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Democrats link the coming battle over the Supreme Court to health care and the pandemic.
As the battle got underway over how the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg should be filled, Democrats argued Sunday that the stakes for the pandemic-battered nation were as much about health care as about the usual hot-button divides over guns and abortion that typically define court confirmations.
Democrats called for the winner of the presidential election to fill the vacancy, and charged that President Trump was rushing the process in order to have a conservative justice seated in time to hear a case seeking to invalidate the Affordable Care Act.
Eliminating the act could wipe out coverage for as many as 23 million Americans. Arguments in the case are set for a week after Election Day.
Republicans sought to defend themselves from charges of hypocrisy for trying to speed through a nominee from President Trump in the final days of a presidential campaign, after Senate Republicans had adamantly refused in 2016 to act on the nomination President Obama made in March of that year, on the grounds that it was too close to the election.
But in another sign of how the pandemic has upended traditional politics, Democrats linked the battle over the Supreme Court to health care.
The Trump administration is supporting a Republican effort to overturn Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, which guarantees coverage for people with pre-existing health conditions who often struggled to get insurance in the past.
“He doesn’t want to crush the virus, he wants to crush the Affordable Care Act,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
For months Democrats have sought to make the election a referendum on Mr. Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. Now they see the coming battle over the court as a chance to remind voters that the fate of the Affordable Care Act could hang in the balance.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has called for the choice of a nominee to be left to the winner of the presidential election. Aides to Mr. Biden said that he planned to accuse the president of trying to eliminate protections for pre-existing conditions during a pandemic, while noting that the stakes had been heightened now that the Supreme Court is short one of the liberal justices who had previously voted to keep the law in place.
For Democrats, the focus on health care — overlaid by the pandemic — is a rerun of the successful playbook that helped power the party’s takeover of the House of Representatives in 2018 and a fidelity to Mr. Biden’s steadfast promise to defend Obamacare, a pledge that helped him navigate through the 2020 primary.
The next justice “will be a woman,” Trump declares, as stage is set for titanic political fight.
The effects the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg could have on all three branches of the United States government — judicial, executive and legislative — came into sharper focus on Sunday as the battle over how her vacancy should be filled reverberated in the presidential campaign and the pitched battle for control of the Senate.
President Trump has vowed to fill her vacant seat “without delay,” and said that he would choose a woman.
But Justice Ginsburg had said that her “most fervent wish” was that she not be replaced before a new president took office.
But many Republicans would like to act sooner, even as their slim margin in the Senate (which they control 53-47) appeared to narrow, with Senator Susan Collins of Maine saying she was opposed to holding a vote on a nominee before the November election.
Her announcement shifted attention to a small coterie of Republican senators who will be under increasing pressure to take a public position. Shortly before the announcement of Justice Ginsburg’s death, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska told an Alaska radio station that she would not vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee before Election Day.
On Sunday morning President Trump retweeted an invitation to an event in Alaska with Senator Murkowski with a two-word put-down: “No thanks!”
Democrats, in the meantime, reported raising record amounts of money since the death of Justice Ginsburg.
Mr. Trump’s push to move quickly has already received pledges of support from Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, and Senator Lindsey Graham, who directly contradicted remarks he made in 2016 when he said he would oppose any effort to fill a Supreme Court vacancy during a presidential election year.
Social conservatives and evangelical groups, eager to shift the court decisively to the right on matters like abortion and same-sex marriage, also began mobilizing to push for the speedy confirmation of the person Mr. Trump ultimately nominates to replace Justice Ginsburg.
The fallout from the fight could affect the Senate for years to come.
While Democrats have few tools at their disposal to block a simple majority vote on a Supreme Court nomination given the Republican control of the Senate, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, indicated that they would instead look to retaliate with further institutional changes if Senate control flipped in the November elections.
“Our No. 1 goal must be to communicate the stakes of this Supreme Court fight to the American people,” Mr. Schumer said, according to a Democrat on the call, who disclosed details of a private conversation on condition of anonymity. “Everything Americans value is at stake: health care, protections for pre-existing conditions, women’s rights, gay rights, workers’ rights, labor rights, voting rights, civil rights, climate change and so much else is at risk.”
The emotion of the moment was captured during a candlelight vigil outside the Supreme Court on Saturday.
The American flag flying at half-staff in the background, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts told the crowd that they should channel their emotions and fight.
“We are here to grieve, but not to despair,” Ms. Warren said. “There is too much at stake.”
Republicans, who blocked an Obama appointment in 2016, try to deflect charges of hypocrisy.
Senate Republicans defended their plans to seat a nominee chosen by President Trump in a presidential election year, despite previously blocking the consideration of a Supreme Court nominee put forward by President Barack Obama in 2016.
“What we’re proposing is completely consistent, completely consistent with the precedent,” Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming and a member of Senate leadership, claimed on “Meet the Press.”
In 2016, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, with the backing of his Republican caucus, refused to allow a vote on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick B. Garland almost eight months before the election.
“We think the important principle in the middle of this presidential year is that the American people need to weigh in and decide who’s going to make this decision,” Mr. McConnell said then. He and most of his Republican colleagues are taking a very different stance now.
Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas and one of the names on Mr. Trump’s short list for the open seat, said on Fox News Sunday that “the Senate majority is performing our constitutional duty and fulfilling the mandate that voters gave us in 2016 and 2018,” echoing the argument made by other Republicans that because the same party controls the White House and the Senate, the situation is different than in 2016.
(Few Republicans made that distinction in 2016 after Justice Antonin Scalia died.)
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” the host, Jake Tapper, played clips of Republicans — including President Trump — opposing Mr. Obama’s appointment in 2016. But Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, rejected the suggestion that they had reversed position.
“I don’t think there’s any hypocrisy regarding the politics of this,” Mr. Short said. “The people of America elected Donald Trump President in 2016 in large part because he was so transparent before to say, ‘Here’s who I would nominate.’”
Democrats, who have no power on their own to prevent a nomination from advancing under the Senate’s simple majority rule, argued on Sunday that Senate Republicans had set the precedent of delaying the nomination until a new administration.
“They set this precedent,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “They can’t mess around.”
Lindsey Graham invited people “to use my words against me” if he changed positions. He did, and they are.
“I want you to use my words against me,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said bluntly in 2016. “If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.”
His scenario came true: A Republican did win the 2016 presidential election, and a vacancy did just occur in the last year of his first term.
But Mr. Graham, who oversees the Senate Judiciary Committee and would preside over any confirmation hearing, now says he sees no reason to wait for the next president.
And that has led others — including the challenger for Mr. Graham’s Senate seat and The Lincoln Project, a super PAC supported by Republicans critical of Mr. Trump — to take Mr. Graham up on his call to use his words against him. The Lincoln Project shared a new ad on Twitter, adding: “Lindsey said he wants us to use his words against him. Ok, done.”
The ad includes video of Mr. Graham making his statements.
Mr. Graham, a loyal Trump ally who is locked in a tight race against Jaime Harrison in South Carolina, cited the Democrats’ decision to eliminate the 60-vote threshold for most judicial nominees as a reason he had changed his position — though they made that change in 2013, long before he spoke out against a president filling a vacancy in the last year of a term.
He also argued that “Chuck Schumer and his friends in the liberal media conspired to destroy the life of Brett Kavanaugh and hold that Supreme Court seat open.”
It was a stark departure from his previous assertions, which began in 2016 and continued into 2018, even after most of the hearings to confirm Brett M. Kavanaugh to the nation’s highest court had taken place.
In 2018, days before Justice Kavanaugh was confirmed by the Senate and sworn in, Mr. Graham said again, “If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term and the primary process has started, we will wait to the next election.”
His opponent, Mr. Harrison, wrote on Twitter on Saturday that Mr. Graham had proved his “word is worthless.”
“When people show you who they are, believe them,” he said. “Lindsey Graham has shown us that he’s running for political power.”
The Trump and Biden campaigns both seize on the fight over the future of the court.
Since spring, the White House has been working on a plan to replace Justice Ginsburg if the opportunity arose. Now, President Trump’s advisers see a fight over the federal courts as an opportunity to jump-start a stumbling campaign.
Those are just a few of the insights into how the Trump team is approaching the momentous struggle to fill the vacancy left by Justice Ginsburg, Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman write.
Mr. Trump, who rolled out a new list of possible Supreme Court picks last week before there was a vacancy, seized the political initiative early Saturday, issuing a thinly veiled warning to any Republicans thinking about delaying a vote until after the November election.
The president rejected suggestions that he should wait to let the winner of the Nov. 3 contest fill the vacancy, much as Mr. McConnell insisted four years ago in blocking President Barack Obama from filling an election-year vacancy on the court.
“We won and we have an obligation as the winners to pick who we want,” Mr. Trump said. “That’s not the next president. Hopefully, I’ll be the next president. But we’re here now, right now, we’re here, and we have an obligation to the voters, all of the people, the millions of people who put us here.”
For the Biden team, the death of Justice Ginsburg represents a challenge of a different sort.
As Shane Goldmacher, Katie Glueck and Thomas Kaplan report, Joseph R. Biden Jr. has spent months condemning President Trump as a failed steward of the nation’s well-being, relentlessly framing the 2020 election as a referendum on the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Now, confronted with a moment that many believe will upend the 2020 election, the Biden campaign is sticking to what it believes is a winning strategy. Campaign aides said on Saturday they would seek to link the Supreme Court vacancy to the health emergency gripping the country and the future of health care in America.
While confirmation fights have long centered on hot-button cultural divides like guns and especially abortion, the Biden campaign, at least at the start, plans to focus chiefly on protecting the Affordable Care Act and its popular guarantee of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
Bill Clinton seems to raise idea of a Democratic boycott of confirmation hearings.
Former President Bill Clinton appeared to suggest on Sunday that Senate Democrats should refuse to participate in the confirmation hearings for the person President Trump is expected to nominate to the Supreme Court to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
In an interview on “Face the Nation” on CBS, Mr. Clinton stressed the enormous power that a conservative justice replacing a liberal one would have to reshape the law on a wide array of policies, including health insurance coverage and voting rights. With barely six weeks until the presidential election, he said, voters need to understand the potential consequences.
“I think that maybe the Democrats should leave,” Mr. Clinton said. “There are no rules on this. There’s no law. So we’ll just have to see what happens.”
He did not elaborate on what he meant when he suggested that Democrats might “leave.” But he was highly critical of Mr. Trump and Senate Republican leaders for attempting what he characterized as a power grab.
“You can’t be possibly be surprised,” he said of Mr. Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader. “They’re for whatever maximizes their power.”
Battle lines are drawn as the Senate takes the center stage in fight to shape the Supreme Court.
“Americans re-elected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018 because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement on Friday night. “Once again, we will keep our promise. President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
He was notably unclear, however, about the timing, whether he would push for such a vote before the Nov. 3 election or wait until a lame-duck session afterward. Several Republican senators face tough election contests and might balk at appearing to rush a nominee through under such conditions.
The more moderate Republican senators are a small group, and it is not clear whether they could control enough votes to block Mr. Trump’s nominee. Republicans have 53 votes in the Senate to the Democrats’ 47, and Vice President Mike Pence is allowed to break any ties.
Among the Republican members who hold the crucial votes are Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah.
During an interview on Friday shortly before Justice Ginsburg’s death was announced, Ms. Murkowski told Alaska Public Media that she opposed confirming a new justice before the election. “I would not vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee,” she said. “We are 50 some days away from an election.”
Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado declined to say on Saturday whether he believed the next president should be allowed to fill the vacancy, as he said in 2016 when President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill a vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
“I hope that before the politics begin — because there will be plenty of time for that — that we have some time for this country to reflect on the legacy of a great woman,” Mr. Gardner said during a candidate’s forum in Colorado.
There was immediate reaction from a few Republican senators calling for a quick confirmation and vote before Election Day.
Senators Martha McSally of Arizona and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, two other Republican senators facing tough election races, each posted statements to Twitter calling for the Senate to vote on Justice Ginsburg’s replacement.
Still, Republicans expressed initial skepticism on Friday night that Mr. McConnell would find enough votes to confirm a new justice in the weeks before the election.
Reporting was contributed by Michael Cooper, Emily Cochrane, Reid J. Epstein, Carl Hulse, Annie Karni, Aishvarya Kavi, Adam Liptak, Jeremy W. Peters, Marc Santora, Anna Schaverien and Matt Stevens.