By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung and Patricia Zengerle
WASHiNGTON (Reuters) – The United States Senate Judiciary Committee started on Monday the first of four days for the confirmation hearing of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court candidate, Amy Coney Barrett, in what the panel chairman predicted as a “contentious week”, with Republicans seeking approval ahead of the November 3 presidential election.
The hearing for Barrett, chosen by Trump to replace the late liberal judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg and who has staunch opposition from Democrats, began with senators making initial statements. Barrett herself will make her own opening statement after the 22 members of the committee have had a chance to speak.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who chairs the committee, began by paying tribute to Ginsburg and said Barrett, a conservative judge at the appeals court, would be a “worthy successor.”
“This is going to be a long, contentious week,” Graham said, adding, “Let’s make it respectful. Let’s make it challenging. Let’s remember, the world is watching.”
Barrett was sitting at a table facing the senators with a black face mask. Her husband and seven children sat behind her, also wearing protective masks, while the hearing began.
Republicans have a 53-47 majority in the Senate, so Barrett’s confirmation seems almost certain, as Graham acknowledged.
“It’s probably not about persuading each other, unless something really dramatic happens. All Republicans will vote yes and all Democrats will vote no,” Graham said.
Graham acknowledged that Senate Republicans four years earlier had refused to examine Democratic President Barack Obama’s candidate to fill a seat on the Supreme Court because it was an election year, and that no Supreme Court candidate had a confirmation process so close to a election.
“I feel like we’re doing this constitutionally,” said Graham.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s top Democrat, said the Democrats intended to focus on health during the hearing.
As a result of the health concerns caused by the coronavirus pandemic, not all senators will participate personally. Each senator has the final decision to appear in person. Democratic Senator Kamala Harris, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, vice presidential vice president, is among those who will participate remotely.
Republican Senate leaders rejected Democratic calls to delay the hearing after two members of the Republican Judiciary Committee and Trump himself tested positive for coronavirus in the days following the September 26 event at the White House, in which the president announced Barrett as the candidate.
The hearing is a key step ahead of the Senate’s final vote in late October over his nomination for a lifetime seat in court.
Barrett’s confirmation would create a conservative 6-3 majority at court, which could lead to decisions that would revoke abortion rights, expand religious and arms rights and support Republican-backed voting restrictions, among other issues.