Oct 14, 2020

The Amy Coney Barrett hearings.

The Amy Coney Barrett hearings.

Plus, I ask you to share something special.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 9 minutes.

The Amy Coney Barret hearings. Plus, I skip the reader question to ask you to share something that’s very important to me.

Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse shows a chart of conservative funding behind judicial nominees to Amy Coney Barrett. Screenshot: Fox News

Reader feedback.

On Monday, I answered a question about what percentage of Trump supporters are actually extremists. In it, I expressed a hesitancy to define any view held by 40% of the country as being “extreme.”

Patricia from Chicago, Illinois, replied with this feedback: "You seemed to imply that you can’t call an action or belief extreme if more than 40% of that population believes in it. Slavery and the Holocaust would vote against you. The belief that Jews and Blacks are inherently wrong to the point of malevolence was believed by over 40% of the population. Heck, maybe 90%. Those beliefs were wrong and they didn't get more right just because they were the lay of the land. Your answer wasn't wrong (in the end, I gathered, that the answer was: it’s complicated lol). But I personally rejected the notion that populations can't be wrong about stuff as a whole because majority rules, like we’re still in 4th grade.”

Quick hits.

  1. The United States Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration to pause the U.S. census count this week. The census is used to decide things like how to apportion representation in Congress, and Democrats are accusing the Trump administration of cutting it short for political gain.
  2. NBC says Donald Trump will hold a town hall on its network at the same time Thursday night that Joe Biden was scheduled to hold a town hall on ABC after the debate between the candidates was canceled.
  3. The “unmasking” investigation that President Trump and Republican members of Congress said would yield indictments and arrests appears to have concluded without any charges or public reports, according to The Washington Post.
  4. The New York Post claims it obtained a laptop that belonged to Hunter Biden and contains emails showing Joe Biden lied about how involved he’s been with his son’s business dealings. Reporters have pointed out the red flags in the story, saying the details are suspicious and the actors involved are Trump loyalists.
  5. New COVID-19 cases are trending upward in a majority of American states, with 16 states recording more new cases in a seven-day period ending this week than they have at any other time during the pandemic.

What D.C. is talking about.

The Amy Coney Barrett hearings. The Supreme Court nominee faced her first day of questioning yesterday from the Senate judiciary committee. She will face another day of questioning today before the hearings end tomorrow.

Quickly, it became apparent that Democrats had few options in the way of slowing down or stopping the nomination. "We do not have some secret, clever, procedural way to stop this sham,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said. “Let's be honest… probably not going to be some brilliant cross-examination that is going to change the trajectory of this nomination.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) made a similar point: “This is probably not about persuading each other unless something really dramatic happens... All the Republicans will vote yes, all the Democrats will vote no.”

Instead, Republicans have spent most of the hearing praising Barrett — for her qualifications, her faith, her family and the model she’s setting for other Americans. Democrats, instead of spending their time on probing questions, have mostly used their minutes to give a final pitch on the upcoming election: they’ve talked about how Barrett’s nomination may impact Roe v. Wade, the Affordable Care Act, and the dark money influence on the federal courts. They’ve pressed Barrett about her support for President Trump’s most unpopular positions.

Throughout her responses, Barrett did her best to emphasize her own independence. She said she would not be a “pawn” of President Trump’s, insisted she sometimes disagrees with her role model (conservative icon Antonin Scalia) and said she did not believe Roe v. Wade was a super precedent — or a law that could not be overturned because of previous Supreme Court rulings.

Below, we’ll break down how folks on the left and right are reacting to the hearings, and then my take.

What the right is saying.

It’s a home run. It’s two home runs. It’s a grand slam inside a touchdown inside a slam dunk. Take whatever sports metaphor you like, conservatives are thrilled with Barrett and the outcome of the hearing: it’s clear she’s going to be confirmed and Democrats haven’t laid a glove on her (yes, that’s a boxing metaphor).

“Senate Democrats are trying to turn the confirmation hearing on Amy Coney Barrett into a political victory for their party, but so far they’ve failed miserably,” Betsy McCaughey wrote in the New York Post. “Barrett is the poster-woman the GOP needs to attract college-educated female voters and help close the gender gap come November… They warn that in a case already before the high court, Barrett would provide the fifth vote to overturn ObamaCare. The message: Blame Trump…

“Yet Barrett’s past legal reasoning suggests she is unlikely to vote to overturn the entire law. More important to most people watching, Barrett has compassion and real-world experience dealing with costly medical problems. She took pains to explain that when she first brought her adopted daughter Vivian home from Haiti, doctors predicted the baby would never be able to walk or talk. Barrett has six other children now, including another son, JP, adopted from Haiti and a youngster with Down syndrome.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said that while the hearings lack drama, they are still “instructive” because they are revealing “how Democrats view [the Supreme Court] as a mini-legislature to achieve policy goals, rather than a real judicial body.”

“Democrats are asking very little about the actual law or Judge Barrett’s jurisprudential thinking,” the board wrote. “Instead, one after another, Democrats have used their time to focus on a parade of policy horribles if she is confirmed. And for emotional effect, they brought along photo displays of children and women who would supposedly be her victims on health care, abortion, gun violence and more.”

In Fox News, Jim DeMint channeled the Trump base’s feelings about the hearings, saying they proved that you are not allowed to disagree with the left.

“To them, the whole point of the unaccountable power of the Supreme Court is to allow progressive Justices to impose their values on every business, church, school charity, city, county and state in the nation,” he wrote. “For all their rhetoric about ‘democracy,’ progressives revere Supreme Court decisions that overturn or rewrite democratically passed laws according to their values – Roe, Casey, Lawrence, Obergefell, and the rest. The woke left wants the Court to remake America according to the faddish whims of the richest, most powerful (almost all of them white) people in the country… President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett, on the other hand, holds the quaint view that the Constitution protects the equal rights of all, and that Courts are supposed to be impartial referees, ensuring the law follows the Constitution and is enforced with justice.”

What the left is saying.

The left is standing firm in their opposition to her nomination, but they have little in the way of options to stop it or slow it down. Nothing that’s happened so far will derail it, and many were simply trying to illustrate how bad she was going to be for Americans’ control over their own lives.

Perhaps most disturbing, Dana Milbank wrote, was Barrett’s refusal to chime in on whether Trump could postpone the election, participate in voter intimidation, or should make a commitment to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses.

“Judge Amy Coney Barrett wasn’t inclined to opine on anything — not on whether in vitro fertilization is ‘tantamount to manslaughter,’ not on whether she might support re-criminalizing homosexuality and certainly not on whether she’d invalidate Obamacare or Roe v. Wade,” Milbank wrote. “But the most chilling moment of her Supreme Court confirmation testimony Tuesday came when she said she would ‘need to hear arguments’ about whether President Trump can postpone the election…

“What? Sure, nominees try to avoid the slippery slope of opining on potential cases, but there is no room for argument here, especially from a self-proclaimed ‘originalist’ and ‘textualist.’ Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution states: ‘The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.’”

As Republicans claimed that Barrett’s devout Catholicism does not disqualify her from the court, and expressed offense at her faith being probed, Wajahat Ali asked in The New York Times, “How would Republicans behave if Judge Barrett were a Democrat whose strongly held religious beliefs came from Islam instead of Catholicism?

“Republicans would demand she prove that she was not ‘working with our enemies.’ That’s what Glenn Beck, the conservative radio host and conspiracy theorist, called for when Keith Ellison was elected as the first Muslim to Congress. They’d probably use her faith to accuse her of hoping to create a ‘Shariah state’ through judicial activism. That what conservative bloggers did in 2011 when Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey nominated Sohail Mohammed, a Muslim originally from India, for a seat on the Superior Court of Passaic County. If Judge Barrett wore a hijab, Jeanine Pirro, the Fox News host, would question whether her religious beliefs were in opposition to the Constitution. That’s the ugly accusation Ms. Pirro levied against Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota in 2019.”

In The Washington Post, Molly Roberts asked why we even bother with these hearings. We know how Barrett feels about Roe v. Wade (she signed an ad demanding an “end to the barbaric legacy”) and we know she feels that parts of the Affordable Care Act are illegal.

“Why does Barrett bother to avoid saying what she really thinks?” Roberts wrote. “All the Republicans will vote yes; all the Democrats will vote no. The reason: to uphold the myth of judicial independence (and eliminate even any hint that the White House might have extracted promises from its chosen champion). Each is part of the ritual performance. A slim majority of senators in the audience was ready to deliver a standing ovation before the curtain rose, and the minority was itching to hurl tomatoes.”

My take.

About two weeks ago, I wrote that this would be one of the most intense nomination hearings in American history — but that Barrett would be confirmed easily. It turns out I got half of that right: Barrett is going to be confirmed easily, and this has been one of the least interesting or spirited nomination hearings I’ve watched yet.

Everyone seems resigned to the outcome, and Democrats are playing it safe with an election around the corner that they know they are winning. Overstepping here by insulting Barrett, or Catholics, moms or women, could only do damage to Joe Biden. And with few tools to stop what’s happening — after a COVID-19 outbreak in the White House didn’t even slow this down — Democrats seem to be accepting that fact. Instead, they focused on the reality of a conservative court, and the fact that it will put some of the most popular progressive policies in the country on the chopping block.

The thing that stuck out to me the most yesterday was the mental gymnastics Republican senators were doing on the Affordable Care Act. The emerging talking point now on the right, as reflected in the Senate and the punditry, is that the Trump administration’s Supreme Court challenge of the Affordable Care Act is destined to fail, so don’t worry about it.

This is pretty remarkable. Trump ran on promising to abolish Obamacare and replace it with something better and cheaper. His administration is now challenging the ACA in the Supreme Court, nominating a justice who has written that parts of Obamacare are unconstitutional, and — five years and many, many promises later — Republicans and Trump have not even proposed a replacement for it. Now that Democrats have successfully made it a talking point, the Republican message is: don’t worry about that court case, we don’t really mean it? And it’s not going to work anyway?

Even Will Chamberlain, one of the loudest Trump sycophants on Twitter, had to concede the absurdity of it all. “For the life of me, I do not understand why the Trump DOJ thought it would be smart to press a terrible challenge to the ACA in the courts, without a legislative replacement ready to go. Stupid, futile, and politically damaging.”

I’ve written this before and I’ll say it again: questions about the hypocrisy of this process aside, Barrett is not as predictable as people might think. And I do agree that the current challenge to the ACA will fail, but that doesn’t mean subsequent challenges with Barrett on the court will also fail. And yet, she’s clearly the most qualified judge Trump has appointed to any court, period. She was the right pick for conservatives, and so far, the hearings are proving it.


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A story that matters.

This past spring, Congress created a program that was designed to save aviation industry jobs. But a new ProPublica report details how the program was undermined by the Trump administration and ultimately gave hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money to the companies to support jobs that had already been eliminated. As a result, thousands of workers at airline companies and other contractors are out of work while their employers took government money that was supposed to be used to help them keep their jobs. At least two of those companies used the taxpayer money to restore full pay to management positions.


  • 48%. The percentage of registered voters who believe Amy Coney Barrett should be confirmed.
  • 31%. The percentage of registered voters who believe Amy Coney Barrett should not be confirmed.
  • 11. The overall percentage point increase of voters who support Barrett’s nomination since Trump announced her as the nominee on September 26th.
  • 64%. The percentage of voters who say Anthony Fauci has been excellent or good on his handling of the coronavirus.
  • 39%. The percentage of voters who say Donald Trump has been excellent or good on his handling of the coronavirus.
  • 1 in 4. The number of social media users who say the QAnon conspiracy theories are at least somewhat accurate (Editor’s note: they are not somewhat accurate).
  • These early voting numbers:

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In 2009, an Oregon dad was taking his daughter to a playground in Portland when he noticed a serious problem: it wasn’t accessible for her. His daughter was in a wheelchair, and the design of the playground made it impossible for her to enjoy her time there. So he set out on a mission to redesign the local playground for his daughter. What started as a one-time thing turned into the Harper’s Foundation, and now this dad’s playground designs are spreading all across the United States. “The space has to be physically inviting, so if you use wheels you can get absolutely everywhere,” G Cody QJ Goldberg, the father, said. “Then we say it should be socially inviting, with circular seating areas, communal gathering spaces and the use of nature. And then the third level is what we call emotionally inviting, and that’s by using art, good design lines, music, and things that put us in an even better emotional state.”

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