The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Judge Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court on Thursday, clearing the way for a full Senate vote in the week before the election.
All 12 Republicans on the committee voted to advance the nomination, while all 10 Democrats boycotted the vote. With Democrats absent, large photographs of people who rely on the Affordable Care Act for their health care were placed in front of their empty chairs at the meeting. Democrats have raised concerns that Barrett would vote to overturn the ACA if confirmed to the court, given her previous criticism of a ruling upholding the law.
However, the Democrats' boycott did not stop Republicans from moving forward with her nomination. At the meeting on Thursday morning, Graham said that it was Democrats' "choice" to boycott the vote, but "we're not going to allow them to take over the committee."
Graham, who is currently embroiled in a tough reelection fight, said that confirming a conservative justice made up for the difficulties of being a senator.
"It's moments like this that make everything you go through matter," Graham said. "This is a groundbreaking, historic moment for the American legal community and really politically."
Graham also reminded Democrats that they were the first to change the rules around confirming judicial nominees in 2013, when then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid invoked the "nuclear option" to require only 51 votes to confirm a judge to the federal bench, instead of 60 votes. Reid and Senate Democrats invoked the 2013 rule change to circumvent Republican filibusters of Democratic nominees. In 2017, current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used the nuclear option to require only 51 votes to confirm a judge to the Supreme Court as well.
"I remember telling Senator Schumer, 'You will regret this.' Today, he will regret it," Graham said, referring to now-Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. "They started this, not me."
Senate Democrats appeared at a press conference outside the Capitol on Thursday slamming the decision to push through with Barrett's nomination ahead of the election.
"The nomination of Amy Coney Barrett is the most illegitimate process I have ever witnessed in the Senate. And her potential confirmation will have dire, dire consequences for the Senate, for the Supreme Court and our entire country for generations to come," Schumer said.
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said that the Republicans' actions were "in violation of fair play."
"We believe the American people should have the last word in filling the Supreme Court vacancy, and they will have the last word on November 3," Durbin said.
Thursday's boycott by Democrats came after Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member of the committee, is under fire from members of her own party for praising Graham's handling of the confirmation hearings.
"This is one of the best set of hearings that I have participated in," Feinstein told Graham on thefor Barrett last week.
Democrats argue that Republicans should not push through a confirmation vote just days before the election, four years after the GOP majority blocked President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court from even receiving a hearing because it was an election year.
"Republicans broke the promises they made and rules they created when they blocked Merrick Garland's nomination for eight months under President Obama," Schumer said in a statement on Wednesday. "Now, Republicans have moved at breakneck speed to jam through this nominee, ignoring her troubling record and unprecedented evasions, and breaking longstanding committee rules to set tomorrow's vote."
Republicans argue that it is not hypocritical to vote to confirm Barrett to the court ahead of the election, because now the Republican Party controls both the Senate and the White House.
Democrats have also pushed back against Barrett's conservative records, and raised concerns that she would vote to overturn the ACA and Roe v. Wade, and rule against LGBTQ rights. At her confirmation hearings last week, Barrett declined to indicate how she would rule on cases that might come before the court, a tactic that has been deployed by Supreme Court nominees of both parties.
She also sidestepped questions about whether the president has the right to unilaterally delay an election and her views on climate change.
Now that Barrett's nomination has been advanced by the committee, the final Senate confirmation vote is expected to occur the week of October 26, days before the election.