U.S. lawmakers are preparing for an historic confirmation battle over President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, that will play out just weeks before the November 3 presidential election.
The process started Tuesday with Barrett, who would be Trump's third conservative appointee to the nation's highest court if confirmed, heading to Capitol Hill for a series of key meetings with Republican Senators.
"Judge Barrett represents the best of America personally, in terms of her great intellect and her great background," Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday as he accompanied Barrett on Capitol Hill. "And we have every confidence that as the American people learn more about Judge Amy Coney Barrett, they will be as inspired as President Trump was when he made her nomination."
She also met with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham and Republican committee members Mike Crapo, Chuck Grassley, Mike Lee and Senator Ted Cruz.
Cruz addressed Congressional Democrats' calls for Barrett to recuse herself from any election-related cases if she is confirmed.
"The entire reason the Senate should act and should act promptly to confirm a ninth justice is so the Supreme Court can resolve any cases that arise in the wake of the election," Cruz said Tuesday.
Democrats are strongly opposed to Barrett and Republicans' acceleration of the confirmation process. They maintain the winner of the presidential election should nominate a successor to liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on September 18 at the age of 87. Most Americans share that perspective, according to national polls.
Democrats also have voiced concerns that Barrett could cast a deciding vote in a Supreme Court case on November 10, in which Trump and Republican allies are asking the court to strike down Obamacare, a nationwide health care law known formally as the Affordable Care Act.
Senator Chris Coons, a Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would meet with Barrett despite his concerns.
"What's at issue is her judicial philosophy, her policies, and so I look forward to questioning her about that," Coons told Fox News Tuesday. "President Trump, before he chose her, said that he would only pick someone for the Supreme Court who would overturn the Affordable Care Act."
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Democrats' concerns about Barrett's approach to rulings on the Affordable Care Act were unfounded.
"One of the preselected scare tactics is that Judge Barrett is out to steal Americans health care coverage," McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "That's the claim this mother of seven, including multiple children who were born or adopted facing pre-existing medical challenges, is just itching to block families like hers from accessing medical care. What a joke."
The 48-year-old Barrett is a devout Catholic who is very popular among conservative evangelical Christians, arguably among Trump's most loyal supporters. Abortion rights groups are concerned that Barrett's confirmation could threaten the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion in the U.S.
As a professor at Notre Dame Law School, Barrett expressed some criticism of the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, which protects a pregnant women's right to have an abortion without unnecessary government restriction.
Barrett currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit after being nominated by Trump and confirmed by the Senate in 2017.
Since her confirmation to the 7th Circuit, Barrett has written more than 100 opinions that have consistently reflected her conservative values.
The informal meetings this week are part of a traditional process leading to confirmation hearings that are set to begin on October 12. A Barrett confirmation would give the court a clear 6-3 conservative majority.
Graham has said the Judiciary Committee will probably vote on Barrett's nomination on October 22, paving the way for a vote before the full Senate, where Trump's Republican allies have a 53-47 majority. That vote could be scheduled as early as October 26.
Wayne Lee contributed to this report.