Technical problems turn Amy Coney Barrett hearing into a fiasco

Something finally stops the ACB hearings – the mics are cut! Technical problems turn Senate confirmation into a fiasco as Lindsey Graham jokes ‘it was the Russians’

  • Technical difficulties interrupted the second day of questioning Judge Amy Coney Barrett when the microphones went out
  • Senators took two breaks – interrupting proceedings for nearly an hour – while the sound system was repaired
  • ‘It was the Russians,’ Senator Lindsey Graham joked
  • Graham began hearing praising Barrett for being ‘unashamedly pro-life’ and vowed there is a seat on the Supreme Court ‘waiting on you’ 
  • Barrett is a devout Catholic who has gone public with her personal pro-life views
  • She is facing her second full day of questioning from senators on the Judiciary Committee Wednesday for the third day of her confirmation hearing
  • Graham bashed Democratic colleagues for making the hearing more about other issues rather than the qualifications of the nominee
  • ‘This hearing has been more Obamacare than it has about you,’ Graham said

Advertisement

Technical difficulties hampered the second day of questioning Judge Amy Coney Barrett, interrupting what was supposed to be a smooth session for a Supreme Court nominee whose confirmation is all but assured.

Microphones in the hearing room stopped working for about 40 minutes Wednesday afternoon, resulting in a break in the confirmation proceedings while staff tried to repair the sound system.

Then it happened again, less than 10 minutes after the hearing restarted. 

‘Are we not paying the bills,’ Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked after it happened the second time.

‘This is embarrassing,’ said Republican Senator John Kennedy as the lawmakers waited to resume.

Barrett’s nomination has been plagued by bumps in the road.

Before President Donald Trump named her to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the late Justice’s family made it known RBG wanted her replacement named by the winner of the November election. Then, the Rose Garden event where Trump formally nominated Barrett turned into a coronavirus super spreader where at least 12 people – including the president, first lady and senators on the Judiciary committee – tested positive for the virus after attending.

A staffer inspects a microphone as technical difficulties occur during the second day of questioning Judge Amy Coney Barrett

A staffer inspects a microphone as technical difficulties occur during the second day of questioning Judge Amy Coney Barrett

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal jokes with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas as Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham stands to the side (right) as the lawmakers wait for the microphones to be fixed

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal jokes with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas as Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham stands to the side (right) as the lawmakers wait for the microphones to be fixed

Barrett was in the midst of answering questions from Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal when her microphone went out the first time.

Senators started tapping their own mics and the room came to the realization the sound system was down.

Graham gavelled the panel into recess while staff worked to fix the problem. 

‘It was the Russians,’ he was heard joking as Barrett left the room and senators waited for the session to resume.

Senators paced, gossiped in groups – with face masks on – and checked their phones while they waited. Republican Kennedy appeared to be watching something on his iPad while he waited.

‘What’s happening here guys?’ Graham asked the staff at one point.

After lawmakers returned, the mics went out a second time, leading to a 15 minute break while repairs were made. Graham said those in the room could hear but the sound wasn’t airing for those watching the camera feed.

‘Is it working now?’ Barrett asked of her mic when questioning resumed for its second take.

It was.

The outage came shortly after Barrett, in a rare moment of personal candor, admitted she had a glass of wine after the long day of questioning Tuesday. She was grilled by senators for 11 hours on the second day of her confirmation hearing.  

‘I did have a glass of wine. I’ll tell you that I needed that at the end of the day,’ she told Blumenthal during his time at questioning.

‘Let me just say on that kind of point you have a right to remain silent,’ he joked, and Barrett laughed. 

Republican Sen. Thom Tillis talks with Judge Amy Coney Barrett's family

Republican Sen. Thom Tillis talks with Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s family

Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham waits with staff as the panel took a break after the microphones went out

Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham waits with staff as the panel took a break after the microphones went out

This is the second consecutive time a Supreme Court nominee has brought up their drinking habits during their confirmation hearing.

Famously, Brett Kavanuagh said during his confirmation hearing that he ‘liked beer’ when questions over his drinking arose after allegations of sexual assault when he was a teenager, which he denied. 

‘I drank beer with my friends,’ Kavanaugh said during his opening statement when describing his younger days. ‘Almost everyone did. Sometimes I had too many beers. Sometimes others did. I liked beer. I still like beer.’

Barrett is on her final day of confirmation with her seat on the Supreme Court all but a done deal.

Left unclear is how she will act on major issues the high court will hear in the next months, including the legality of the Affordable Care Act. Additionally, if the November presidential election is contested, the Supreme Court could make the final decision as it did in the 2000 case Bush vs. Gore that handed the presidency to George W. Bush.

Graham has said that he plans on Oct. 22 to vote Barrett out of committee. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said he plans to bring it to the Senate floor to a vote shortly thereafter. Democrats don’t have the votes or the power to do much to stop it.

Wednesday marked day three of Barrett’s hearing process. Monday was opening statements and Tuesday was the first marathon day of questioning. 

At the start of Wednesday’s round of grilling, Graham promised a Supreme Court seat is ‘waiting’ for Barrett as he praised the nominee for her pro-life views and attacked fellow senators for making the hearing about other issues. 

‘This is the first time in American history that we’ve nominated a woman who is unashamedly pro-life and embraces her faith without apology, and she is going to the court,’ Graham lauded. ‘A seat at the table is waiting on you.’

He continued: ‘I have never been more proud of a nominee than you.’ 

Graham claimed during his allotted 20 minutes Wednesday as he opened the third day of the hearing and the second day of questions that female conservatives and conservatives of color have ‘a hard time of it.’ 

He said their contributions are marginalized by those on the left because they ‘come out on a different side of an issue – particularly abortion.’ 

Barrett spent much of Tuesday fielding questions related to her personal pro-life views, especially if she would be in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade, which Democrats fear would be the case if she were confirmed, but they featured far less on Wednesday morning.

The 48-year-old nominee, however, said she would not comment or commit to which way she would lean or rule in future or potential cases, adding she had not made any pre-commitments or promises. 

Graham kicked off the second day of questioning by tearing into his colleagues on the panel – specifically vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris.

‘Senator Harris mentioned about how much more candid Justice Ginsburg was,’ Graham said. ‘And, with all due respect to Senator Harris I don’t agree with that.’

The California Democrat had taken Barrett to task Tuesday evening for saying she was following Ginsburg’s refusal to say how she would rule in future cases at her 1993 confirmation hearing, but not following the late justice’s example of a forthright defense of her beliefs – in RBG’s case about abortion rights – at that hearing. 

Amy Coney Barrett arrives on Capitol Hill for the second full day of questioning from senators presiding over her confirmation hearing

Amy Coney Barrett arrives on Capitol Hill for the second full day of questioning from senators presiding over her confirmation hearing

Family arrival: Liam Barrett, Amy Coney Barrett's oldest son, leads the way into court, followed by his sisters Vivian, Tess, Juliet and Emma

Family arrival: Liam Barrett, Amy Coney Barrett’s oldest son, leads the way into court, followed by his sisters Vivian, Tess, Juliet and Emma

Remote questioning: Senator Patrick Leahy appeared on video link for the socially-distanced hearing

Remote questioning: Senator Patrick Leahy appeared on video link for the socially-distanced hearing 

Harris – and other Democrats – had also challenged Barrett about the Affordable Care Act, which Graham declared is an election issue. The Supreme Court will hear a Republican-led and Trump-backed challenge to Obamacare days after the election, with the potential for the justices to strike down the entire act. 

But Graham said he wanted to focus on Barrett, not a hypothetical ruling. 

‘This hearing has been more Obamacare than it has about you. Obamacare is on the ballot,’ he said.

‘Today is about you. And today is about whether you’re qualified to serve on the highest court in the land,’ the South Carolina Republican said.

Barrett arrived at the Hart Senate Office Building Wednesday with her large family again in tow, including six of her seven children, and her six siblings. 

Like the two days of opening arguments and questioning before, protesters clashed on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

Those opposing Barrett’s confirmation held signs reading ‘Stop Amy’ and ‘Save the ACA’ as they chanted against the nominee. Pro-life counter-protesters also showed up in droves to show their support for Barrett.

Young demonstrators wore t-shirts that read, ‘The pro-life generation votes’.

As Barrett faced her second day of grilling from senators on the Judiciary Committee, a new poll released Wednesday morning shows she is gaining popularity among registered voters.

The Politico/Morning Consult survey, taken October 9-11, shows 48 per cent of American voters want Barrett’s confirmation to get through up 11 points from those who felt she should be placed on the Supreme Court in the same poll taken on the day of her nomination.

And this survey also shows support from Democrats for her confirmation jumped by 13 points from September 26 to now.

Barrett saw a boost in popularity Wednesday morning with 48 per cent of voters in favor of her confirmation to the 37 per cent who felt the same way on the day of her nomination

Barrett saw a boost in popularity Wednesday morning with 48 per cent of voters in favor of her confirmation to the 37 per cent who felt the same way on the day of her nomination

The poll was taken three times, once on the day Barrett’s nomination was announced by President Donald Trump, again last week as she met with senators before her confirmation hearings and most recently in the days leading up to the first hearing day.

Barrett, 48, began her confirmation process with less support than she now holds as it appears as the public learns more about the judge, she gains more favor.

The poised judge would not be rattled during the hearings, even as she faced a harsh line of questioning from Democrats Tuesday and Wednesday on her personal beliefs and choices and what her confirmation could mean for crucial cases involving healthcare, abortion and the 2020 election.

REPUBLICANS ACCUSE DEMOCRATS OF IGNORING ACB TO TURN HEARINGS INTO OBAMACARE CAMPAIGN RALLY

Democrats continued on their strategy Wednesday to make the Affordable Care Act a cornerstone of their arguments against Barrett’s confirmation.

The minority party members continued on the third day of the hearing to share personal anecdotes of families and individuals who would be affected if Obamacare was struck down at the Supreme Court level.

”This hearing has been more Obamacare than it has about you,’ Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham said at the start of the hearing.

‘Obamacare is on the ballot,’ he continued. ‘If you want socialized, single-payer health care, that’s on the ballot.’

‘Today is about you. And today is about whether you’re qualified to serve on the highest court in the land,’ the South Carolina Republican said in attempting to turn the conversation back to the judicial nominee.

Oral arguments for a case that could overturn the Obama-era healthcare act will begin November 11, just days after the presidential election.

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota pointed to Trump tweeting in 2015 how if he won the presidency, his judicial appointments would ‘do the right thing’ and repeal Obamacare.

She also pushed Barrett on if she knew about Trump’s campaign promise to appoint justices and judges that would take down the healthcare measure.

The 7th Circuit judge said she was well aware of the president’s position against Obamacare, but claimed she was not aware of his public promise to appoint judges he felt would rule against the ACA.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham has predicted Barrett’s confirmation no later than Tuesday, October 27 – just one before Election Day.

Barrett's large family, including her husband, six of her seven children and her six siblings, again joined her for the third day of her confirmation hearing

Barrett’s large family, including her husband, six of her seven children and her six siblings, again joined her for the third day of her confirmation hearing

On each of the three days of the hearing, Barrett was joined by her large family in the Hart hearing room with her husband Jesse, six of her seven children and her six siblings all sitting behind her for the majority of the two days. 

Her youngest son, who has Down Syndrome, remained at home.

While Republicans focused on Barrett’s family, faith, as a Roman Catholic, and academic and judicial records, Democrats targeted her on abortion, the Affordable Care Act, and whether she will recuse herself if she is confirmed and the election results end up in front of the Supreme Court.

Barrett refused to commit to anything one way or the other and said it would be inappropriate to say she would recuse herself before looking at the facts of a specific case.

Many Democrats argue Barrett’s confirmation should not go through before November 3, claiming the rush job is an insurance policy from Trump for a 6-3 conservative Supreme Court should any election disputes end up there.

They also claim the fast-action comes to make sure she is seated on the court ahead of oral arguments on the ACA beginning November 11 – just days after the election.

If Barrett is confirmed – the most likely course of action with a GOP-majority Senate – Trump will have drastically impacted the makeup of the Supreme Court by placing an unprecedented three justices during his first term.

Most concerning for many progressives is Barrett’s view on abortion as a devout Catholic who has publicly shared her pro-life stance in the past.

But the mother of seven has assured her integrity as a judge, and said any personal views would not be reflected in her deciding cases based on her originalist view of the Constitution.

Democrats protest that Barrett could overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which made women’s access to a safe and legal abortion the status quo across the nation without excessive government restriction. 

‘CAN THE PRESIDENT SELF-PARDON? AND CAN YOU MAKE HIM FOLLOW YOUR RULINGS?’ 

In reference to whether presidents are required to follow Supreme Court decisions – and if they are held accountable to those decisions just like all other citizens – Barrett worked around the question. 

She said she has no power over whether the decision is enforced as a member of the Judicial Branch and cannot force presidents to obey the ruling.

Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who joined the hearing virtually, asked what Barrett would do as a Supreme Court Justice if a president or member of the legislative or executive branch did not follow a decision reached by the court.

‘I asked [Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh] what happens,’ Leahy said, recalling the confirmation hearings for the other two Trump-nominated justices. ‘And they made it clear that a president cannot refuse to comply with a court order and the Supreme Court’s word is the final word on the matter.’

‘Do you agree that a president must follow a court order and the Supreme Court’s word is final, or is it only final as far as the lower courts are concerned?’ he asked

Leahy was referencing a conversation he had with Barrett last week where she said the ‘Supreme Court’s would have the final word as far as lower courts are concerned,’ but did not, at the time, comment on the validity in other situations.

‘First, I know both Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh said that no man is above the law – and I agree with that,’ Barrett responded.

‘But I conversed with Senator Lee yesterday about Federalist 78, which says that courts have neither force nor will. In other words, we can’t do anything to enforce our own judgements. And so what I meant in the conversation with you is that as a matter of law the Supreme Court may have the final word, but the Supreme Court lacks control over what happens after that.

Ready for questions: Amy Coney Barrett takes off her mask and gets ready to answer questions at the start of the second day of her confirmation hearing's question session

Ready for questions: Amy Coney Barrett takes off her mask and gets ready to answer questions at the start of the second day of her confirmation hearing’s question session 

Her children were lauded for their behavior and manner during the hearing as they sat behind her right shoulder, and at times exited the hearing room for a break from the long three days of procedures

Her children were lauded for their behavior and manner during the hearing as they sat behind her right shoulder, and at times exited the hearing room for a break from the long three days of procedures

Grand setting: The Senate hearing is taking place in the largest of its committee rooms to allow the most social distancing possible

Grand setting: The Senate hearing is taking place in the largest of its committee rooms to allow the most social distancing possible

‘The Supreme Court, and any federal court, has no power, no force and no will – so it relies on the other branches to react to its judgements accordingly,’ she concluded.

This situation could directly come into question should the election end up at the Supreme Court – and also if Trump were to pardon himself from a crime he were convicted of.

There are concerns the president would not comply with a court decision if he feels it is wrong or unfair to him.

‘If a president refused to follow what they had said, could that be a threat to out constitutional form of government?’ Leahy pushed.

Barrett maintained that while the court can make decisions, they have no ability to enforce them.

‘Well, as I said, the Supreme Court can’t control whether or not the president obeys Abraham Lincoln once disobeyed an order during the Civil War of a circuit court. So a court can pronounce the law and issue a judgement, but it lacks control over how the political branches respond to it,’ she said. 

‘Then let me ask you a specific that has come up. President Trump claims he has an absolute right to pardon himself,’ Leahy questioned. ‘Does a president have an absolute right to pardon himself for a crime?’

‘So far as I know, that question has never been litigated. That question has never arisen,’ Barrett said. ‘That question may or may not arise. But it’s one that calls for legal analysis of what the scope of the pardon power is.’

She also said she could not ‘offer a view’ on what her opinion would be without actually going through the judicial process in a future potential case.

CAMERAS IN THE COURT? ACB SAYS SHE WOULDN’T MIND 

Barrett, in a break with other justices, said she would be open to allowing cameras in the Supreme Court, a move news organizations and public interest groups have been advocating for years.

Under questioning from Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, one of the oldest members of the Judiciary panel, Barrett said she would consider the issue.

‘I, probably at 87 years of age, won’t live long enough to see done, but I’ve discussed cameras in the courtroom,’ Grassley said during his time to question the nominee.

Barrett responded: ‘I would certainly keep an open mind about allowing cameras in the Supreme Court.’

The Supreme Court does not allow cameras in the courtroom when the court is in session, a policy which is the subject of much debate, particularly given that the House of Representatives and Senate allow cameras when they are in session.

Both recording devices and still cameras are banned from the highest court in the nation.

For court proceedings, transcripts of oral arguments are available later the day and audio recordings are available at the end of the week.

And there’s no indication that will change any time soon.

Associate Justices Elena Kagan and Samuel Alito, when they testified before a House committee on the court’s budget needs in March, were both against the idea.

‘I think we would filter ourselves in ways that would be unfortunate,’ Kagan said.

Alito agreed arguments should stay off camera.

‘Allowing the arguments to be televised would undermine their value to us as a step in the decision-making process,’ he said.

But the coronavirus pandemic nudged the court toward a more open policy.

In May, the Supreme Court conducted oral arguments via telephone and allowed the public to listen via a feed, providing real-time audio of oral arguments for the first time in its history.

The no-camera policy also has given rise to a uniquely Washington D.C. tradition – the running of the interns.

When the court announces a decision on a major case, it is printed out in the clerk’s office and distributed to the waiting interns of various news organizations, who then run them to the on-camera correspondents waiting outside.  

DEMOCRATS WANT CHARLES MANSON TO VOTE CLAIMS TED CRUZ (BUT THE SERIAL KILLER IS DEAD)

During his time at questioning, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas accused Democrats of wanting to allow felons to vote as they cited and criticized Barrett’s dissenting opinion in a case where she argued that nonviolent felons should be able to obtain a gun.

The senator specifically referenced Charles Manson as a person the opposite party wanted to let cast a ballot this November – even though the cult leader died in custody in 2017.

‘I for one am a bit puzzled. I’m not sure our Democracy is better by changing the law to allow murderers to vote,’ he claimed. ‘I’m not sure the operation of the Republican would be better if Charles Manson had a greater voice in the electoral system.’

‘And I would note one of our colleagues, Senator Sanders from Vermont, in the course of the Democratic presidential primaries, argued not just felons who are out of jail, he argued that felons in jail, literally Charles Mason serving a life sentence – or I think multiple life sentence for murder – should be able to vote,’ he continued.

‘Should Charles Manson be allowed to vote? No,’ Cruz complained during the hearing.

Manson, the notorious head of the ‘Manson family.’

Cruz had to recover from the flub as social media immediately jumped on mocking Cruz for the mistake.

‘[N]obody told Ted Cruz that Charles Manson is dead. You’d expect the Zodiac Killer to know that,’ a Twitter user wrote in attaching a video of the senator’s comments.

The user was referencing an ongoing satirical conspiracy that Cruz is the still-unidentified serial killer linked to murders in 1960s and 1970s Northern California.

The Texas senator tweeted right back, writing of Manson’s death: ‘I didn’t know that. But, alas, it still doesn’t stop him from being a Democratic voter.’

He included a shrugging emoji at the end of the post.

Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz said during his time questioning that Democrats want felons, like Charles Manson, to be able to vote for them ¿ even though the infamous cult leader died in 2017

Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz said during his time questioning that Democrats want felons, like Charles Manson, to be able to vote for them – even though the infamous cult leader died in 2017

'Should Charles Manson be allowed to vote? No,' Cruz complained during the hearing as he spoke to Barrett

‘Should Charles Manson be allowed to vote? No,’ Cruz complained during the hearing as he spoke to Barrett

Cruz also took his chance during his 20-minutes of questioning to mock Democrats for being absent on the second day of Barrett’s hearing and suggested it was because they have no ‘substantive’ criticism of President Trump’s nominee.

‘It is striking that as we sit here right now in this committee room, there are only two Democratic senators in the room,’ he said. ‘The Democratic senators are no longer attending. I assume they will show up for their time, but it is indicative of what they are admitting, which is that they don’t have substantive criticisms.’

Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois objected, saying some senators were participating remotely because of the coronavirus. He and Chris Coons were the two Democratic senators in the hearing room at the time.

‘We’re in the midst of a COVID-19 crisis, a pandemic. Some members are in their offices following this on TV,’ Durbin said.

Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy and Kamala Harris questioned Barrett via cameras from their respective Senate offices, citing concerns about COVID.

Cruz also teleworked during part of the confirmation process, giving his opening statement on Monday on camera as he was quarantining after possible exposure to COVID. He had contact with Republican Sen. Mike Lee, who tested positive for the coronavirus soon after attending President Trump’s formal nomination ceremony for Barrett at the White House, which became a super spreader event.

Republican Senator Thom Tillis also gave his opening statement on Monday remotely after testing positive for COVID. He was also at the Rose Garden nomination ceremony for Barrett.

Advertisement