The Senate judiciary committee will vote on Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the supreme court next Thursday, paving the way for her almost certain appointment to the highest court in the country.
In an indication of the deep political division that has been engendered by Ms Barrett's nomination by US president Donald Trump, committee chair Lindsey Graham pushed forward with a motion to vote on her nomination on October 22nd, despite the fact that a minimum of two Democratic senators were not present in the room, as required by committee rules. Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois was the only Democratic senator present, though other senators joined during the hearing, in person and remotely.
The fourth and final day of the judge's confirmation hearing concluded yesterday, with Democrats and Republicans calling witnesses to attest to her suitability for the lifetime appointment. Ms Barrett was not required to attend the final day, which saw the first part of the morning dominated by recriminations between Republicans and Democrats on the 22-member committee.
"I believe that this rushed, sham process is a disservice to our committee," Democrat Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said. "The purpose of doing it is simply to have a justice on the supreme court as the president has said to decide the election and to strike down the Affordable Care Act."
If confirmed, Ms Barrett will be the third supreme court justice nominated by Mr Trump and confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate since he was inaugurated as president in January 2017. Democrats have argued that the nomination process, which was initiated by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last month, should not take place until after November's election.
Speaking at an event in Kentucky yesterday, where he is up for re-election in his Senate seat, Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell said the full Senate will begin debate on the nominee on October 23rd. “We have the votes,” he told reporters. With Republicans holding 53 seats in the 100-member chamber, Ms Barrett is expected to be confirmed, even if the two Republican senators who have signalled they may not support her nomination before the election vote against her.
Both sides called witnesses yesterday who underlined each party’s perspective on the 48-year-old judge who has been nominated by the president. A former federal judge of the DC court of appeals said Ms Barrett was “supremely qualified”.
A physician representing Care Free Medical, in Michigan, who was called by Democrats, spoke about the importance of the Affordable Care Act for patients, underscoring Democrats’ message this week during the hearings that a conservative-leaning court could overturn “Obamacare” when a case comes before the court on November 10th.
Meanwhile, the impasse over a Covid-19 stimulus package took another turn yesterday as Mr McConnell said he would only consider a package worth $500 billion – far below the level the White House and Mr Trump had been considering. "My members think half a trillion dollars, highly targeted, is the best way to go," Mr McConnell said, despite ongoing discussions on a package of between $1.8 trillion- $2.2 trillion between Democrats and treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin.
The economic cost of the coronavirus pandemic was revealed in figures yesterday which showed that 900,000 people filed new claims for unemployment benefits last week.