With an Unintended Assist From Feinstein, Barrett Gets the Nod

With an Unintended Assist From Feinstein, Barrett Gets the Nod
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
With an Unintended Assist From Feinstein, Barrett Gets the Nod
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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A lot has happened for Amy Coney Barrett in the last three years. She was a little-known law professor at Notre Dame and then a judge on the U.S. Circuit of Appeals, and now she is President Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee.

She can thank Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

It was, after all, the California Democrat who questioned her faith. The ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee peppered Barrett about her Catholicism during the appeals court confirmation process, insinuating that the nominee’s religion clouded her legal judgment. “Dogma and law are two different things,” Feinstein lectured. “And I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different. And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you.”

Conservatives were furious. They were also delighted. Until then, Barrett was an elite only in narrow judicial circles. Feinstein, a non-lawyer herself, made Barrett into a populist hero with just six words: “The dogma lives loudly within you.”

Right-wing corners of the Internet lit up with memes celebrating the judge and mocking the senator. And the message was simple: “Hell, yeah, the dogma lives loudly.” One meme depicted Feinstein as Darth Vader uttering the melodramatic words, and around that time White House counsel Don McGahn got a bright idea. He had coffee mugs made, each stamped with Feinstein’s infamous words. And, sources tell RealClearPolitics, for the last three years the best way to flaunt one’s conservative credentials in this White House was to roll into a morning meeting with a “dogma” mug.

Badges of honor at the time, those mugs are now a necessity. White House aides may lose some sleep and will need caffeine in the days to come. The battle over Barrett and the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is just now beginning. It will be a bitter one.

Trump introduced his third high court nominee in the Rose Garden on Saturday, praising Barrett as “a woman of unparalleled achievement, towering intellect, sterling credentials, and unyielding loyalty to the Constitution.” Her name had been leaked to the New York Times, and it had been reported earlier that Trump was saving “saving her for Ginsburg.” Conservatives were not surprised – and they continued to be delighted.

The president quipped on Friday at a campaign stop that whomever he nominated "hopefully will be on that court for 50 years." If confirmed, the 48-year-old jurist might very well serve a good portion of those years, shifting the ideological course of the court to the right, at least for the time being.

“You are not there to decide cases as you may prefer. You are there to do your duty and to follow the law, whatever it may take,” Trump said Saturday. He told more than a hundred supporters gathered at the White House that “this should be a straightforward and prompt confirmation.”

Then, as if to clarify her dogma, Barrett explained her originalism and textualist while referencing her old boss, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

“I love the United States, and I love the United States Constitution,” she said reading from prepared remarks. “I am truly humbled by the prospect of serving on the Supreme Court.”

Just hours earlier, the Barrett family was spotted at their Indiana home, piling into their minivan for a trip to the airport, and there were seats reserved at the White House for the entire brood. Trump thanked each of her seven children for “sharing your wonderful mother with the country.” He noted that “if confirmed, Justice Barrett will make history as the first mother of school-aged children ever to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.”

The nominee spoke openly about her family, noting that “while I am a judge, I’m better known back home as a room parent, a carpool driver, and a birthday planner.” The crowd loved it, and the nominee later thanked her family for their support -- and even the babysitter, who was also at the White House.

Republicans hope that the choice will resonate with suburban women ahead of the election and blunt attacks from Senate Democrats. “This should be a straightforward and prompt confirmation. Good luck,” Trump joked. “It’s going to be very easy. It should be very quick. I’m sure it will be extremely noncontroversial. Well, we said that last time.”

Since Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation and with the presidential election just weeks away, Democrats have hardened their stance. They argue that Republicans are being hypocritical by making a Supreme Court nomination this close to Nov. 3, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has already warned that “nothing is off the table” if his party gains control of the upper chamber. His allies have floated everything from impeaching Trump a second time to packing the court for the first time since 1867.

But those threats will have little immediate impact. Republicans control the Senate, and there do not appear to be any parliamentary procedures that can stop Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from fulfilling his promise to give the nominee a floor vote. Trump wants a speedy confirmation because he expects the election to “end up in the Supreme Court, and I think it’s very important we have nine justices.”

The Biden campaign tried to frame Barrett as an opponent of both Obamacare and abortion. In a statement released while Trump was still talking, the Democratic nominee took issue with the conservative Barrett replacing the late liberal Ginsburg.

“The United States Constitution was designed to give the voters one chance to have their voice heard on who serves on the Court. That moment is now and their voice should be heard. The Senate should not act on this vacancy until after the American people select their next president and the next Congress,” Biden argued. His wishes won’t be honored. A source close to the president confirmed to RCP that the White House expects a Barrett confirmation by Oct. 29.

Republicans and Democrats are preparing for a bruising fight in the meantime. So is Barrett, and that’s part of the reason Trump picked her. Again, the judge can thank Feinstein.

Trump was watching when the senior California senator tried to take Barrett to task over her faith. “He saw firsthand how she was a tough, independent, forceful person and was able to withstand the previous confirmation well,” the source close to the president said. “Those things are important.” Plus, this isn’t the first time the two met. Trump and Barrett sat down during the Kavanaugh process, and her poise, the source said “obviously stuck with him.”

While the back-and-forth with Feinstein helped catapult Barrett, the White House still takes credit for her selection. She is a favorite with the conservative movement, the source said, but she owes her success to Trump: “That’s the part that people are missing here – it’s not the movement that’s forcing the president’s hand. It’s the president who conditioned the environment to get the movement to so vigorously support her.”

It was McGahn who brought up Barrett in discussions with Trump when he was putting together a list of potential Supreme Court and appellate court picks during the presidential transition in late 2016. Leonard Leo, on leave from the Federalist Society, and James Burnham, who also would go on to work for the Trump White House counsel’s office before joining the Justice Department, quickly signed off on the addition.

 “That’s how it all started – really getting her on that list and then getting her nominated for that Circuit Court seat,” the source familiar with the process told RCP. “She wasn’t extremely well known in Indiana political circles even though she was well-known in national legal and judicial circles. So, it took a little effort on Don’s part to get things teed up because there were some other people whose names were being thrown in by political leaders in Indiana.”

The focus now shifts from inside judicial baseball to Senate brawl. Nonetheless, Mark Meadows predicted that confirmation would be relatively swift. The chief of staff, who will serve as a “Sherpa” for the nominee on Capitol Hill, told reporters on Saturday that Republicans will evaluate Barrett and her credentials “in an expeditious manner.” After reviewing her resume himself, Meadows said he hoped “she would get confirmed before the first of November.”

Much of that is up to McConnell, who controls the Senate calendar. "As our nation continues to mourn Justice Ginsburg and honor her trail-blazing legacy, it does seem fitting that another brilliant and talented woman at the height of their shared profession would follow in her footsteps onto the court," he wrote in a statement before urging “all 100 senators” to treat “this serious process with the dignity and respect it should command." That includes Feinstein, whom Barrett will see a second time.

Susan Crabtree is RealClearPolitics' White House/national political correspondent.



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