Republicans are on the verge of confirming President Trump's third appointee to the Supreme Court. She will be — Judge Barrett will be sitting on the court as early as tomorrow.

    How — and this is over the fierce objection of you and every other Democrat. How dig a setback is this for Democrats?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.:

    Well, it's a disappointment, because we — as you said, we are putting a person for a lifetime appointment on the highest court of the land.

    And to give to President Trump the authority to fill three of those slots with people of his choosing is a troubling development, particularly at this moment in time.

    Judy, if anyone was coursing through the channels today and looking, finding the broadcast of the United States Senate, they would be shocked to learn that we weren't talking about the coronavirus. Here we are, with an infection running rampant, 225,000 Americans dead. We spent five straight days on one Supreme Court nomination.

    And, secondly, I think they would be a little surprised that the standard the Republicans set four years ago to deny President Obama the authority to fill a Supreme Court vacancy so close to an election is being ignored by the Republicans now.

    And then, when they that the hurry-up is so that she will be on the court in time to strike down the Affordable Care Act in the midst of a pandemic, I think all those things are very troubling.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, several things to ask you about there, I mean, but starting with the Senate Republicans and their refusal to act on President Obama's nomination to the court, Merrick Garland.

    The court — there were eight justices for a year. Is that an argument for adding a couple of justices to the Supreme Court?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    Judy, I don't think anyone has come up with a formula on what to do with the court in the future.

    But I will tell you what I believe the American people are looking for, balance on the court. They don't want too many Democrats, too many Republicans. They want some people who are more moderate. They want decisions that are not predictable. They don't want a political agenda that is going to dictate this court's future rulings.

    And that, I think, sadly, is where we're headed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Judge Barrett said during this confirmation hearing that she was not on a mission to destroy the Affordable Care Act. Do you believe her?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    Well, I'm skeptical, because she's been very outspoken, critical of the chief justice when he found the act constitutional.

    She published an article saying she disagreed with him openly. Critical as well of the Affordable Care Act itself. And those raise questions as to whether or not she should recuse herself, at a minimum, recuse herself from this hearing.

    And let me say, even though she denies having any bias on the case, President Trump, in his prodigious tweeting, has said that was what he was looking for. He wanted a Supreme Court justice who would eliminate the Affordable Care Act. He believes he found one. She may deny it, but that's what he said.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There is also — Senator Durbin, as you know, there are two important mail-in ballot questions before the court right now that affect this election.

    Should Judge Barrett recuse herself? Is it a conflict of interests if she participates in these cases?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    To protect her integrity and the integrity the court, she should recuse herself from any cases relating to this presidential election, another case where the president was outspoken in his tweets.

    He wanted nine justices on the Supreme Court in case there were any election questions to come before the court. For goodness' sakes, this president doesn't have an unuttered word. We know exactly what he's thinking. He wants a friendly justice on the court if he needs a ruling that makes him a president of the United States again.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, Senator, you brought up the question of COVID relief for the American people.

    There's a $2 trillion bill that has been sitting before the Congress since the summer. And now we're getting close to this election. Speaker Pelosi has said she doesn't want to come down from a number close to $2 trillion.

    Should she agree — should she agree to compromise on this because of the many, many Americans who are hurting right now?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    Both sides should agree.

    But let's be honest. Senator McConnell sent a message to the White House last week and said: It's over. We're not going to consider any more COVID-19 legislation.

    And, unfortunately, he has boycotted all the negotiating sessions. He just won't even attend them. He has no interest in it. He doesn't see, as he said, a sense of urgency in dealing with this.

    I can tell you, there's a sense of urgency in my state of Illinois and his state of Kentucky, when you look at the record number of infections and deaths in both of those states. We should be dealing with this issue. And Speaker Pelosi has tried, tried, tried with this White House. It would be helpful if the other element, the Republican control of the Senate, would be part of this negotiation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you're saying both parties have a responsibility here to negotiate, to come together?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    Oh, absolutely.

    And we started at $3.4 trillion. The last number I heard was closer to $2 trillion, $2.3 trillion from Speaker Pelosi. She's come down dramatically.

    But the point she's making was brought home to me today by Illinois hospital administrators. I had 30 of them on a phone call. They're desperate for help. They are worried that they can't really meet the needs in my home state with the people who are facing infections and ICUs. They're looking for a helping hand from Washington.

    And here we are doing what? Five straight days on one Supreme Court nominee, not a minute being spent to find the solution to this coronavirus challenge.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Should Speaker Pelosi accommodate further, more?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    Well, I'm calling on both sides to be reasonable.

    And I think she has brought the number down dramatically from $3.4 trillion. They're close enough now, there should be an agreement.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Dick Durbin, we thank you very much for talking with us.

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    You bet.

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