With Friendly Visits to Republicans, Barrett Makes Her Capitol Debut

WASHINGTON — Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, made a low-key debut on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, largely sidestepping a storm of Democratic anger as she met with friendly Republican senators eager to muscle through her nomination before Election Day.

Judge Barrett arrived at the Capitol flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff — an unusually high-level escort that underscored what Republicans see as the high stakes of her confirmation for the court and their political fortunes. Republicans who met with her throughout the day were unanimous in their praise, leaving little doubt that she would be confirmed.

“We truly do believe that Judge Barrett represents the best of America personally, in terms of her great intellect, her great background, and we have every confidence that as the American people learn more about Judge Amy Coney Barrett, they will be as inspired as President Trump was when he made her nomination,” Mr. Pence said before a meeting with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader.

Judge Barrett, in a dark blue dress and a single strand of pearls, stood solemnly and silently next to Mr. McConnell, who did not answer whether the judge, if confirmed to the nation’s highest court, should recuse herself from any cases related to the election.

Hours later, the White House formally sent Judge Barrett’s nomination to the Senate, making the official start of what is expected to be an uncommonly fast sprint to confirmation.

If the more than half-dozen senators who met with her throughout the day — all at a careful distance because of the pandemic — tried to pin down her views on politically thorny legal issues like abortion rights or the Affordable Care Act, they gave little public indication.

“What I’m looking for, and I think what she stands for, is the rule of law,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, who was the chairman of the Judiciary Committee when Judge Barrett was confirmed to the appeals court in Chicago in 2017.

Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican, said Judge Barrett had “described herself as somebody who’s in the tradition of Justice Scalia,” the conservative legal icon whose opinions were critical of abortion rights, and for whom Judge Barrett had clerked. But Mr. Thune said he did not press her on specific legal issues.

Outside the wood-paneled Mansfield Room, near the Senate chamber where Judge Barrett and Republican senators met, there was little good feeling to be found in a Capitol at war over her nomination.

A cohort of Democrats, led by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, pledged to boycott the usual “courtesy” meeting process with the nominee. They are fiercely opposed to filling the seat when voting is already underway in many states, accusing Republicans who refused to consider President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee in 2016 of rank hypocrisy.

“I will not lend legitimacy to Mitch McConnell’s efforts to steal another Supreme Court seat,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts. “We need to treat this nomination like the illegitimate power grab it is.”

With little power to block the nomination, Democrats have sought to frame the confirmation battle as a referendum on health care, given that the Supreme Court is set to hear a case that could overturn the Affordable Care Act in the days after the election. Without any Republicans present on the Senate floor, Mr. Schumer on Tuesday successfully set up votes on legislation that would prevent the Justice Department from moving to strike down the Affordable Care Act, ensuring that Senate Republicans would have to vote on health care legislation before the election.

On the Senate floor, Mr. McConnell and Mr. Schumer argued bitterly over the confirmation. Brushing past Judge Barrett’s writings casting doubt on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, the Republican leader accused the Democrats of fabricating a threat to Americans’ health care to score political points.

“That’s the claim: This mother of seven, including multiple children who were born or adopted facing pre-existing medical challenges, is just itching to block families like hers from accessing medical care,” Mr. McConnell said. “What a joke.”

Mr. Schumer charged Republicans with “manufactured hysterics” for saying Democrats were attacking Judge Barrett’s Catholic faith.

“Not a single Democrat will make these attacks or make religious beliefs an issue,” Mr. Schumer said.

The fight is expected to escalate in the run-up to the four-day-long hearing next month in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Republicans were aiming to confirm Judge Barrett by the end of October.

Luke Broadwater contributed reporting.

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