WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, joined CNN New Day with Alisyn Camerota to discuss the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s impact on national issues including gender equity and health care.
“It was Justice Ginsburg's dying wish, dictated to her granddaughter on Rosh Hashanah that the voters should choose the next president and the next president should choose her successor, because she knows the future of gender equity, of the Affordable Care Act, of so much more, clean air, clean water, labor rights and the right to organize—it all hangs in the balance,” said Senator Coons. “We have six million Americans who have been infected in this pandemic, largely exacerbated by Trump's bungled response, who may now have new pre-existing conditions. […] The Affordable Care Act protects women against discrimination by insurance companies on the basis of being women, which is exactly the sort of legacy that Justice Ginsburg would want us to fight really hard for.”
“We are 43 days from an election, not ten months from an election. Voters are already casting ballots in half of our states. It is the height of hypocrisy to having held open Justice Scalia's seat to four years later do the exact opposite less than six weeks before the election,” added Senator Coons.
Audio and video is available here. A transcript is provided below.
Q: All eyes on Republican senators as they prepare to hear President Trump's Supreme Court pick. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins say they oppose the effort to confirm a nominee before Election Day. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to move quickly, though, despite his decision to ignore President Obama's election year nominee in 2016. Here is what Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said at the time: “I want you to use my words against me. If there's a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say, Lindsey Graham said, ‘let's let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.’ And you can use my words against me and you would be absolutely right.” Joining us now, Democratic Senator Chris Coons, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would hold confirmation hearings. Senator, nice to see you. Have you run into Lindsey Graham over the past few days or talked to him about why that seeming massive flip-flop?
Sen. Coons: Alisyn, no, I haven't reached out to Chairman Graham over the weekend. I will see him later today. And I do intend to have conversations, not just with him, but with a number of other colleagues, Republicans and independents, because at the end of the day, this is in their hands, to decide whether they're going to violate their own precedent, which as you quoted Lindsey Graham saying there, they set in 2016, whether they're just going to flip-flop, turn right back around and say, oh, it doesn't matter that we're 43 days from an election, it doesn't matter that there are voters voting in half the states, in 25 states, we're going to barrel ahead with a partisan exercise and force through a conservative justice. Alisyn, let me just take a moment and thank you for the segment you just did, honoring and remembering those who have passed away during this pandemic; the nearly 200,000 Americans who have died. I also think we should take just one breath to recognize the remarkable legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a towering giant, despite her diminutive size, a clarion call, a forceful voice for justice despite her sometimes soft-spoken nature. She was a fierce advocate, particularly for gender equity. Health care is on the ballot. It was Justice Ginsburg's dying wish, dictated to her granddaughter on Rosh Hashanah that the voters should choose the next president and the next president should choose her successor because she knows that the future of gender equity, of the Affordable Care Act, of so much more, clean air, clean water, labor rights and the right to organize – it all hangs in the balance.
Q: We appreciate you taking a moment to remember all of that. I hear you. We do speed ahead with what's next because all of this feels so urgent and so critical. Part of the reason we wanted to talk to you is because we know that you do have those across-the-aisle conversations and you do try to make those personal appeals to your Republican colleagues. Have you had any of those conversations yet?
Sen. Coons: Yes.
Q: And what have they told you?
Sen. Coons: Well, I'm not going to repeat it here on national television, but, you know, look, I'm very grateful that two senators have come out with clear positions, in particular Senator Murkowski of Alaska, I think, summed it up perfectly. Fair is fair. Senator Murkowski had just said on Friday, just coincidentally had repeated in an interview on Alaska Public Radio that the positions she took in 2016 should be the position that Republicans take in 2020. And then Justice Ginsburg passed away. It wasn't certain that she'd repeat that, but she has stuck to that position. I'm, of course, disappointed in a number of folks who are institutionalists, who are retiring senators, that they simply say, well, there's a Republican majority, so we're going to jam this through. The consequences for the institution of the Senate, for the legitimacy of the Supreme Court, for the American people are grave here. And I'll remind you, there is a case being argued in the Supreme Court the week after the election in which 18 Republican state attorneys general, with the support of President Trump, are trying to take away pre-existing health care condition protection from 100 million Americans. And we have 6 million Americans who have been infected in this pandemic, largely exacerbated by Trump's bungled response, who may now have new pre-existing conditions and the Affordable Care Act protects women against discrimination by insurance companies on the basis of being women, which is exactly the sort of legacy that Justice Ginsburg would want us to fight really hard for.
Q: I don't need you to share any of your verbatim conversations with Republicans, though if you want to, feel free. But what I'm getting at is, are there any that you have spoken to, beyond Collins and Murkowski, who have expressed some discomfort with moving ahead at this pace 43 days before an election?
Sen. Coons: Discomfort, yes. But, you know, look, at this point, this is going to be a very tough series of conversations in the next few days. Obviously, Majority Leader McConnell, President Trump, is going to push really hard on every single Republican to make up their minds quickly, to make a public declaration and not to move back from it. And at the end of the day, we're counting on a few Republicans to reflect on their conscience and to put country over party in this incredibly important moment.
Q: One of the things that you hear Republicans say, they invoke the Biden rule, the so-called Biden rule from, I think, 1992, he was speaking hypothetically. Do you have a response to them when they bring up the Biden rule and why that somehow makes all of this okay?
Sen. Coons: So, three things, if I could. You know, first, as I said repeatedly on the floor in 2016, they were misapplying a stray comment from 1992, if you went into the context – anyway, it did not strictly apply. If the Republican majority, when Justice Scalia passed in February, ten months before the election of 2016, chose to make a new rule, whoever they want to name it for, and then defended it and then reasserted it in 2018, they should be held to it. We are 43 days from an election, not ten months from an election. Voters are already casting ballots in half of our states. It is the height of hypocrisy to having held open Justice Scalia's seat to four years later do the exact opposite less than six weeks before the election, when Abraham Lincoln himself is the one president who, when a vacancy came up this close to an election, refused to fill it.
Q: Here are some live pictures of protests in front of the Supreme Court. And I understand that Democrats are very upset and frustrated about the hypocrisy, but Republicans, many of them vote for President Trump for this very moment. They like that they're going to get a conservative Supreme Court Justice. This is the moment they've been waiting for. And that might just be more powerful.
Sen. Coons: Well, that certainly has been a motivating factor for millions of American voters for decades. But my hope, my faith, is that there are millions more who see this moment for what it is: a moment of deep division in our country, where Donald Trump personally has accelerated that division, a moment where his failed leadership on responding to the pandemic has cost 200,000 American lives.