Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: The unsurprising Amy Coney Barrett hearings

Oct 13, 2020

Columnist Eugene Robinson will be online every Tuesday at 1 p.m. Eastern for Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson, where he'll talk about the latest political and cultural developments. Catch up on the transcript of his latest chat below.

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Hello, everybody, and welcome to our weekly chat. The big news is the Amy Coney Barrett confirmation hearing, but there's not much suspense. Spoiler alert: She's going to be confirmed, because Republicans have the votes. Barrett is poised and practiced, and unlikely to slip up in any meaningful way. The only surprise so far is that Democrats have been so disciplined in keeping the focus on health care and the ACA. They're taking lemons and making lemonade -- getting a conservative Supreme Court justice rammed down their throats, but scoring political points just three weeks before Election Day. Republicans seem to understand this is not favorable terrain for them, but there's nothing they can do about it -- just as there's nothing Democrats can do about the fact that Barrett is going to be on the court. Meanwhile, President Trump is campaigning frantically as he faces polls that are catastrophic for his reelection chances. And he says he's now "immune" to covid-19 and wants to kiss everybody. Hang in there, everybody. More than 10 million people have already voted. If you haven't, do so now. Let's get started.

Are you surprised that Democrats are focusing more on ACA than on Roe v. Wade?

No, but I am surprised that they're doing so in such a disciplined way. Health care was a winning issue for Democrats in 2018 and it's on the ballot again right now. They're not giving Barrett's supporters an opening to say that she's being attacked for her faith or whatever. I think the discipline is freaking Republicans out.

Perhaps I am naïve, but I didn't think that the President could unilaterally expand the supreme court? Just because Republicans go lock step in with their leader, does that mean that Dems do as well? This should be turned around on the GOP, i.e. are they representing constituents to Govt or the President to Constituents.

An act of Congress could expand the Supreme Court. The president, of course, would have to sign it.

Please, Eugene, share your thoughts on the reports that trump wanted to return from Walter Reed to the White House, acting very weak and then triumphantly tearing off his shirt to reveal a Superman shirt underneath. Perhaps a bit of the "frantic desperation" you wrote about?

He's lucky that someone talked him out of it -- or told him they couldn't find a Superman shirt. I don't know if that was Trump's idea or if it was the dexamethasone talking. But you literally couldn't make this stuff up.

Is it possible that President Trump is providing a blue print to over-enthusiastic followers when he warns about the dangers of voting by mail? I could see his acolytes telling themselves that this is what the Dems are doing, so we'd better do it, too.

I think he's potentially hurting himself. We know that in states where we know voters' party id, Democrats are voting early in much bigger numbers than Republicans. Let's assume Democrats are also voting in larger numbers by mail. That means Trump and the Republicans have to count on a huge Election Day turnout, which may or may not materialize. I think Trump is hurting his ticket and his party with all of this rhetoric, but don't tell him.

Hi Eugene. Polls have shown a gap between trump and Biden voters in enthusiasm, but given the Early Voter turnout thus far, do you think the GOP has under-estimated the enthusiasm voters feel in voting them and trump out of office? Could this be the one election where voting against, as opposed to voting for, is just as important, if not more?

"Voting against" was more important in 2016, according to exit polls. I think it will be more important this year as well. And the fact that people stood in line in Georgia for up to 11 hours yesterday is just amazing. They could have come back the following day, or the following week, but they wanted to vote against Trump on the first possible day. That's what enthusiasm looks like.

Hello Mr. Robinson what is your opinion on schools opening up and allowing students to go in person? Shouldn't they wait until numbers are SIGNIFICANTLY lower?

I think it depends on local conditions. But in general, the infection rate in this country is tragically high, which makes it dangerous to open schools in much if not most of the country.

How can Lindsey Graham say that the ACA and Roe won't be overturned with Barrett on the court when that is exactly why they want her? If that were the case, what difference would a conservative/liberal judge make? Does he think we don't know what they are doing? I'm so tired of this double talk that we get from the GOP.

It is kind of silly, isn't it, to pretend they aren't confident that Barrett will vote to overturn Roe. (I'm not so sure about the ACA, given the weakness of the case seeking to throw it out.) We know why Republicans want her on the court. 

...has been phenomenal, and seems to be favoring Democrats. Should Republicans be quaking in their boots yet?

I really think they should be nervous, looking at those early-vote scenes and numbers. But we still have three weeks ago, so everybody who hasn't voted needs to do so.

I’m an artist. I LOVE the painting in the background when you do videos to msnbc. Please please tell me the name of the artist. Now more than ever we have to celebrate art!!!!

That painting is by my wife Avis Collins Robinson, who is (obviously) an artist. I love that piece, too!

Is anyone tracking the aftermath of President Trump's crowded, mostly maskless events? It seems like an ideal research subject to test the theories about how the disease spreads.

There hasn't been enough systematic contact-tracing. Of course, we do know of one Trump event -- the Rose Garden ceremony for Amy Coney Barrett -- that seems to have been a real super-spreader.

Hi Eugene. I agree with your piece, but I'm confused about the part where you say: "Democrats could and should enshrine rights the high court might no longer recognize — among them women's reproductive freedom, same-sex marriage and unobstructed access to the ballot box — in legislation." If the courts can invalidate the ACA, why couldn't they just invalidate legislation to enshrine the rights we've already seen them either invalidate or we're certain to see them invalidate in the future? Do you have a few words that would explain it? Thanks!

I mean that Congress could pass laws guaranteeing the right to abortion, guaranteeing same-sex couples the right to marry and guaranteeing voting rights -- and frame these laws in ways that the court would have to deem constitutional. For example, the House has already passed such legislation to reinstate the parts of the Voting Rights Act that were invalidated by the court. 

This feels absurd to even consider, but I feel that it must be asked: Are we absolutely, positively sure that this election won’t be delayed or, unthinkably, canceled? GOP members have promised that won’t happen, but should we trust their word at THIS point (hello, Lindsey!)? Watching these senators’ sycophantic fawning over the SCOTUS nominee today, determined to ram her through confirmation, I'm scared that this drunk-with-power party will do anything - even if it means defying the Constitution - to maintain it.

The election is already underway. It's happening. The aftermath could be a struggle if Trump tries to contest a loss, so everyone has to be ready for that fight. But we will have the election. 

I don't get it. What is the long term GOP plan here? I just read a poll that says the Democratic Party could possibly pick up seven seats in the Senate. And yet, the GOP Senators still tie themselves as tightly as possible to Trump. Doesn't seem very rational to me...thoughts?

They know that their base consists of Trump supporters, and they fear that if they abandon Trump, their voters will abandon them. But that means that if Trump goes down, they go down too.

I won't lie--I fear for the future of the ACA if the Supreme Courts gets a conservative supermajority. The way I understand it, if it gets repealed, every last one of us will be affected to some degree. And the definition of "pre-existing conditions," according to those I know in the medical field, is VERY wide. Up to now, I had thought that Republican leaders were smart enough to know that the ACA has saved countless lives by expanding coverage to those who were previously denied it, and that repealing it would be political suicide. Has that understanding suddenly fallen by the wayside and become an acceptable tradeoff for Republicans to get a supermajority on the Supreme Court?

Republicans are trying to play both sides of the ACA issue. They don't like it, and call it "socialized medicine," but they are beginning to realize that their constituents both like it and need it. So now the party pledges to support an insurance guarantee for those with preexisting conditions -- though Republicans have no credible story to tell about how they will deliver on that guarantee. 

Conventional wisdom says that if trump pushed for more Stimulus Aid, that the GOP Senate might split with him publicly on it. But doesn't trump hold the winning hand in being able to tell them that if they do not, he will just pull the Barrett nomination? Doesn't he hold the ultimate winning hand here?

Obviously Trump doesn't have the upper hand on stimulus, because if he did, he'd be showering the hinterlands with Sharpie-signed checks as we speak. He would love to be able to give voters a big bribe before Election Day. And Senate Republicans are the ones standing in his way.

McConnell presided over the destruction of norms that facilitated some degree of bipartisan collaboration. Dems were reluctant to fight back by accepting that these norms were gone. But the Barrett nomination, coupled with naked voter suppression, seems to have woken the party up to the need to fight back. Agree or disagree?

I agree. I think. Some Democrats still think wistfully of the days when the Senate was a clubby, chummy, across-the-aisle kind of place. That's clearly not what it is today. If Democrats do take power in the Senate, they need to use it.

Doesn't your statement that Congress could enshrine the right to an abortion, equal rights to marry, and a host of other issues just show that the historically conservative (which, as we know, is no longer the modern Republican party) view that those matters were properly the subject of legislative action, and shouldn't have been "found" by the courts to be in the Constitution, was right all along?

No, I think those rights are in the Constitution already. But if Republicans find enough Supreme Court justices who disagree, then Congress can make them explicit.

Hi Eugene. Given that so many of us believe that Democracy itself is on the ballot, after 4 years of sustained assault by trump and his GOP enablers in Congress and elsewhere, I don't particularly like the phrase, "partisan divide" because I believe it is patriotic American response to something we've never seen in our lifetimes. What would be the one thing you think the Press needs to do better than they have to uphold the WAPO motto that "Democracy Dies In Darkness"?

I think you're getting at an important lesson we should have learned by now, which is that this isn't a "both sides" situation. It's not that the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are equally responsible for the mess we're in. It's that the Republican Party lost its mind and became a cult that worships Donald Trump. That's not opinion, it's just truth.

Gene, I get tense whenever I hear about how strong Biden and the Dems are doing because I remember the last election and hearing how Trump couldn't possibly win. (And yes, I know, Clinton won the popular vote.) Please reassure me that things really are different this time.

Everybody has PTSD. All that anyone can absolutely guarantee is his or her own vote. If everybody votes, I firmly believe that we'll be just fine.

and VP Biden wins, are you fearful that Trump and his scurvy band will refuse to cooperate in any way with the incoming administration?

It's hard for me to imagine President Trump being graceful in transferring power to a President-Elect Biden. And I can't imagine his inner circle being particularly helpful. But at lower levels, I assume there would be a satisfactory handoff.

Dear Mr. Robinson: If the Democrats win the Senate, do you think that they should eliminate the Filibuster? Also, do you think the Tampa Bay Rays will win the World Series this year? Thank you kindly, Mrs. Kimberly Trombley

If McConnell tries to obstruct any and all legislation, like he did with Obama, I think they should nuke the filibuster. And since my Washington Nationals are not in the hunt this year, I'm happy to root for the Rays.


That's it for today, folks. Our time is up. Thanks for participating, as always, and I hope to see you all again next week!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2009, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his columns on the 2008 presidential campaign that focus on the election of the first African-American president. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America" (2010), "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson lives with his wife and two sons in Arlington.
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