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Senate Democrats Boycott Panel Vote On Barrett's Supreme Court Nomination

NOEL KING, HOST:

The Senate Judiciary Committee has advanced the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Mr. Chairman, the votes are 12 yeas and 10 not present.

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Motion is passed. Thank you.

KING: All 12 Republican senators voted for her nomination. The committee's 10 Democrats did not show up. They were boycotting the proceedings. NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales has been following this story and the proceedings. Good morning, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So fairly short today, this morning. What happened?

GRISALES: Yes, it all went by very quickly - all said and done in under 12 minutes. This is a very dramatic shift from what we saw last week, with hours and hours of testimony, at least 20 hours of questioning Barrett by the members on the panel, both Republicans and Democrats. But today, Democrats boycotted. They did not show up. Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee sidestepped that no-show to move Barrett's nomination forward to the full Senate.

Democrats said they were boycotting because they wanted to highlight the damage that Barrett would do to health care, reproductive and voting rights and the fact that the vote took place amid a presidential election. And this is one battle Democrats say perhaps they'll lose, but they're looking to win a bigger war. Graham alluded to that when he talked about the next vote on the Senate floor. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GRAHAM: They started this - not me. If it were up to me, it'd be a 60-vote requirement in the Senate today.

GRISALES: And he's referring to the Senate filibuster there. This is a requirement of 60 votes that was once needed to approve a nomination like Barrett's. But the filibuster was eliminated in 2013, as Democrats struggled to move their judges forward when they controlled the chamber with the tight margin. So that's what Graham is referencing. And he added later that perhaps this will be addressed again in the future.

However, now that the Senate is controlled by Republicans with tight margins, they're able to push through Barrett's nomination with just 51 votes. And it's a preview of the battles to come, that this will go on after Barrett's nomination, this conversation, even as she goes to the floor to be considered by the full Senate and we see if Democrats ultimately change the dynamics of power in the Senate or the presidency through the upcoming Election Day.

KING: How did Democrats respond today? They didn't just say nothing, right?

GRISALES: Yes. There had been rumors for days that Democrats could boycott these hearings. They were facing a lot of pressure from outside groups to even skip out on the hearings last week questioning Barrett, but they decided not to do that last week. Instead, they did it today. So later yesterday, they confirmed that they would all not show. Today, their empty seats were filled instead with images of Americans who have used the Affordable Care Act. This is a case that could become - it could be considered before the court next month. And so this is one critical issue they've been highlighting all along.

They also held a news conference after the vote. This was led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on the steps of the Capitol. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK SCHUMER: The nomination of Amy Coney Barrett is the most illegitimate process I have ever witnessed in the Senate, and her potential confirmation will have dire, dire consequences for the Senate, for the Supreme Court and our entire country for generations to come.

GRISALES: So this was the theme they've been driving through this entire process. Barrett will shift the court to a 6-3 conservative majority. And they say she's a foe to the Affordable Care Act, the landmark abortion rights case Roe v. Wade, and she could play a role if there's a dispute in the election. This has activated opposition as well. There were protesters outside the Capitol speaking against this nomination. This resulted in about a half a dozen arrests so far today.

I spoke to Judiciary Committee Democrat Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut yesterday. He said the watchword for them is, no more business as usual. He and the other members have been driving home this point that this is a sham process; it's not normal, it's not right, and Americans should see it for what it is. And we'll probably see more of this in the coming days.

KING: Because there is so much acrimony over this nomination.

GRISALES: Yes, exactly - so many reasons. We're in the midst of a pandemic. They're rushing this through in 30 days, one of the fastest we've seen. The fight over health care and, of course, you know, the division between Republicans and Democrats really exemplified by President Trump pushing this forward. And so there's a long history as well of these fights over the Supreme Court and the controversy surrounding these nominations.

If we go back to 2016, Democrats try to move forward President Obama's nominee at the time - this is Judge Merrick Garland - and Republicans refused because they said they were so close to an election, months away. But here we are now. People are early voting, and they're pushing this through. So this has set into motion a series of debates to come, and we're even hearing about it from the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, this morning. We understand he told "60 Minutes" that he's going to create a study, a commission, to - bipartisan commission to study whether they should add more seats to the court. So a lot more to come here.

KING: Including next week, right? What happens then?

GRISALES: So tomorrow, the nomination for Barrett actually will reach the full Senate floor. It's going to be followed by some procedural votes on Friday, as well as on Sunday. In between, we're going to see a lot of debate and argument back and forth. But the real final moment for this will come Monday, when the full Senate will submit their votes for Barrett to confirm or vote against her nomination to the Supreme Court.

KING: NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales. Thanks, Claudia.

GRISALES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.