Ignore the bait: Why it’s the right strategy for Democrats to focus SCOTUS fight on health care

The national media - and Republican enablers of Donald Trump - are hoping that Democrats would turn the nomination and confirmation hearings of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, whom Donald Trump nominated to the Supreme Court on Saturday, into a directionless exercise in outrage that Republicans can frame as anti-Catholic or sexist.

That’s not happening.

For over a week, as Republicans have gleefully celebrated the prospect of an October judicial power grab, Democrats have honed their message to center one theme: health care and the Republicans’ mission to repeal the Affordable Care Act and all of its protections through judicial activism of an archconservative Court.

This morning, Joe Biden spoke at length about Trump’s attempt to eliminate the Affordable Care Act through right-wing court-packing in a speech this morning carried live by all cable networks, his campaign’s statement in the aftermath of Judge Barrett’s nomination.


Here’s Speaker Pelosi making the message clear just today on CNN’s State of the Union:


Following the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer’s statement opened with the following paragraph:

The American people should make no mistake—a vote by any Senator for Judge Amy Coney Barrett is a vote to strike down the Affordable Care Act and eliminate protections for millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions. By nominating Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, President Trump has once again put Americans’ healthcare in the crosshairs. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage, unabated by this Administration, healthcare was already the number one issue on the ballot in November. President Trump has promised to nominate Supreme Court Justices who will “terminate” our health care law and decimate the health care system for American Indians and Alaska Natives. In Judge Barrett, President Trump has found the deciding vote.

This message didn’t just spring into existence this weekend. Pelosi, Schumer, Biden and other influential Democrats and Biden campaign surrogates have been hammering this message home for the past week.

And this is the right fight. Not because a number of other issues - such as theocratic tendencies of right wing courts, the unlimited injection of untraceable cash in our politics, due process and police accountability, and a woman’s right to choose - don’t hang in the balance or are not important, but because health care (which encompasses a woman’s right to a full range of reproductive health care) is a voting issue that wins elections for Democrats.

Democrats leveraged the Republicans’ failed legislative attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act during the first two years of the Trump administration. Not only did the message turn GOP summer town halls to their nightmares, but the laser-focused campaign on protecting the guarantees of Obamacare netted Democrats 40 seats in the House and made Nancy Pelosi Speaker again.

If the Supreme Court overturns Obamacare, which the Trump-Barr Justice Department is urging the Court to do in a case due to be heard a week after the election, at least 100 million Americans will immediately lose protections against pre-existing conditions discrimination, 20 million people will lose health coverage they have right now, all Americans will lose essential health benefits like no-copay preventive care, and all Americans will lose protections against annual and lifetime limits on health benefits, among other things.

That’s why the Affordable Care Act is popular. In fact, the ACA and abortion rights are more popular than either presidential candidate.


Republicans know this, and Donald Trump is running scared of this. He and the GOP are again promising to produce a magic health care plan the Republican party has failed to do in the past 10 years. The GOP and the national media will do everything they can to get a rise out of Democrats and distract the focus away from health care. We cannot let them.

One of the advantages of having a nominee who is, above all, a realist, is that Democrats in Congress understand something clearly: with Republicans in charge of the Senate, confirmation hearings, a Senate floor vote, and the eventual confirmation of Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court are likely scenarios unless something big changes. While Democrats in the Senate will do everything in their power, including attempting to persuade a few more vulnerable Republicans, they know that no amount of appeal to fairness or calling out hypocrisy is likely to dissuade Republicans from utilizing their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to seize the federal judiciary for a generation.

But they can be made to pay a high price at the polls. It can be argued that in the midst of a raging pandemic, health care is an even more important issue in 2020 than it was in 2018. And everything from being able to legislatively remedy an adverse decision on the Affordable Care Act to being able to reform the courts to insulate them from political influence depends on this election (and ones following it) resulting in unified Democratic control of the elected branches of government.

It is the right strategy to coalesce Democratic campaigns and the Barrett nomination fight around health care, health care, and health care.

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