Senate Democrats were united in driving home one message in the opening day of Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing: President Donald Trump’s nominee could threaten the future of the Affordable Care Act.
In a series of statements Monday, Democrats stuck to a script that was crafted by members of leadership and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden weeks ago, a message that Democrats hope will win them political support at the polls even if it cannot keep Barrett off the bench.
The Supreme Court hears a challenge from GOP-led states and the Trump administration to Obamacare one week after Election Day.
“Republicans finally realized the ACA is too popular to repeal in Congress, so now they are trying to bypass the will of voters and have the Supreme Court do their dirty work,” Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris said. “If Republicans succeed in striking down the ACA, insurance companies will be able to deny coverage to children with serious conditions.”
Every single Democrat on the committee brought with them a photograph and a story of at least one constituent for whom the Affordable Care Act had made a difference.
“Children like Myka,” Harris said – speaking about an 11-year-old Southern California girl who Harris showed in a photo next to her.
Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, talked about constituents “Merritt and Michelle.”
“They know what a future without the ACA looks like. It looks like 130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions – from cancer survivors to people with disabilities – being charged more or denied coverage completely. It looks like 20 million people losing their access to potentially life-saving care in the middle of a pandemic that has killed over 214,000 Americans,” Booker said.
“In New Jersey, where we’ve lost over 16,000 people to Covid-19, 595,000 people would lose their coverage without the ACA,” he added. “For millions of Americans, a future without the ACA looks like being forced to sell your house if you want to afford your health care, it looks like not having access to a doctor when you’re sick, it looks like having to choose between paying for groceries and paying for medicine.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, said people in his state are afraid of what Barrett’s confirmation could mean for health care.
“They’re scared, Judge Barrett. They’re scared that your confirmation would rip from them the very health care protections that millions of Americans have fought to maintain, and which Congress has repeatedly rejected eliminating,” Leahy said.
‘Pretty surprising, huh?’
An aide to the committee told CNN that after multiple member-level discussions, members of the committee agreed that not only health care, but the personal stories of people across the country would be the most effective strategy for day one.
“Senators knew from the beginning they wanted to make this as tangible to people as possible, focusing on the what’s at stake message and the real-life effects of a Justice Barrett’s decisions. That goal and subsequent member conversations led to the decision to use the personal stories,” a Democratic aide on the committee said.
Asked after the hearing about the Democrats staying on message, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin responded: “Pretty surprising, huh?”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal said it wasn’t difficult to decide to emphasize health care.
“It’s something we’re all hearing. My Republican colleagues are hearing it too,” the Connecticut Democrat said. “It’s such a powerful message because it’s rooted in the real world and what we’re hearing and seeing when we go home. I don’t think it took deep thought or strategizing for us to say, you know the American people really are scared about this pandemic and they want action.”
Those discussions also came after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Biden spoke shortly after Barrett was nominated and decided focusing on health care was the best strategy, according to sources familiar with the discussions.
For Democrats, the confirmation hearing for Barrett offers little opportunity to stop her nomination. Republicans have already shown they already have the support they need to push Barrett’s nomination through committee and on the Senate floor. But, the fact the Supreme Court will hear a case on the future of the Affordable Care Act the week after the election gave Democrats an opportunity to further highlight their campaign message.
“Serious illness can hit anyone unexpectedly – it did for me, and when it does, no one should have to worry about whether they can afford care that might save their life,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.
Meanwhile, Republican senators mostly stayed on their message backing Barrett, emphasizing her experience as an appeals court judge and criticizing previous Democratic comments about her Catholicism, and didn’t hit back at the Democrats’ health care speeches, something Trump noticed.
During the hearing, the President tweeted: “Republicans must state loudly and clearly that WE are going to provide much better Healthcare at a much lower cost. Get the word out! Will always protect pre-existing conditions!!!”
CNN’s Ted Barrett, Clare Foran, Manu Raju and Jasmine Wright contributed to this report.