WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett won crucial backing Saturday when one of the last Republican holdouts against filling the seat during an election season announced support for President Donald Trump's pick ahead of a confirmation vote expected Monday.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, declared her support during a rare weekend Senate session as Republicans race to confirm Barrett before Election Day. Senators are set Sunday to push ahead, despite Democratic objections that the winner of the White House on Nov. 3 should make the choice to fill the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Barrett's nomination already appeared to have enough votes for confirmation from Senate Republicans who hold the majority in the chamber. But Murkowski's nod gives her a boost of support. Only one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, is now expected to vote against the conservative judge.
“While I oppose the process that has led us to this point, I do not hold it against her,” Murkowski said.
The fast-track confirmation process is like none other in U.S. history so close to a presidential election. Calling it a “sham,” Democrats mounted procedural hurdles to slow it down. But the minority party has no realistic chance of stopping Barrett’s confirmation, which is set to lock a 6-3 conservative court majority for years to come.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., noted the political rancor, but defended his handling of the process.
“Our recent debates have been heated, but curiously talk of Judge Barrett’s actual credentials or qualifications are hardly featured,” McConnell said. He called her one of the most “impressive” nominees for public office “in a generation.”
Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York warned Republicans the only way to remove the “stain” of their action would be to “withdraw the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett until after the election.”
With the nation experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases, Democrats made several unsuccessful attempts to force the Senate to set aside the judicial fight Saturday and instead consider coronavirus relief legislation, including the House-passed Heroes Act that would pump money into schools, hospitals and jobless benefits and provide other aid.
Majority Republicans turned aside those efforts and kept Barrett's confirmation on track.
Barrett, 48, presented herself in public testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee as a neutral arbiter of cases on abortion, the Affordable Care Act and presidential power — issues soon confronting the court. At one point she suggested, “It's not the law of Amy.”
But Barrett's past writings against abortion and a ruling on the Obama-era health care law show a deeply conservative thinker.
Trump said this week he is hopeful the Supreme Court will undo the health law when the justices take up a challenge Nov. 10.
At the start of Trump's presidency, McConnell engineered a Senate rules change to allow confirmation by a majority of the 100 senators, rather than the 60-vote threshold traditionally needed to advance high court nominees over objections. With a 53-47 GOP majority, Barrett’s confirmation is almost certain.
Murkowksi noted said she doesn’t believe moving forward a week before "a pitched presidential election — when partisan tensions are running about as high as they could — I don’t think this will help our country become a better version of itself.”
But she said, ”I’ve lost that procedural fight.” She said she will vote against the procedural steps in the days ahead, but ultimately join Republicans in confirming Barrett.
Collins, who faces a tight reelection in Maine, is now the only Republican who has said she won't vote for the nominee so close to the election.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, acknowledged the partisan nature of the proceedings, but said he could not live with himself if the Senate failed to confirm someone he said was such an exceptional nominee. Graham, R-S.C., called Barrett a “role model” for conservative women and for people strongly held religious beliefs.
By pushing for Barrett's ascension so close to the Nov. 3 election, Trump and his Republican allies are counting on a campaign boost, in much the way they believe McConnell's refusal to allow the Senate to consider President Barack Obama's nominee in February 2016 created excitement for Trump among conservatives and evangelical Christians eager for the Republican president to make that nomination after Justice Antonin Scalia's death.
Barrett was a professor at Notre Dame Law School when she was tapped by Trump in 2017 for an appeals court opening. Two Democrats joined at that time to confirm her, but none is expected to vote for her in the days ahead.
Associated Press writer Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina, and Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska contributed to this report.