WASHINGTON – In a speech delivered on the Senate Floor today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) denounced Senate Republicans' ongoing rush to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court ahead of the presidential election, instead of focusing on passing meaningful COVID-19 relief for Americans.
Senator Heinrich highlighted what is at stake should Judge Barrett be confirmed, including the threats facing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The upcoming California v. Texas Supreme Court case jeopardizes the health coverage of more than 800,000 New Mexicans living with preexisting conditions, in addition to more than 250,000 New Mexicans who have benefitted from the ACA's Medicaid expansion. In his remarks, Senator Heinrich said that he is particularly worried about the impact on the people in Indian Country who have been severely impacted by the pandemic.
"In New Mexico, tribal nations have experienced heartbreaking losses and health care resources in tribal communities have been severely strained. I can’t even imagine how much worse this situation could become if the health coverage provided by the Affordable Care Act were ripped away," said Heinrich. "When we passed the Affordable Care Act, I fought hard to include a permanent reauthorization of the entire Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which supports all of the care provided to Native Americans through the Indian Health Service. An estimated 290,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives also gained health coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. All of that is at risk if the Supreme Court overturns the Affordable Care Act."
Senator Heinrich also pointed to the fact that confirming Judge Barrett threatens not just access to affordable health care, but also marriage equality, a woman's right to choose, the integrity of our elections, and addressing climate change.
"In her hearing last week, Judge Barrett also refused to take a ‘firm view’ on climate change. We have major wildfires burning right now in northern New Mexico, Colorado and California. We don’t have time to debate the undisputed facts of climate change, especially with a Judge that would strip us of the tools needed to address it," said Heinrich.
Senator Heinrich's remarks as prepared for delivery are below:
Today more than 220,000 Americans are dead from the coronavirus.
There are more than 4 million fewer jobs than when Donald Trump took office.
We are still squarely in the middle of this pandemic and an economic crisis—the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Great Depression.
In recent weeks, cases of the coronavirus have risen dramatically in New Mexico and across the entire country.
Everyone is rightly worried about whether our schools, our child care centers, and our small businesses can acquire the resources and equipment they need to reopen safely.
We still don’t have enough resources or even a real national plan for testing and contact tracing, much less for treatments and the eventual nationwide distribution of an FDA-approved vaccine that will allow us to finally get a handle on the virus.
And if we don’t pass real economic relief in the coming weeks, many families in New Mexico will face desperate choices between paying their bills, keeping a roof over their heads, or putting food on the table.
Yet, here we are using valuable time on a Supreme Court confirmation process that should never have been taken up before the election.
Senate Republicans say they aren’t going to negotiate another Coronavirus Relief package.
They say it’s more important to ram a Supreme Court nominee through a broken and nakedly political process than it is to help the people we were elected to serve.
Clearly, nothing—not even the lives and livelihoods of the American people—will get in the way of their power grab designed to reward their biggest donors and the most extreme interests.
Well, let me say this clearly: I disagree.
There is still so much we need to do to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and support families, workers, and businesses who are struggling, and rebuild our communities.
But with Senate Republicans refusing to do that, let’s discuss in real terms what they are doing instead.
Considering and confirming Supreme Court nominees is one of a Senator’s most solemn duties under the Constitution.
We are supposed to take it seriously and deliberately. But Senate Republicans have thrown out the rulebook.
It started when – with nearly a full year remaining in President Obama’s final term – Senate Republicans refused to even hold hearings on Merrick Garland, the nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Then, they dismantled the rules that had ensured both parties would have a seat at the table on Supreme Court nominations.
And then they bull-rushed the vetting process for Justice Kavanaugh’s lifetime appointment to the Court despite multiple, credible allegations of sexual misconduct.
After all of that, I suppose it should have come as no surprise that Majority Leader McConnell waited less than an hour after the announcement of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death to say that he was going to push the envelope even further.
So here we are.
Leader McConnell and Republicans are now forcing the Senate to rush through another partisan Supreme Court confirmation battle—mere weeks, and now mere days before Election Day.
They are shamelessly discarding their own precedents, breaking their own rules, and abandoning their own words.
And they are trampling the legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Before her death, Justice Ginsburg told her granddaughter that her “most fervent wish” was that her seat wouldn’t be filled until after the next president is inaugurated.
Justice Ginsburg served on our nation’s highest court for nearly three decades and worked for decades before that to move our country’s laws toward greater equality.
She understood that the American people must trust that the Supreme Court Justices are acting above the partisan politics of the moment.
The next presidential election is now less than two weeks away. Millions of Americans have already voted for their next president and next senators.
I believe that these Americans deserve a voice in this process.
In the words of Majority Leader McConnell, as reported in the Washington Post on February 18, 2016:
“Given that we are in the midst of a presidential election process, the American people should seize the opportunity to weigh in on whom they trust to nominate the next person for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”
The Senate should follow that precedent and allow voters to decide who should fill this Supreme Court seat.
So, what has changed for Majority Leader McConnell?
Well, in the last decade, the Court has made razor thin 5 to 4 rulings on women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, workers’ rights, immigration, voting rights, civil rights, climate change, and so much else.
My Republican colleagues will say that these decisions were made by “activist judges” and all they want are judges who will call “balls and strikes.”
But what they really want are judges who will make those calls consistently biased towards wealth and power, rather than people.
For all the talk of “activist judges”, it is my Republican colleagues that are – right now – attempting to add one whopper of an “activist judge” to the Supreme Court.
Next month the Supreme Court will take up President Trump’s case to eliminate the Affordable Care Act in its entirety.
In the middle of a pandemic that has now killed more than 220,000 Americans, and infected millions more, the Supreme Court is taking up a case that could eliminate health care coverage for millions of Americans.
Judge Barrett refused to answer questions about the Affordable Care Act during her confirmation hearing last week.
But her views on the health care law are clear – and they are exposed in the public record.
Judge Barrett has repeatedly and publicly criticized the Affordable Care Act.
She has said that the Supreme Court should have already invalidated it. If Senate Republicans have their way, she will have the opportunity to do just that.
What would it mean if the Supreme Court overturns the Affordable Care Act?
It means bringing back discrimination, higher costs, and even outright denial of coverage for more than 800,000 New Mexicans living with pre-existing conditions like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and now COVID-19.
I am particularly worried about what this would mean for the people in Indian Country who have been severely impacted by the pandemic.
In New Mexico, tribal nations have experienced heartbreaking losses and health care resources in tribal communities have been severely strained.
I can’t even imagine how much worse this situation could become if the health coverage provided by the Affordable Care Act were ripped away.
When we passed the Affordable Care Act, I fought hard to include a permanent reauthorization of the entire Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which supports all of the care provided to Native Americans through the Indian Health Service.
An estimated 290,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives also gained health coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion.
All of that is at risk if the Supreme Court overturns the Affordable Care Act.
If Judge Barrett is confirmed, she will also attack other important Supreme Court precedents, from Roe v. Wade to the recent marriage equality decisions.
She dodged questions on these issues during her hearing.
But her academic and judicial record make clear Judge Barrett’s extreme beliefs and philosophy.
In her hearing last week, Judge Barrett also refused to take a “firm view” on climate change.
We have major wildfires burning right now in northern New Mexico, Colorado and California.
We don’t have time to debate the undisputed facts of climate change, especially with a Judge that would strip us of the tools needed to address it.
Tellingly, Judge Barrett also refused to agree to recuse herself from any decisions related to the upcoming presidential election.
Given that President Trump considers Judge Barrett “his” Justice, this creates a dangerous conflict of interest.
It’s also a very real threat to the foundation of the Supreme Court as an equal and independent branch of the government.
Meanwhile, instead of attempting to tear down our Democracy, the House of Representatives has passed multiple coronavirus relief bills over the last six months that would help these workers and families.
And they are ready and willing to negotiate with the president and Leader McConnell to come to bipartisan agreement.
But Majority Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans have walked away from the negotiating table – leaving us with nothing but false promises and sham bills to provide themselves political cover.
We all know the real story here.
Behind closed doors, Majority Leader McConnell is actively discouraging negotiations on a bipartisan relief bill.
Let me say this to the Majority Leader and all of my Republican colleagues:
If voters reelect your Republican majority and President Trump, there will be plenty of time to move forward with a real, legitimate Supreme Court confirmation process.
Right now, we should be focusing all of our energy on delivering the aid Americans desperately need.
Protecting the health and economic well-being of Americans: that’s what our country expects of us. And that’s our duty. Let’s get to it.