WASHINGTON — This time, instead of the sharp, prosecutorial questions that have become her trademark in the Senate, Sen. Kamala Harris said she would “take a moment to talk directly with the American people about where we are and how we got here.”
Harris turned her questioning of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett Tuesday into a speech defending the Affordable Care Act, encapsulating the unwavering focus on healthcare amid the coronavirus pandemic from Democrats that has marked Barrett’s confirmation hearings — and Harris and Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.
“Republicans are planning to confirm this nominee as fast as possible because they need one more Trump judge on the bench before Nov. 10, to win and strike down the entire Affordable Care Act,” Harris said at the hearing, speaking virtually from her office in the Capitol after two Republican members of the Judiciary Committee tested positive for the virus.
“This is not a hypothetical situation. This is happening. Here’s what you have to know: People are scared. People are scared of what will happen if the Affordable Care Act is destroyed in the middle of a pandemic.”
The Judiciary Committee hearing for Barrett offered a rare moment in American politics: the questioning of a president’s Supreme Court nominee by one of the people on the presidential ticket running against him.
Harris held up a photograph of a Southern California woman with a litany of preexisting conditions who Harris said was “terrified” that she could no longer afford treatment if the Affordable Care Act was repealed.
“Her fears are shared by millions of Americans. The Affordable Care Act and its protections hinge on the Supreme Court and the outcome of this hearing.”
Facing Brett Kavanaugh, Jeff Sessions, and others in confirmation hearings while on the Committee, Harris became known for rapid-fire questions that sometimes left Trump administration figures stumbling. But on Tuesday, she paused only a few times to ask Barrett a question.
Harris attempted to draw a line between an article Barrett wrote in 2017 criticizing Chief Justice John Roberts’ upholding of the Affordable Care Act and Trump’s nomination of Barrett to the 7th Circuit.
“My question is how many months after you published that article did President Trump nominate you to be a judge on the Court of Appeals?” she asked Barrett.
And Harris pressed the nominee on whether she was aware of Trump’s vows to nominate judges who would strike down Obama’s signature healthcare law. Barrett said she “did not recall” having heard the statements.
Democrats see the Affordable Care Act, a case that will be heard by the Supreme Court shortly after the election, as their most powerful weapon against Barrett, whose confirmation by the Republican-controlled Senate is, for the moment, still virtually assured.
In Biden and Harris’s campaign against Trump, the coronavirus and its inextricable link to healthcare has become an almost singular issue. It dominates Biden’s rhetoric and has for almost the entirety of his general election campaign since the virus emerged in March.
Talking with reporters briefly on Monday about Barrett’s confirmation hearings, Biden made the strategy explicit.
“This nominee has said she wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, this president wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “Let’s keep our eye on the ball.”