Kamala Harris delivered a blistering rebuke of Republican efforts to tear down healthcare and abortion access as she grilled Amy Coney Barrett, prompting the supreme court nominee to make the unbelievable claim that she was not aware of Donald Trump’s campaign promise to appoint justices who would dismantle Obamacare.
Speaking via teleconference during Barrett’s Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, the Democratic senator and vice-presidential nominee began with a campaign speech about the importance of accessible healthcare amid the coronavirus – highlighting the number of Americans who would lose insurance if the 2010 Affordable Care Act were repealed in five states where Republican senators are struggling to win re-election.
She then addressed Barrett: “Prior to your nomination, were you aware of President Trump’s statement committing to nominate judges who will strike down the Affordable Care Act? And I’d appreciate a yes or no answer.”
Barrett maintained that before she was nominated to the supreme court, she was unaware of his public statements. “I don’t recall hearing about or seeing such statements,” Barrett said.
Harris asked how many months after Barrett wrote an article criticizing John Roberts’ decision upholding the Affordable Care Act she received her nomination for her appeals court position.
“The Affordable Care Act and all of its protections hinge on this seat,” Harris said.
“I would hope the committee would trust my integrity,” Barrett said, noting, as she has done throughout the hearings, that she has not made any commitments to rule a certain way on the healthcare law.
The assertion, and Barrett’s implication that she had somehow tuned out the president’s loud, public criterion for judges he’d appoint, is difficult to believe.
Harris, the former attorney general of California, is famous for her prosecutorial style of questioning. Her sharp interrogation of Donald Trump’s last Supreme Court nominee – now Justice Brett Kavanaugh – helped elevate her political profile.
Harris also tackled Barrett’s views on abortion, making a carefully laid-out case that despite Barrett’s equivocation and insistence that she is unbiased on the issue of reproductive rights, she is far from it.
Barrett was a member of a “right to life” organization that in 2016 promoted a crisis pregnancy center in South Bend, Indiana, that has been criticized for misleading and misdirecting vulnerable women seeking abortions. She has signed off on a newspaper ad calling Roe v Wade – the landmark 1973 ruling protecting the right to choose – “barbaric”. A Notre Dame Magazine article from 2013 describes a lecture series during which Barrett “spoke … to her own conviction that life begins at conception”.
As a federal judge, she has considered three laws restricting abortion and expressed misgivings about rulings that had struck down the laws. She joined the dissent against a decision to strike down an Indiana abortion rule – signed into law by Mike Pence when the vice-president was Indiana’s governor – that mandated the fetal remains be buried or cremated.
“I would suggest that we not pretend that we don’t know how this nominee views a women’s right to choose or make her own decisions,” Harris said. The senator noted that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whom Barrett has cited as her model in declining to give any hints on how she would vote on future cases, was, unlike Barrett, much more forthcoming with her own personal views on abortion.
Harris did not ask Barrett a direct question about Roe v Wade, driving home the point that her views have already been made plain.
Harris ended by asking to enter into the record letters opposing Barrett’s nomination from the NAACP, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Planned Parenthood.