Monday October 26th, 2020

Cortez Masto Delivers Floor Speech on Threat of Barrett Nomination to Nevadans’ Health Care, Urgent Need to Act on Comprehensive, Bipartisan Coronavirus Relief Now

Cortez Masto Barrett Nomination

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) spoke on the Senate floor today on the threat that Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination poses to health care protections for Nevadans and all Americans, as well as the urgent need for a bipartisan, comprehensive COVID-19 relief package.                 

Senator Cortez Masto’s remarks are available in VIDEO FORMAT. Below are her remarks as prepared for delivery:                                                   

I rise today to join my colleagues in opposing the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett as justice of the Supreme Court.

This is the wrong time to be choosing a Supreme Court justice, and Judge Barrett is the wrong candidate for a seat on that Court.

The timing of tonight’s confirmation vote is shocking. The majority of Americans want to be able to weigh in on who should sit in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the highest court in the land. They want to vote to choose a president to fill that vacancy.

We are eight days away from Americans casting the final votes in the 2020 election.

Over 58 million Americans have already voted, including more than 649,000 Nevadans. 

The American people are making their voices heard in response to this administration’s disastrous handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to the loss of 225,000 American lives, including 1,748 Nevadans, and sickened over 95,000 Nevadans.

In the middle of this crisis, Congress should be doing everything it can to address the needs of the American people.

Instead, the Senate Majority Leader is ramming through a nominee at breakneck pace.

He and the President are rushing this nominee’s confirmation for a reason. They believe—based on Judge Barrett’s public statements—that she will be the decisive vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act, in a case that will be heard just a week after the election.

On November 10, the Supreme Court will listen to arguments from lawyers in a court case about whether the Affordable Care Act is constitutional.

Majority Leader McConnell and the president want a justice who shares their views on the Affordable Care Act seated on the Court by that date.

Amy Coney Barrett’s record on the ACA—not to mention her stance on rights for women and LGBTQ Americans—poses tremendous risks to Nevadans, at a time when they need every help we can extend to them during this health pandemic.

That’s why I opposed her nomination to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals back in 2017, and that’s why I oppose her confirmation to the Supreme Court today.

Instead of rushing her through in a partisan fashion to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court, we should be working together to get the additional coronavirus relief that Nevadans so badly need. 

Most of us here in the Senate understand that the American people need help to cope with the pandemic. To save lives and to stop the spread of the virus, people have to wear masks, wash hands, and socially distance.

That’s meant that businesses haven’t been able to operate as usual. Some companies have been able to rethink their business models and thrive, but others just can’t substitute online interactions for in-person contact.

That includes Nevada’s world-class travel, tourism, and hospitality industry. During April, Nevada had the highest unemployment rate ever recorded anywhere in the country, at 30 percent. We’re recovering from that peak more slowly than other states, and we still had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country in August—second only to Hawaii’s—at 12.6%.

Nevadans are hurting. My constituents tell me about it, and the data is clear.

One in seven Nevadans say they aren’t getting enough to eat, and one in five Nevadans say the children in their household are underfed.

There has been a 14% increase in those receiving SNAP benefits in the Silver State since February.

14% of Nevadans say they are behind on rent or mortgage, and 38% are having difficulty with household expenses.

110,000 households in my home state could be at risk of eviction by January.

That’s why I’ve spent weeks calling on Leader McConnell to extend and expand upon the support we put in place in the relief legislation we passed in the first half of this year.

Unfortunately, instead of negotiating another COVID relief package, Leader McConnell would rather play politics.

Nevadans need to understand the partisan political games that Leader McConnell has been playing.

Over the last seven months, Senator McConnell has refused to come to the table to even negotiate with the administration, Speaker Pelosi, and Leader Schumer. 

Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader Schumer originally asked for $3.4 trillion in coronavirus relief. They’ve come down to a request for $2.2 trillion in relief—$1.2 trillion less than the Democrats’ original position.

In return, President Trump and Secretary Mnuchin have offered $1.8 trillion dollars in coronavirus relief.

Clearly, Speaker Pelosi and Secretary Mnuchin have been working to get closer to agreement over the amount and structure of relief.

Meanwhile, Senator McConnell refuses to negotiate with the Democrats. He has forced two votes on the floor of the Senate on relief packages that were crafted behind closed doors with no bipartisan negotiation. The second package was half the price of the one before. That’s not a negotiation. That’s politics.   

Senator McConnell doesn’t want a deal. He hasn’t participated in the talks, and he’s proposing less than a third of what even the Secretary of the Treasury thinks we need.

Instead, the Majority Leader has been laser focused on one thing and one thing only: rushing through the Supreme Court nomination for Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

There’s a reason he is pushing so hard. He and others in the GOP have been obsessed with getting rid of the Affordable Care Act since it passed, and in Amy Coney Barrett, they see their chance to finally do just that.

I want Nevadans to understand exactly what’s at stake and how we got here. Let me lay out the timeline of just some of the dozens of Republican attacks on the Affordable Care Act and how Judge Barrett fits into their larger plan to overturn health care protections.

In 2010, the Obama Administration passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to bring down health care costs and make sure that Americans had access to quality health care.

Republicans have been trying to repeal it ever since, voting at least 70 times to undo the law in Congress. And when they fail in Congress, they attempt it in the courts.

Republicans have repeatedly used the courts to challenge Congress’ power to enact the ACA. Their first attempt ended in failure in 2012, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the important provisions of the ACA in an opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts in the landmark case NFIB v Sebelius.  

But that hasn’t stopped the Republican leadership. Even though a majority of the American people have made it clear over and over that they want the ACA and its extensive protections for health care.

This administration and Mitch McConnell have been stacking the court with federal judges they believe would overturn the ACA. And Professor Barrett fits their profile.

In 2017, Professor Amy Coney Barrett wrote a book review article for Notre Dame Law School, making it clear she thought Justice Roberts incorrectly decided NFIB v Sebelius.  She said that Chief Justice John Roberts “pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute.” 

And conservatives who agreed with her took notice. In May of 2017, they nominated her to serve as a judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

While her nomination was pending, the Republican leaders in the Senate again tried to force a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. During that vote, the late Senator John McCain gave his famous thumb down, to show that he would not be responsible for repealing the ACA and ripping health care away from millions.

In October, Amy Coney Barrett was appointed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. I opposed her then for the same reasons I oppose her nomination today.

In November, Amy Coney Barrett was placed on President Trump’s list of potential nominees to the United States Supreme Court.

Three months later, in December of 2017, the Republicans in Congress passed a bill that would continue their attempts to sabotage the ACA. Based on this new law, several Republican attorneys general then went to court asking the court to rule the ACA unconstitutional. That case is California v. Texas, and it will be argued on November 10—just two weeks from now.

The U.S. Department of Justice has done everything it can to assist in the effort to strike down the ACA, filing a brief arguing that the entire law is invalid.

They’ve done this because the President wants them to. In an interview with 60 Minutes that aired this evening, he said that with regard to the Supreme Court’s decision on the ACA, “I hope that they end it.”

It’s not a secret! President Trump wants to do away with health care coverage and patient protections in the middle of a pandemic that has killed 225,000 people.

And meanwhile, he has now chosen Judge Barrett for the Supreme Court. In her confirmation hearings, Judge Barrett said “I am not hostile to the ACA at all.” 

But this statement contradicts the things she said about the ACA before her nomination to the Court. I believe now what I believed back in 2017: Judge Barrett’s writings show her to be clearly opposed to the ACA.

And my view is that no one—no one—should weaken protections for health care in this country during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic!

The Affordable Care Act is a crucial part of the nation’s response to coronavirus. Without it, insurance companies would be able to charge more or even deny insurance to people with preexisting conditions.

That includes the more than 95,000 Nevadans who have had COVID-19 to date, because contracting the coronavirus is a preexisting condition.

It includes another 1.2 million Nevadans with other preexisting health conditions, from asthma to cystic fibrosis to depression.

Without the ACA, insurance companies would also be able to consider pregnancy a preexisting condition, as they used to do.

The 1.5 million women in Nevada could be charged more for their care than men, and lifetime and annual benefit caps could be reinstated.

They’d be able to kick children off their parents’ insurance before the age of 26.

Across the country, without the ACA, more than 20 million people would lose their health coverage and over 135 million Americans would lose protections for their preexisting conditions.

And if the Supreme Court eliminates the ACA, millions of newly uninsured people will be unable to afford coronavirus treatment.

If you don’t have insurance and you contract COVID-19, you’re looking at tens of thousands of dollars in hospital bills.

This is especially alarming because COVID-19 has hit communities of color the hardest, including in my state.

In Nevada, our population is around 48% white and 29% Latino, with another 10% of the population African American, 9% Asian American and Pacific Islander, and 2% Native American.

Among COVID-19 cases, however, those numbers are practically turned upside down. 45% of Nevada’s COVID-19 cases are among Latinos, who make up 29% of the population.

And 29% of the cases are among white Nevadans, who are 45% of the population.

Nevadans of color are also overrepresented in the numbers of those who have lost their lives during this pandemic. In Nevada, 12% of those who have died of COVID-19 are African American, and another 12% are Asian American/Pacific Islander.

We also know from national data that COVID-19 has a particularly devastating effect on children of color. Of those under 21 who have been killed by the coronavirus, more than 75 percent have been Hispanic, Black or Native American.

In addition, the coronavirus pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on pregnant women of color and their babies. Nationwide, Latina mothers make up nearly half of the coronavirus cases among pregnant women, according to CDC data through August.

Young people and communities of color are also seeing the greatest economic impacts as a result of this pandemic. They’re losing jobs—and health care—at higher rates.

A recent study suggested that job losses would mean that 5 million Black, Latino, and Asian Americans would lose health care during the pandemic. People in these communities don’t always have the financial reserves to keep a roof over their heads, let alone access critical physical and mental health care.

Repealing the ACA would just further jeopardize these Americans, including millions in my home state.

Without the ACA’s protections, women in Nevada would also see adverse impacts on their health. 

That’s because the ACA requires insurance plans to offer women essential benefits like annual wellness exams, preventative mammograms and other screenings, maternity care, and access to free birth control.

If the law is struck down, these benefits would go, too. In fact, Judge Barrett publicly signed a “statement of protest” against the ACA contraceptive-coverage requirements. She said that those requirements were “an assault on religious liberty” when applied to religious employers and institutions.

But that’s just the first part of the danger that Judge Barrett represents to women’s health. She puts reproductive health rights at risk across the board.

In 2006, Judge Barrett signed a letter that called for “an end to the barbaric legacy of Roe v. Wade.” As a judge, she’s repeatedly voted to rehear cases that struck down unconstitutional abortion restrictions.

During her confirmation hearings, she refused to describe Roe v. Wade as a “superprecedent” that could no longer be challenged.

These views suggest that, as she predicted in a 2016 speech, a Trump nominee to the Supreme Court would mean that “the restrictions [on abortion] would change” and that “the Court would likely increase how much freedom . . .  states have in regulating abortion.”

And if those states have more freedom to “regulate abortion”, it will lead to a patchwork of different laws in different states.

A recent study suggests that if Roe v. Wade were overturned, the closest abortion clinic would close for 41% of women across the country, and the distance to the nearest clinic would increase, from an average of 36 miles to an average of 280 miles.

In 2020, American women shouldn’t have to choose what state to live in based on what kind of health care they think they can get. These are fundamental rights that shouldn’t be up for grabs.

More than 80% of Nevadans believe that women should control their own reproductive choices, and I stand with them.

I’m also concerned about the impact that Judge Barrett could have on LGBTQ Nevadans if she is confirmed to the Court.

The ACA contains specific protections against discrimination based on gender identity. The Trump administration has already weakened these protections significantly.

If the ACA is struck down altogether, people who don’t conform to gender stereotypes, including transgender Americans, could face increased discrimination in health care. A study of transgender patients before the ACA went into effect found that one in five had experienced discrimination from doctors, and that 28% had postponed medical care in the past in order to try to avoid that discrimination.

Judge Barrett could also pose a considerable threat to LGBTQ individuals in other ways. During her confirmation hearings, she refused to say whether she agreed with the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which established the right to same-sex marriage nationally.

In 2015, she publicly signed a letter stating that marriage is “founded on the indissoluble commitment of a man and a woman.” She has also publicly argued that Title IX of the Civil Rights Act does not apply to transgender Americans, noting that it “seem[s] to strain the text of the statute to say that Title IX demands” that the government guarantee “transgender bathroom access.”

So again, I’m very concerned that if she’s confirmed to the Court, Judge Barrett will be an additional vote to strike down things like same-sex marriage and imperil the health of LGBTQ Nevadans.

The truth is that Judge Barrett’s views on a whole host of issues are far from mainstream.

In her short time on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Barrett has:

  • Sided with corporations over workers and consumers in a majority of business-related cases, resulting in the erosion of workers’ rights and consumer protection rights;
  • Suggested that voting rights should be more easily restricted than the right to possess firearms (Kanter v Barr); and
  • Ruled that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act does not protect job applicants from hiring practices that harm older Americans (Kleber v CareFusion Corp).

I have received 18,158 letters from Nevadans opposing her confirmation, and only 3,908 supporting it.

Nevadans are concerned that Judge Barrett doesn’t share their views, and they’re right to be. 

The Supreme Court makes decisions about so many issues that affect our communities for years to come. People in this country care deeply about these issues, and in so many cases, Judge Barrett’s views are out of step with what large majorities of Americans want.

77% of Americans think we should stop unlimited dark money from influencing our politics, but a 6-3 conservative Court would slam the door on campaign finance reform, allowing corporations and other groups to throw their wealth behind their pet policies.

Americans believe voting should be easy, safe, and secure, and that you shouldn’t have to risk your health during a pandemic to cast your ballot. But a 6-3 conservative Court with Amy Coney Barrett on the bench would make it harder for people to vote, especially people in low-income communities and communities of color.

And again, bear in mind that we’re in the middle of an election. If she’s confirmed tonight, Justice Barrett will also be in a position to rule on any legal disputes about that election.

And that’s one of many, many topics that she simply refused to answer questions about during her confirmation hearings.

It’s understandable for a judge to avoid questions about a case that may come before her, so she doesn’t pre-judge the outcome. But Judge Barrett refused to answer the most basic of questions, questions that any high school civics student knows the answer to.

She wouldn’t say whether the Constitution allows Congress to protect the right to vote. (It does, in at least five separate provisions.)

She wouldn’t say whether the President of the United States can delay the election. (He cannot.)

She wouldn’t say whether the President should peacefully transfer power to the winner of a presidential election. The most important American principle is that “We the People” get to decide who governs us, but Judge Barrett refused to affirm it.

She wouldn’t even say whether voter intimidation or voting twice in an election are illegal. Those laws are clearly on the books! It doesn’t take a constitutional scholar to interpret them.

People in Nevada and across the nation need to realize that many of the rights and protections they enjoy are one vote away from being ended by the Supreme Court.

There are at least 120 landmark Supreme Court cases from the past several decades that were 5-4 decisions, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg the deciding vote in the majority, and Justice Antonin Scalia, whose judicial philosophy inspires Judge Barrett, in the minority.

There is every reason to think Judge Barrett would take positions like Justice Scalia’s in those areas and more. With Amy Coney Barrett on the Court, Americans’ civil rights, worker rights, reproductive rights, health care, and yes, their voting rights, are at risk.

For all these reasons, Judge Barrett is not only the wrong nominee, but she comes at the wrong time.

Now is not the time to rush a nominee onto the court. Now—as millions fill out their ballots—is not the time to deprive the American people of a voice in choosing the next President, who will choose the Supreme Court Justice.

Now is the time for us to focus on the immediate crisis at hand. We need to act to save lives and to protect families in Nevada and across the country. We need to pass another comprehensive COVID-19 stimulus package.

We need pandemic unemployment insurance for those who have been laid off or furloughed through no fault of their own, and subsidized health coverage for those workers.

We need additional funds to address the health aspects of this pandemic—everything from PPE, to COVID-19 testing and tracing, to funding to develop vaccines and treatment.

We need rental and homeowners’ assistance to keep people safe in their homes as winter approaches.

Our small businesses need extended PPP so they can retain staff, and many of our large industries need support as well.

State, local, and tribal governments must have assistance so they can afford to fund EMTs, police, firefighters, and health care providers—not to mention teachers, who are reinventing education on the fly.

All these essential services are keeping our communities safe and functioning during this crisis. I could keep going with this list, or I could simply point my colleagues to the Heroes Act, which the House passed months ago.

If Senator McConnell really wanted to get meaningful relief passed, he would do it. He would come to the table with Senators from both parties who are eager to find a compromise to help out their constituents, and he would make that deal happen.

Instead, he and a majority of this chamber have decided to fast track this nominee. They have decided that the most important thing they can do for the nation during a once-in-a-lifetime health crisis is to confirm a justice to the United States Supreme Court.

The cruelty and the blindness to the real needs of Americans is astounding to me. Instead of working together for our constituents, Republican Leadership is focused on a last minute power grab that threatens Americans’ health.

I can’t support that.

There is no reason to rush this nominee. There is every reason to act on a comprehensive COVID-19 relief package. It’s what we should’ve been doing months ago.

My priority is and will continue to be getting Nevadans the comprehensive and meaningful support they need.

Thank you.



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