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GOP Uses Barrett's Motherhood To Appeal To Suburban Voters, Analysts Say

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

At her Supreme Court confirmation hearing, Judge Amy Coney Barrett was asked to introduce her family, seated behind her.

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AMY CONEY BARRETT: My husband Jesse, my son J.P., my daughter Emma, my daughter Juliet, my daughter Tess, my daughter Vivian and my son Liam.

INSKEEP: Their youngest son, Benjamin, was at home. Now, a public official's family is not always the subject of public discussion, but Barrett's supporters have constantly praised her family. The nominee herself said in an opening statement that having kids at home would bring a new perspective to the court. Others have their own theories about why her supporters focus on her children. Here's NPR's Melissa Block.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: One after another, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have highlighted Judge Barrett's maternity.

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CHUCK GRASSLEY: Judge Barrett is a tireless mother of seven.

JONI ERNST: You, a working mother of seven...

THOM TILLIS: She's a remarkable mother. She has seven beautiful children.

BLOCK: We heard Sens. Chuck Grassley, Joni Ernst and Thom Tillis. When their Republican colleague Marsha Blackburn praised Barrett's academic and legal accomplishments, she added...

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MARSHA BLACKBURN: I appreciate that many times you've probably done this with a child in your arms, on your hip or somewhere in tow.

BLOCK: And Barrett's fellow Hoosier, Sen. Mike Braun, summed up the judge this way - a legal titan who drives a minivan. That description in particular...

MARIE SANDERSON: It spoke to me personally.

BLOCK: Marie Sanderson is a longtime Republican adviser and co-founder of the group N2 America, which supports center-right policies focused on the suburbs.

SANDERSON: I'm a mom of three. I run several businesses and a nonprofit, and I feel like I'm just trying to get through my day. And so, again, this is who, you know, Amy Coney Barrett is. It's what moms deal with across the country every single day.

BLOCK: So why the Republican emphasis on Barrett's family?

MARTHA MCKENNA: Oh, I think it is totally 100% a suburban woman voter appeal. Of course, I don't think that's going to work.

BLOCK: That's Democratic strategist Martha McKenna. She calls the Barrett nomination a last-ditch effort by Republicans struggling to regain the votes of college-educated white women. Polls indicate they're turning against Trump and some incumbent GOP senators in droves.

MCKENNA: I mean, I think it's the only thing they have left. I do not think that the fact that a mother of school-age children has been nominated to the Supreme Court by Donald Trump at all erases the previous four years of dangerous policies that Trump has promoted.

BLOCK: A recurring implication from Republicans on the Judiciary Committee is that Democrats somehow just can't accept a Supreme Court nominee who's also a mother of seven. Here's Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn again.

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BLACKBURN: As today's increasingly paternalistic and, frankly, disrespectful arguments have shown, if they had their way, only certain kinds of women would be allowed into this hearing room.

BLOCK: Political science professor Melissa Deckman of Washington College took note of that. She's written about gender roles, motherhood and conservative politics.

MELISSA DECKMAN: From studying conservative women for a long time, I think that there's a lot of resentment from many women that - conservative women - that women's voices are often depicted as being liberal.

BLOCK: Deckman says putting Barrett's motherhood front and center is grand political theater.

DECKMAN: It's hard to be critical of moms, right? (Laughter) So when they're trying to, basically, frame her as a mom that can do it all, I think it sends this kind of more, maybe not so subtle message that somehow being against Amy Coney Barrett is also being against motherhood.

BLOCK: But Democrats say they're deeply concerned that Barrett will roll back women's rights and potentially vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. At the same time, they've taken pains to compliment Barrett on her family.

Melissa Block, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.