WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Embattled Senate Republicans took advantage of the spotlight at Tuesday’s confirmation hearing for President Donald Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee to tout election concerns like healthcare, police and even fundraising as they fight to keep their seats.
Republican control of the Senate – where the party holds a 53-47 majority – is in jeopardy in the Nov. 3 elections, with 10 incumbent Republicans in races rated competitive, compared with just two Democrats.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, in a tight battle as he seeks his fourth Senate term, discussed his opponent’s record-smashing fundraising haul and healthcare spending in South Carolina as he opened questioning of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
Senator Thom Tillis, who is trailing in his race, according to polls of North Carolina voters, addressed what he described as “rampant” violence against police and his own recent positive COVID-19 test as he questioned Barrett.
Senator Joni Ernst, also behind in the polls, brought up court cases important to her home state of Iowa during her allotted half hour.
Graham wryly alluded to the $57 million his Democratic opponent, Jaime Harrison, raised during the third quarter, which smashed the quarterly fundraising record for any Senate candidate.
“I can tell you there’s a lot of money being raised in this campaign. I would like to know where the hell some of it is coming from, but that is not your problem,” Graham said.
Graham is a close ally of Trump, who won South Carolina by 14 percentage points in 2016. But recent polls have shown that Graham’s re-election race against Harrison, the former state Democratic Party chairman, is neck and neck.
Harrison responded on Twitter, suggesting that as committee chairman, Graham should “Save it for Hannity,” a reference to his appearances on a popular Fox News show.
Graham also criticized the Affordable Care Act healthcare law, which Democrats fear Barrett would seek to overturn. Graham said the law, the signature domestic policy achievement of former Democratic President Barack Obama, provided too little money to his state compared with California and New York.
“All of you want to impose Obamacare in South Carolina. We don’t want it … we want South Carolina care, not Obamacare,” Graham said.
South Carolina receives less money because it is smaller and because its Republican-led government rejected expanded Medicaid funds.
Tillis noted that his doctor had cleared him to attend the hearing in person. He had tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a ceremony at the White House when Trump announced Barrett’s nomination, a gathering later tied to dozens of virus cases, including Trump’s.
Tillis blasted Democrats as he addressed Barrett, blaming them for failing to respond adequately to what he called “rampant violence against law enforcement.”
A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday showed Tillis trailing his Democratic challenger, former state Senator Cal Cunningham, by 46% to 42%.
Ernst used much of her time to discuss cases that affected her state, including an environmental case involving oil refineries that has been appealed to the Supreme Court.
“When Congress makes laws that overstep the Constitution, it can be felt all across the state of Iowa,” Ernst said.
Neither Tillis nor Ernst used all of their allotted 30 minutes.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)