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Amy Coney Barrett Faces Questions On Her Philosophy From Senate Judiciary Committee

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump's Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is facing questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee today. She is an originalist like her mentor, the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. But she told the committee today that while she admires him, she will not be his imitation on the court.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMY CONEY BARRETT: If I'm confirmed, you would not be getting Justice Scalia. You would be getting Justice Barrett.

SHAPIRO: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is part of our team covering the hearings, and she joins us now.

Hi, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: These are grueling marathons for any nominee. How's Judge Barrett doing so far?

DAVIS: You know, she is very poised and calm. She's been sitting very still at the table with her hands folded in her lap, almost motionless throughout the hearing. At one point, Texas Sen. John Cornyn noted that she had no papers or notes in front of her, and he asked her to hold up the notepad that the committee supplies. And she did, and she sort of smiled because it was blank and - sort of sending the message that Republicans want to send today that this is a woman that is very prepared for this moment.

SHAPIRO: It's obviously a very contentious nomination, and the two parties have different agendas. Let's start with the Republicans. Where did they focus their questions?

DAVIS: Well, Republicans worked to create lines of defense against some of the anticipated criticism. You know, President Trump has been very public about how he wants judges who would vote against Obamacare and even possibly on the outcome of the election. Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley put one of those questions to her directly.

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CHUCK GRASSLEY: Have you committed to the president or anyone else that you will vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act if confirmed by - to the court?

CONEY BARRETT: Absolutely not. I was never asked. And if I had been, that would have been a short conversation.

DAVIS: Barrett wouldn't say if she would recuse herself from any case involving the ACA or the election because she said that was a legal process that she wouldn't weigh in on in the abstract. But she did at one point rather bluntly tell the committee that she has more integrity than to allow herself to, quote, "be used as a pawn to decide this election for the American people."

SHAPIRO: And besides the Affordable Care Act and a potential disputed election, abortion is another big topic of conversation. Did Barrett give any indication of how she might rule on abortion-related cases?

DAVIS: Democrats tried. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, asked her several times. And each time, it sounded a lot like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Do you agree with Justice Scalia's view that Roe was wrongly decided?

CONEY BARRETT: Senator, I completely understand why you are asking the question. But, again, I can't pre-commit or say, yes, I'm going in with some agenda because I'm not.

DAVIS: Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar asked Barrett if she believed Roe was a, quote, "super-precedent," meaning that it was a case that could not or would not be challenged along the lines of Brown v. Board of Education, which ended school segregation. Barrett said she did not see Roe as a super-precedent because she said calls for it to be overturned have never stopped. And although she cautioned that while she didn't see it as a super-precedent, she didn't necessarily think that meant that Roe should be overruled.

SHAPIRO: Well, just based on the numbers, Barrett appears to have the votes to join the high court before Election Day, which is three weeks from today. Is this Supreme Court confirmation fight having any impact on these elections?

DAVIS: It is. I mean, three of the Republicans on this committee are in competitive races - Joni Ernst in Iowa, Thom Tillis in North Carolina and the chairman himself, Lindsey Graham in South Carolina. Graham's Democratic opponent, a candidate named Jaime Harrison, raised $57 million in the third quarter of this year. Ari, it is the most any Senate candidate has ever raised in any Senate race ever in American history.

So these races are competitive, yes, for a lot of different reasons. But the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg really did supercharge Democratic giving and enthusiasm in the homestretch of this election. So, yes, Republicans are likely to win this confirmation battle. They have the votes. But the political decision to do it before the election could make it more likely that they lose control of the Senate in just a few weeks.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis.

Thanks, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAUTIOUS CLAY SONG, "COLD WAR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.