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Democrats Aim To Send Election-Year Message By Boycotting Barrett Vote

NOEL KING, HOST:

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance Judge Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court this morning. The full Senate will vote next week. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has been following this. Good morning, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, HOST:

Good morning.

KING: So these were relatively short proceedings this morning. What happened?

SNELL: Yeah. Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham gaveled the committee into session and basically started by lamenting the lack of Democrats in the room. You know, instead, we saw - on the Democrats' side of the hearing room, their seats were filled with photos of people who were impacted by the ACA. There were these photos that they were using throughout the hearing process earlier to kind of highlight the way that Amy Coney Barrett would - could potentially make a decision about the future of the ACA if she joins the court in a matter of days.

You know, Graham gave a short speech and then moved straight to the vote, which was supposed to happen later this afternoon, and then all 12 Republicans voted yes in favor of her nomination. And the 10 Democrats were recorded as not present. You know, Republicans are calling this a unanimous vote, but Democrats are obviously rejecting that characterization, saying that this isn't unanimous. It was just that it was only Republicans in the room voting.

KING: Yeah, no. OK. So how does - did Lindsey Graham make the case for going forward with the vote when there were no Democrats in the room - 'cause isn't that, like, a violation of some kind of procedure?

SNELL: So the Senate rules for the Judiciary Committee are a little bit conflicting here. In one part, they mentioned that there need to be two members of the minority party present to conduct business. But it also says that you just need a majority of members there. And Graham chose to go with the interpretation that you only need a majority of the members. And he said it was unfortunate that Democrats weren't there. And he said they were failing to fulfill their duty to advise and consent in the vetting of a president's nominees. But he also blamed Democrats for creating an environment where he could do this, approve a nominee without them present.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LINDSEY GRAHAM: They started this, not me. If it were up to me, there'd be a 60-vote requirement in the Senate today. Denying Judge Gorsuch the votes necessary to go to the floor was just the beginning of the end of a process that had served the country well.

SNELL: So he is going back in history, kind of (laughter) re-litigating a fight that has been going on since President Obama was in office, when Republicans say Democrats paved the way for moments like this, when they eliminated the filibuster for lower-court judges under the Obama administration. And Democrats say they made that choice because Republicans were blocking President Obama from filling any court positions during the second term. So why is that important now? It's because it's a broader argument about the way the Senate has - is run. And it's been playing out for many, many years. It's basically at the core of a fight over how the Senate should operate and what role the minority party should have in making decisions about a president's nominees.

KING: And so what did Senate Democrats, who were not present - what did they have to say today?

SNELL: Well, they went out and had their own press conference, after all of this was over, on the steps of the Capitol. And you could hear protesters yelling in the background, protesters who did not want Amy Coney Barrett confirmed to the court. And they basically said that they boycotted this because they felt like it was an unfair process and it was the wrong choice and it was against Senate precedent. They said that whoever is the winner of the election should be the person to pick the next Supreme Court nominee. And they did not want to participate in a hearing and in a vote that would not allow that to happen.

KING: OK. It's Thursday now. Then what happens next week - real quick?

SNELL: So over the weekend, the Senate will stay in session to do some procedural work. And then on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says that is when the final vote will be to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

KING: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell.

Thank you, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.