Iowa political leaders defend their party’s position as Supreme Court confirmation hearings begin

Confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett began Monday, and Democrats made it clear that the future of the Affordable Care Act could be on the line.

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Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett listens during the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice in the Hart Senate Office Building on October 12, 2020 in Washington, DC. With less than a month until the presidential election, President Donald Trump tapped Amy Coney Barrett to be his third Supreme Court nominee in just four years. If confirmed, Barrett would replace the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Shawn Thew/Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

Julia Shanahan, Politics Editor


Monday marked the first day of Supreme Court confirmation hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee to fill former justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat, and Iowa Republicans and Democrats are defending their party’s position during the contentious process.

Democrats on the committee repeatedly brought up the future of the Affordable Care Act, saying that millions of Americans stand to lose their health-care coverage if the court votes to repeal the ACA after oral arguments on Nov. 10. Trump vowed to nominate a justice who would vote to repeal the ACA.

Iowa’s Republican U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, accused Democrats of trying to derail the nomination process of Amy Coney Barrett, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals, by attacking her religion and playing partisan politics in a way that’s reminiscent of the confirmation process for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. 

“I suspect the minority will try to ruffle up baseless claims and scare tactics as they’ve done for decades — anything to derail the confirmation of a Republican nominee,” Grassley said during his opening statement. “Lately, the left has been threatening to pack the Supreme Court in retaliation for this confirmation process.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, acknowledged that it’s unusual for the committee to hold confirmation hearings for a Supreme Court justice just three weeks before Election Day. But, he said he feels the committee is carrying out its constitutional duty.

The Iowa Democratic Party held press conferences in Des Moines before and after Monday’s hearings, and Iowa Democratic Party Chair Mark Smith said Senate Republicans, including Ernst and Grassley, are working to rush Trump’s nominee through a confirmation process instead of working to pass an additional COVID-19 relief package. 

“As Senate Republicans … begin hearings today to rush President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, the president and Republicans are also working right now to strike down the Affordable Care Act through the courts, and with it protections for pre-existing conditions,” Smith said. “The start of these hearings comes on the very same day that Iowa has now reached the 100,000 milestone in cases of coronavirus.”

Democrats in Iowa and across the country have accused Republicans in the Senate of hypocrisy in going through with a confirmation process less than a month before Election Day. When Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill former justice Antonin Scalia’s seat in 2016, Senate Republicans said the American people should decide who gets to nominate a justice, blocking the nomination process until after the election.

In 2018, Grassley, the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would not hold Supreme Court confirmation hearings during an election year should a seat open up. Now, Grassley has told reporters that since he is no longer the committee chair, he cannot control what the committee does.

Republicans claim this situation is different from 2016 because the Republican Party occupies both the Senate and the White House.

“This week, Sens. Ernst and Grassley will fulfill their constitutional responsibility and give an exceptionally qualified judge, Amy Coney Barrett, full and fair consideration. It’s time for Democrats to commit to doing the same,” Iowa Republican Party spokesperson Aaron Britt wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan.

RELATED: Grassley won’t oppose Supreme Court hearings

Ernst and Grassley both said on Monday that no one can predict how a Supreme Court justice might rule, and Grassley said it’s outrageous for Democrats to claim that Barrett’s nomination would mean the demise of the ACA.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) speaks during Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice on Capitol Hill on October 12, 2020 in Washington, DC. With less than a month until the presidential election, President Donald Trump tapped Amy Coney Barrett to be his third Supreme Court nominee in just four years. If confirmed, Barrett would replace the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Patrick Semansky/Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

When Barrett was a law professor at Notre Dame University, she wrote in a 2017 law review essay that “Chief Justice Roberts pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute.”

State Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, said at the press conference that 155,000 Iowans currently get their health care through the Affordable Care Act, and without that Medicare expansion, rural hospitals would suffer extensive costs. 

“Since January, we’ve lost eight labor and delivery units in Iowa because of problems with the Medicaid system that Governor Reynolds has privatized,” Petersen said at the Monday press conference. “If you add that to the loss of more than 100,000 Iowans from Medicare expansion, you can kiss our rural hospitals goodbye.”

Britt wrote an email to The DI that a public-option health-care plan could force more than 50 rural hospitals in Iowa to close.

“The public option, a far-left proposal that Iowa Democrats have embraced, would cost hospitals millions … No surprise Democrats aren’t talking about that, instead spewing disingenuous talking points to mislead Iowa voters,” Britt wrote.

Confirmation hearings will continue through Thursday, and then the committee will vote on Oct. 22. After that, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will bring Barrett’s nomination to a floor vote.

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