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Trump and Biden face off over quick confirmation for court pick

Darlene Superville, Will Weissert and Lisa Mascaro
The Associated Press
Judge Amy Coney Barrett speaks Saturday after President Donald Trump announced her as his nominee to the Supreme Court in the Rose Garden at the White House.

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump acknowledged Sunday that confirmation of his Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett may not go “smoothly,” while his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, implored the Senate to hold off on voting on her nomination until after the Nov. 3 election to “let the people decide.”

Trump’s announcement of Barrett for the seat held by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is launching a high-stakes, fast-track election season fight over confirmation of a conservative judge who is expected to shift the court rightward as it reviews health care, abortion access and other hot-button issues.

“I think it’s going to be really thrilling,” Trump said during a post-announcement interview with Fox News Channel that aired Sunday. “I hope it goes smoothly. Perhaps it will, perhaps it won’t.”

But Biden appealed directly to his former colleagues in the Republican-held Senate to “take a step back from the brink.”

Biden urged Senate Republicans not to fan a controversy during an already tumultuous election year for a country reeling from the coronavirus crisis, a struggling economy and protests over racial injustice. If Trump wins the election, his nominee should have a vote, Biden said, but if he wins the presidency, he should choose the next justice.

“This is time to de-escalate,” Biden said in Wilmington, Delaware.

Close to election: No justice has ever been confirmed to the Supreme Court so close to a presidential election with early voting already underway in some states. Republicans believe the fight ahead will boost voter enthusiasm for Trump and Senate Republicans at serious risk of losing their majority. Democrats warn Barrett’s confirmation would almost certainly undo Americans’ health care protections as the high court takes up a case against the Affordable Care Act in the fall.

According to a national poll by The New York Times and Siena College that was released Sunday, a clear majority — 56% — of voters believes the winner of the Nov. 3 presidential election should fill Ginsburg’s seat, versus 41% who said Trump should as the current president. Biden has said he would nominate the first Black woman to the court, but he has not released the names of his potential choices.

The poll, which was conducted Sept. 22-24, had a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to say Sunday whether Barrett, a judge on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is qualified to serve. But she argued that Trump was moving quickly to fill the vacancy before the court hears a challenge to the Affordable Care Act on Nov. 10.

“It’s not about this justice. It’s about any justice he would appoint right now,” Pelosi said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “What I am concerned about is anyone that President Trump would have appointed was there to undo the Affordable Care Act.”

More:Amy Coney Barrett goes from law professor to high court nominee in 4 years

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Senate: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the Senate will vote on Barrett’s nomination in the “weeks ahead.” Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham said confirmation hearings will begin Oct. 12. A vote is expected Oct. 29.

“The Senate will confirm her next month,” declared Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., on CNN.

With only two of the 53 Republican senators voicing opposition to a confirmation vote before the Nov. 3 election, Democrats appeared outnumbered — and without recourse to block the nomination.

The president said he had considered Barrett for an opening in 2018 before he ultimately settled on Brett Kavanaugh, but he explained that she “seemed like a natural fit” after Ginsburg’s death.

“It was time for a woman,” Trump said of his third nominee to the nation’s highest court. If confirmed, Barrett’s addition would make for the sharpest ideological swing on the Supreme Court since Clarence Thomas replaced Justice Thurgood Marshall nearly three decades ago.

Other Republican senators say a post-election confirmation vote is also possible. The GOP will continue to control the Senate in the lame-duck period between the election and inauguration.

“This needs to take all the time it needs to take, but it doesn’t need to take more time than it needs to take,” said Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the GOP Senate leadership, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“But I think we’re likely to get this done sometime in the month of October.”

In a memo to colleagues, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer warned of the GOP’s “monomaniacal drive” to confirm the nominee ahead of the election.

Schumer told Senate Democrats to brace for the fight ahead. “Our number one job is to communicate exactly what is at stake for the American people if Republicans jam through this nominee. The elimination of the Affordable Care Act is at the top of the list.”

Barrett: Barrett has been critical of Chief Justice John Roberts’ 2012 opinion upholding the health care law. Ginsburg was one of five votes that saved the law on two prior court challenges.

Pelosi, a practicing Roman Catholic like Barrett, sidestepped any focus on Barrett’s conservative religious outlook, which California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, brought up in Barrett’s Senate hearings when Trump nominated her for the appellate bench.

“It doesn’t matter what her faith is and what religion she believes in,” Pelosi said. “What matters is, does she believe in the Constitution of the United States? Does she believe in the precedent on the Supreme Court that has upheld the Affordable Care Act?”

Asked about potential House maneuvers to stall the nomination, such as impeaching Attorney General William Barr, Pelosi quipped, “What is the use of talking about that?” She stressed that Americans should “vote, vote, vote” to put Democrats in charge of the White House, House and Senate.