WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans voted overwhelmingly Sunday to advance Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett toward final confirmation despite Democratic objections, just over a week before the presidential election. The vote was 51-48.
Barrett's confirmation on Monday was hardly in doubt, with majority Republicans mostly united in support behind President Donald Trump's pick. But Democrats were poised to keep the Senate in session into the night in attempts to stall, arguing that the Nov. 3 election winner should choose the nominee to fill the vacancy left by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Republicans are excited by the chance to install a third Trump justice on the court, locking in a conservative majority for years to come. Barrett's ascent opens up a potential new era of rulings on abortion, gay marriage and the Affordable Care Act. A case against the Obama-era health law scheduled to be heard Nov. 10.
Vice President Mike Pence would typically preside over the coming votes, but after a close aide tested positive for the COVID-19, it was unclear whether he will fulfill his role for the landmark vote.
The conservative judge picked up the crucial backing Saturday from Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, one of the last GOP holdouts against filling the seat in the midst of a White House election and with more than 50 million people already having voted.
Murkowski said she disliked the rush toward confirmation, but supported Trump's choice of Barrett for the high court. "While I oppose the process that has led us to this point, I do not hold it against her," Murkowski said.
Now the only Republican expected to vote against Barrett is Collins, who faces a tight reelection in Maine. She has said she won't vote for the nominee so close to the election.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., noted the political rancor, but defended his handling of the process.
"Our recent debates have been heated, but curiously talk of Judge Barrett's actual credentials or qualifications are hardly featured," McConnell said. He said she was one of the most "impressive" nominees for public office "in a generation."
Calling it a "sham," Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York warned Republicans the only way to remove the "stain" of their action would be to "withdraw the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett until after the election."
Barrett, 48, presented herself in public testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee as a neutral arbiter and at one point suggested, "It's not the law of Amy." But Barrett's past writings against abortion and a ruling on "Obamacare" show a deeply conservative thinker.
"She's a conservative woman who embraces her faith, she's unabashedly pro-life but she's not going to apply 'the law of Amy' to all of us," said the committee chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said late Saturday on Fox.
At the start of Trump's presidency, McConnell engineered a Senate rules change to allow confirmation by a majority of the 100 senators, rather than the 60-vote threshold traditionally needed to advance high court nominees over objections. With a 53-47 GOP majority, Barrett's confirmation is almost certain.
By pushing for Barrett's ascension so close to the Nov. 3 election, Trump and his Republican allies are counting on a campaign boost, in much the way they believe McConnell's refusal to allow the Senate to consider President Barack Obama's nominee in February 2016 created excitement for Trump among conservatives and evangelical Christians eager for the Republican president to make that nomination after Justice Antonin Scalia's death.
Barrett was a professor at Notre Dame Law School when she was tapped by Trump in 2017 for an appeals court opening. Two Democrats joined at that time to confirm her, but none is expected to vote for her in the days ahead.
Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington, Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina, and Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska contributed to this report