Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, brushing aside Democratic concerns over the expedited timeframe for confirming Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, moved on Friday to cut off debate and set up a final confirmation vote eight days before the election.
McConnell’s move sets up a Sunday afternoon procedural vote to break a Democratic filibuster and then a final confirmation vote, likely on Monday evening. All Democrats are expected to vote against the nomination and two Republicans – Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins – are expected to vote against the nomination as well due to their concerns that it’s too close to the election to consider a nominee. But Republicans have enough votes to get Barrett confirmed.
Barrett’s confirmation proceedings will amount to one of the quickest for a Supreme Court nominee in modern times – just over a month since she was chosen to fill the seat of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg – and comes despite the GOP refusing to even have a hearing for President Barack Obama’s pick in 2016 because they argued it was too close to the election in March of that year.
But Republicans, arguing the situation is different now with the GOP in control of both the White House and the Senate, have rallied behind Barrett in their push to shift the court further to the right, believing the race to confirm her will pay huge dividends with their core voters as they battle to protect their imperiled Senate majority in the elections just days from now.
Unable to stop the nomination, Democrats resorted to theatrical tactics instead to spotlight their anger.
Democratic senators forced a rare closed session so members could privately discuss their concerns about the process.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he wanted the closed session in order to have a “candid conversation” about the push to confirm the nomination. The New York Democrat argued that while the Republican majority “may have the power to confirm this nomination before the election” that “does not make it right.”
“I believe the Senate majority is on the precipice of making a colossal and historic mistake by rushing this nomination through the Senate only eight days before a national election,” Schumer said in a floor speech before making the motion to employ the extraordinary move.
Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, the presiding officer, ordered all galleries cleared, including where reporters were seated.
But Republicans had no desire to engage in a closed discussion with their Democratic adversaries, and they voted to reopen the chamber’s doors just minutes later as the two sides reengaged in public bickering and procedural jostling.
“It’s crazy,” said GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida after leaving the briefly shuttered chamber. “You have 100 people locked in a poorly ventilated room.”
The move was part of what’s expected to be hours of votes on procedural motion after procedural motion as Democrats fight back against Barrett’s confirmation, which they won’t be able to block at this point.
McConnell and Schumer had a heated exchange later Friday with each blaming the other party for escalating the war over the judiciary over the last three decades.
It played out on the Senate floor packed with senators who listened closely as the two leaders relitigated the complex and emotionally charged history of judicial fights in the Senate, from the controversial battle over Judge Robert Bork in the 1980s to the fight over the current nominee.
Turning to look at his colleagues, McConnell argued Democrats are at fault for “every” escalation – for filibustering Republican judicial appointees, and then using “the nuclear option” in Obama’s term to eliminate the 60-vote threshold for nominees, which he argued: “they’d regret.. a lot sooner than they would think.”
“Every new escalation, every new step, every new shattered precedent, every one of them, was initiated over there. No exceptions,” he argued. “And it all happened over the strenuous objection of Republicans who tried in each instance to stop Democrats from trading away long-term Senate norms for short-term political wins.”
The Kentucky Republican, who is up for reelection, also gave a full-throated defense of his move to fill the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat after refusing to allow former Obama’s nominee Judge Merrick Garland’s to move forward in an election year. McConnell repeated how different parties controlled the Senate and the White House in the previous instance.
Schumer took the floor to respond, saying, “We have just heard a tit for tat convoluted version of history that the Majority Leader uses to justify steering the Senate towards one of the lowest moments in its long history.”
“Might does not make right,” Schumer exclaimed while staring directly at McConnell. “You did something wrong, so we can do something wrong is no justification when the rights of the American people are at stake.”
Schumer, visibly angry, continued to argue that “never in the history of the Senate, despite any sophistic analyses of recent history… has a Supreme Court nominee, a lifetime appointment, been considered so close to an election.”
He added: “It’s a complete contradiction of the supposed principle that same party so vehemently argued only four years ago.”
“While they may realize it or not, our Republican majority’s monomaniacal drive to confirm this justice in the most hypocritical, the most inconsistent of circumstances will forever defile the Senate. And even more importantly curtail the fundamental rights of the American people for generations to come. Democrats will play no part in that,” Schumer said.
GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said the Democrats’ procedural delays “obviously just a maneuver, it won’t change anything.”
Cornyn said Schumer “is trying to show his troops that he’s fighting” but “he doesn’t really have any weapons to fight with now.”
On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the nomination to the full chamber, over the boycott of Democratic committee members, who put in their seats pictures of individuals affected by the Affordable Care Act. Democrats have used a looming Obamacare case before the Supreme Court as a central part of their argument against her confirmation and have protested Barrett’s nomination to fill Ginsburg’s seat this close to Election Day.
Liberal groups have criticized the way Democrats handled the confirmation process, in particularly calling out the Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who praised the panel’s Republican chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, at the conclusion of the confirmation hearings last week.
This story has been updated with additional developments Friday.