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Barrett Evades Direct Policy Answers In Day 2 Of Confirmation Hearings


Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is passing through a time-honored ritual. At her confirmation hearing before the Senate, senators have a lot of questions, and Barrett is working to be as limited as she can in her answers. Lawmakers asked 11 hours' worth of questions yesterday. She faced questions from Democratic senators on abortion rights and also on health care. If confirmed this month, she would take her seat in time to hear a challenge to the Affordable Care Act in November. Sen. Chris Coons asked how she would approach that case.


AMY CONEY BARRETT: I am standing before the committee today saying that I have the integrity to act consistently with my oath and apply the law as the law, to approach the ACA and every other statute without bias. And I have not made any commitments or deals or anything like that.

INSKEEP: She was nominated by a president who has vowed to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is part of our team covering the hearings. Sue, good morning.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What was your impression from 11 hours?

DAVIS: Well, I think for Republicans, Tuesday went really well. Barrett was very poised. She was very unflappable. There was no sort of unpredictable moments. And I think that they feel very confident in this nomination going forward. For Democrats, there was a lot of frustration. You know, they tried over the course of this 11 hours to get her to reveal something about how she might rule on some of these most contentious issues, but she really held to standard, to form of previous justices and saying, repeatedly, I cannot give you any indication on any matter that could come before the court because that would simply be improper.

INSKEEP: Yeah, there's a real tension here because you have a judicial nominee who doesn't want to reveal some bias or become - cease to be impartial by saying how they might rule on a future case. But at the same time, you have senators who want to know something about how the nominee thinks because they're trying to evaluate the nominee. That's the theory, anyway. How did that balance play out when it came to the Affordable Care Act?

DAVIS: Well, that issue is obviously the most acute right now because the court is going to hear a challenge to Obamacare days after the election - complicate that by President Trump, who has publicly and repeatedly said he wants judges who will vote to throw it out. So Barrett was asked about this a lot, and this is what she most often said.


BARRETT: I'm not here on a mission to destroy the Affordable Care Act; I'm just here to apply the law and adhere to the rule of law.

DAVIS: She said this over and over, that she had no preconceived notion on any issue and that none of her personal views would ever cloud her judgment when it comes to the law.

INSKEEP: Is she in an especially tricky position here because of what you said, because she was nominated by a president who has been so public about exactly what he says he wants?

DAVIS: Yes, and I think that's why the issue of recusal came up again on Tuesday, whether she would recuse on the issue of Obamacare or on - potentially, on the election outcome. She would not say whether she would recuse herself. She said that was a legal process that she would have to confront if and when it happened. But she did have a very pointed moment where she sort of pushed back at the committee and said that, I want this committee to know I have more integrity than to be, in her words, a pawn in deciding the outcome of an election.

INSKEEP: I guess we should underline why it is that people would even be asking that question. The president of the United States has said that he expects a Supreme Court challenge over the election results, and he has said he wants this justice to be there for that ruling. This is a thing he explicitly said.

DAVIS: It is. And she made very clear throughout those 11 hours that she is an independent justice, that she's never had any conversations with anyone ever on how she would rule on anything.

INSKEEP: Now, she is replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was a great liberal voice of the court. She is more conservative. But what does that mean for the right to an abortion - Roe v. Wade, the ruling from 1973?

DAVIS: She was asked about this a lot. And probably in her most telling exchange - came with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who asked her if she thought Roe v. Wade was a, quote, "super precedent," a decision that's sort of so ingrained in society you can't even fathom overturning it - the best example of that being Brown v. Board of Education, which desegregated America's schools. And this is what Barrett said.


BARRETT: As Richard Fallon from Harvard said, Roe is not a super precedent because calls for its overruling have never ceased. But that doesn't mean that Roe should be overruled; it just means that it doesn't fall on the small handful of cases like Marbury v. Madison and Brown v. the Board that no one questions anymore.

DAVIS: Now, she did obviously say there that Roe is precedent and that she will follow precedent. But there's a lot of wiggle room there.

INSKEEP: More questioning today. What can we expect?

DAVIS: Well, there will be shorter rounds, which is probably good news for Amy Coney Barrett. They will be 20-minute rounds for senators. The Senate - it's the last day we'll hear from her directly. The Senate's going to go into closed session after questioning to review her FBI background search. This is standard operating procedure for all nominees - no surprises expected there. And then tomorrow we'll hear from outside experts. But she's on track for a confirmation vote in the committee next week, which would put the nomination on the floor just days before the election and just in time to hear that Obamacare case.

INSKEEP: Sue, thanks.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Susan Davis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.