Harris puts health care at center of Amy Coney Barrett Supreme Court battle

RALEIGH, N.C. — Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris unveiled her new campaign message Monday…

Harris puts health care at center of Amy Coney Barrett Supreme Court battle

RALEIGH, N.C. — Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris unveiled her new campaign message Monday centered around the fight over confirming Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, with health care and women’s rights front and center.

The California senator made her first formal remarks on President Trump’s choice to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in an in-person campaign appearance in this swing state, a relatively rare event for the Democratic ticket. While Trump has been holding numerous rallies in recent weeks, Harris and presidential nominee Joe Biden have traveled sparingly in an effort to avoid spreading the coronavirus.


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Democrats have little or no chance of blocking Barrett’s confirmation in the Republican-controlled Senate, but Biden has emphasized fairness in his campaign message — that the winner of the presidential election should pick Ginsburg’s replacement. Harris hammered on a theme that other Democrats have voiced, the possibility that Barrett could provide the vote that overturns not just a national right to abortion, but the federal law that extended health insurance to millions of Americans in the past decade.

Harris’ focus was on an upcoming case in which the Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed through Congress and President Barack Obama signed in 2010. But Harris tailored her remarks specifically to how overturning the law would affect women, tying it to Ginsburg’s legacy of protecting women’s rights.

“There are few things they could do that would be more offensive to the legacy and the life of Justice Ginsburg than to return us to the full-scale policies of discrimination in health care toward the women of our country,” Harris said.

She said striking down the Affordable Care Act would have particular consequences for women. The law includes provisions that bar insurers from charging women more for health care because of their sex, require coverage of birth control and contraceptives, and prohibit pregnancy from being considered a preexisting condition. She coupled it with the possibility of a conservative court overturning Roe vs. Wade, which legalized abortion in the United States.

“There is no other issue that so disrespects and dishonors the work of Justice Ginsburg’s life than undoing the seminal decision in the court’s history that made it clear a woman has a right to make decisions about her own body,” Harris said.

She noted that the court fight over health care is happening against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This relentless obsession with overturning the Affordable Care Act is driven entirely by a blind rage toward President Obama,” Harris said. “And it’s happening at a moment when our country is suffering through the ravages of a pandemic that has claimed more than 200,000 lives in our country. Complications from COVID like lung scarring and heart damage could well become the next preexisting condition.”

While Republicans have rallied around Barrett as a foe of abortion rights, a base-moving issue for conservatives, Democrats see health care as a pocketbook issue that helped them win over moderate voters and take back the House in 2018.

Although they lack the votes to block her confirmation, Senate Democrats have been registering protests in other ways. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said she would refuse to meet with Barrett before a vote. Such meetings were once traditional etiquette, but Republican senators skipped them in 2016 when they refused to meet with Obama’s choice to fill a Supreme Court seat, let alone hold a vote.

“I will not participate in the degradation of our democracy or our judiciary, or in confirming a judge so clearly unfit for the Supreme Court,” Gillibrand tweeted.

Harris is a member of the Judiciary Committee, which will hold hearings on Barrett’s confirmation starting Oct. 12. Asked Monday whether she would meet with Barrett, Harris said, “I’m sure that’s going to happen, we’ll see how it works out. … I haven’t made a plan one way or another.”

She added, “I am definitely going to be involved in the hearings and performing my role and responsibility on the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

As she as done throughout her campaign as the vice presidential nominee, Harris also paid special attention to the issues of racial justice and equality in a trip to a state where polls show Biden and Trump tied. The senator gave her remarks at Shaw University, a historically Black university, saying the building where she spoke was one of the first built for the education of Black women in America.

She cited voting rights and the ability to make a fair living free from discrimination as two other issues at stake in the fight over who will fill Ginsburg’s seat on the court.

In addition to her formal remarks, Harris did events that resembled more traditional campaigning — all behind masks and replacing handshakes and hugs with elbow bumps. She danced to Shaw’s drum line as she left the university, and mingled with diners — one coincidentally sporting a Biden-Harris campaign mask — at a restaurant.

She also held a roundtable discussion with Black voters at a barbershop, answering questions on criminal justice reform and how to empower communities of color.

Tal Kopan is The San Francisco Chronicle’s Washington correspondent. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @talkopan

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