The White House Counsel’s Office is prepping Judge Amy Coney Barrett for her Senate confirmation hearings, where they anticipate the Supreme Court nominee will be questioned about a range of issues, including her nomination event in the Rose Garden which lead to President Trump and members of his inner circle testing positive for the novel coronavirus.
A senior administration official told Fox News that White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and “constitutional experts” within the White House Counsel’s Office are preparing Barrett for the confirmation hearings, which are slated to begin Monday, Oct. 12 before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and run through Thursday, Oct. 15.
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“Barrett will be an outstanding witness and will be confirmed,” the official told Fox News.
The official told Fox News that Cipollone and the team are prepping Barrett for questions on a range of issues — including the Sept. 26 nominating event in the Rose Garden.
After the event, the president, first lady Melania Trump, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, White House adviser Hope Hicks, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, former adviser Kellyanne Conway, director of Oval Office operations David Luna, Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, and Harvest Christian Fellowship Pastor Greg Laurie all tested positive for COVID-19.
The official told Fox News that they could not preview how Barrett would respond to that line of questioning, but defended the event, saying it was “held outdoors” and “there was a lot of testing done beforehand.”
“We have to reopen our country,” the official said. “We take precautions but we have to reopen our country, we have to continue our duties, and we had to nominate this outstanding judge to the Supreme Court.”
A White House aide told Fox News that Cipollone “knows what she’ll be questioned on.”
“He’ll know ways to navigate those without telegraphing too much to get through the confirmation,” the aide said.
Meanwhile, the official said the White House anticipates Barrett will be questioned on issues and cases involving abortion, specifically Roe v. Wade, and the Obamacare case that is pending before the high court.
“They are going to try a million different ways to get her to discuss cases that may come before her,” the official said. “But, with the Ginsburg rule, she won’t be doing that.”
Ginsburg, during her confirmation hearings in 1993, chose not to answer questions that may hint at how she would rule on a future case. The practice has been informally named the Ginsburg rule.
The official added: “She’s committed to being a fair-minded judge, who will set aside her personal opinions.”
Meanwhile, senior officials told Fox News that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has been tasked with prepping Barrett and shepherding her through the Senate.
“He knows exactly the senators we’ll need to win over, and the issues that matter to them,” one senior White House official told Fox News. “He knows which senators to target that could bring over votes for her, and will help her to remain independent and speak to her own judicial record to win those key votes. He’s a Capitol Hill strategist.”
“Between Pat’s legal mind and Meadows’ Hill mind, we feel we have the strongest team in place to get through this,” another White House official told Fox News.
“We understand we’re operating on an abbreviated timeline, but we’re embracing that,” the official told Fox News.
The president officially announced Barrett as his pick to fill the vacancy left by late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Sept. 26. An Oct. 12 start, 16 days from her official nomination, would be in line with that “abbreviated timeline.”
There were 48 days between the nomination of Gorsuch and his confirmation hearing in 2017 and 57 days between the nomination of Kavanaugh and his hearing.
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Senate Democrats are likely to seek to impede the confirmation as much as possible. They have objected to a confirmation so close to the election, citing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland in 2016.
McConnell, R-Ky., has said that the present situation is different because the White House and the Senate are not held by opposing parties.
Republicans, though, appear to have the votes to move forward and confirm Barrett. Republicans have 53 votes in the Senate and can therefore afford three defections if no Democrat votes for the nominee. In that instance, Vice President Mike Pence would be called in to break a tie.
So far, only Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, have indicated they oppose moving forward with a confirmation before the election. Murkowski has since suggested she still may vote for the nominee.
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Meanwhile, as for the Senate hearing, a committee aide told Fox News on Monday that staff is working with the Architect of the Capitol, Office of the Attending Physician, the Senate Sergeant at Arms, the Capitol Police, and the Rules Committee to ensure the nomination hearing for Judge Barrett is conducted safely and in accordance with public health recommendations.
Committee staff is making sure that there are PPE and sanitary stations, and there will be strict limits on people allowed into the hearing room among other precautions.
The aide also said that the committee will be meeting in a larger hearing room, in order to comply with the CDC’s and OAP’s recommendation of social distancing.
The aide also noted that “members have the option of appearing and questioning the witness in person or remotely,” and said that “each senator makes their own determination.” Members will have the option to participate virtually, as they have for all other recent Judiciary Committee hearings, the aide said.
The aide, though, said that Graham will appear in person.