WASHINGTON — The Senate's escalating partisan tug-of-war over judicial confirmations has frayed relationships in the chamber for decades, but Thursday's committee vote on Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett threatens to sever the rope.
The vote is expected to unfold as it did for previous judicial nominees in the President Donald Trump era. Democrats alone don't have the votes to stop Republicans from advancing Barrett's nomination to the floor, or the final confirmation vote slated for Monday.
But committee Democrats have leveled unusually sharp and personal criticism at Republicans this time. Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal accused committee Republicans of a violation of the Senate's most important unwritten rule: Keeping your word.
Republicans said they blocked President Barack Obama's nominee for nine months ahead of a presidential election four years ago to let voters have a say in who should fill the vacancy, but now have rushed the process for a vote on Barrett just days ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election.
"You are breaking that word," Blumenthal said during last week's committee meeting. "And with all the rhetoric about precedent and history, and everything else, and about the wrong direction the Senate is going, in essence you're taking another step in that direction."
Democrats and their allies are sending signals that anything less than a no-holds-barred judicial confirmation fight will do any more. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee's top Democrat, criticized the rushed Barrett process as breaching "everything we hold dear" at the committee and said it would "create a lot of bad will that doesn't need to be created."
But Feinstein later made the kind of comments that once were somewhat routine in the Senate. She thanked Chairman Lindsey Graham for his fairness — "It leaves one with a lot of hopes, a lot of questions, and even some ideas of some good bipartisan legislation we can put together to make this great country even better," Feinstein said — and later gave him a hug.
Demand Justice, a liberal advocacy group, called for her removal from her committee leadership role for treating "the Republican theft of a Supreme Court seat with kid gloves." Some Democratic senators in hallway interviews and press conferences stopped short of giving Feinstein a full backing.
Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, a committee member, told CQ Roll Call that Democrats and their allies "wanted her to try and burn Amy Barrett at the stake. They want someone who's going to be a vicious partisan."
While Feinstein may be correct that there are still opportunities for bipartisanship on legislation, judicial confirmations are a different story.