VP nominee Kamala Harris likely to be in spotlight at Amy Coney Barrett confirmation hearing

Why did Harris dodge court packing question at VP debate?

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., tells ‘Fox & Friends’ his takeaway from VP debate is that Biden-Harris ‘are going to absolutely pack the court.’

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett will not be the only person in the middle of a high-stakes job interview next week.

Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris after the debate Wednesday will be back in the spotlight Monday when the Senate Judiciary Committee starts its hearings on Barrett's nomination.

Harris, a senator on the committee, will get an hour or more to herself during the weeklong nationally televised hearings between her opening statements and the time reserved for her to grill Barrett during various rounds of questioning. She will be afforded a 10-minute opening statement on Monday, 30 uninterrupted minutes to question Barrett on Tuesday, 20 more minutes of questioning on Wednesday and potentially more in 10-minute increments if there are additional rounds of questioning.

The platform is not a trivial one. The 2018 hearings on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, at which Harris also played a starring role, drew more than 20 million viewers, according to Reuters.

The way Harris uses her time will be of great interest as she and Biden are leading President Trump significantly in most polls. A successful examination of Barrett could effectively serve as a massive, free Biden-Harris campaign commercial. But any missteps by the vice-presidential nominee could risk harming their ticket, which would be quite happy to maintain the poll's status quo until Election Day.

"I think there's probably more pressure on Kamala to actually engage … in a political way than ever before just because of the fact that she's on the ticket with Vice President Joe Biden," White House chief of staff Mark Meadows predicted last week during an event hosted by the Article III Project, a group that backs Trump's judicial nominees.

He added: "I don't think we'll see less of Kamala. I think we'll see more of Kamala as it relates to her interaction."

One of the reasons that Republicans are rushing to hold the hearings on Barrett and eventually confirm her before the presidential election is that they believe the Supreme Court is an issue that helps them politically and regularly prompts missteps from Democrats. After Democrats' handling of the Kavanaugh hearings in 2018, Senate Republicans gained seats in the chamber while their House counterparts suffered a bloodbath of lost elections that deprived them of their majority. Some Democrats blamed the Supreme Court fight for the fact that Republicans held on to the Senate.

Republican senators will also almost certainly use the occasion next week to attack Harris, specifically on her and Biden's repeated and emphatic refusal to tell voters whether or not they will pack the Supreme Court.


And Barrett herself has been a bugaboo for Democrats in the past. At her 2017 confirmation hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told Barrett, while discussing her Catholicism, "the dogma lives loudly within you, and that's of concern."

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., asked Barrett: "Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?"

Harris also in 2018 grilled a different Trump judicial nominee on his membership in the Catholic organization Knights of Columbus.

Republicans have seized on all of that to paint Democrats as bigoted against religious people even as Democrats during the Barrett Supreme Court confirmation have fastidiously avoided mentioning Barrett's faith. Democrats in general, and Harris specifically in the Wednesday night debate, have focused on their complaints that Republicans are pushing Barrett's confirmation too close to a presidential election and that Barrett could rule against the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in a Supreme Court case set to be argued shortly after the presidential election.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., garnered attention during Brett Kavanaugh’s initial confirmation hearing with her lines of questioning. 
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

"If you have a preexisting condition – heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer — they're coming for you," Harris said during the Wednesday evening vice-presidential debate.

It's likely Harris will focus on the same topics during her hour-plus national television platform next week. But Harris' most recent time in the spotlight at a Supreme Court hearing drew mixed reviews.

During one of the earlier hearings for Kavanaugh, Harris launched into a confusing and nonspecific line of questioning that grabbed headlines and caused a stir on the committee.

"Have you ever discussed special counsel Mueller or his investigation with anyone," Harris asked Kavanaugh. He replied that "it's in the news every day" and that he had discussed it "with other judges."

Harris then followed up with a question about whether Kavanaugh had discussed "Mueller or his investigation with anyone at Kasowitz, Benson and Torres, the law firm founded by Marc Kasowitz, President Trump's personal lawyer?"


Harris emphasized: "Be sure about your answer, sir."

Kavanaugh appeared confused by the question, saying that he did not remember specifically and that he was not sure he knew all of the people who worked at Kasowitz, Benson and Torres. He asked Harris whether she had anyone in particular in mind and Harris refused to provide any further clarification.

"I'm asking you a very direct question," Harris continued, "yes or no."

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, then raised an objection to the question, noting that "this town is full of law firms, law firms are full of people," and that "there is no possible way we can expect this witness to know who populates an entire firm."


As the questioning went back to Harris she continued to press Kavanaugh on whether or not he had discussed Mueller or his investigation with anyone, and specifically with anyone at the law firm.

"I asked the question just a minute ago I'm surprised you forgot," Harris said. "I think you can answer the question without me giving you a list of all employees at that law firm."

"Well, actually I can't," Kavanaugh said.

"Either Kamala Harris has something significant to reveal about Kavanaugh’s having improper discussions about the Mueller probe with someone from the Kasowitz firm or she engaged in a shocking piece of demagoguery yesterday," Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution said on Twitter at the time.

"This exchange is infinitely more significant than anything on any oped page today," New York Times reporter Nick Confessore chimed in.

There was never any conversation revealed between Kavanaugh and anyone at that law firm about Mueller or his probe. And Kavanaugh and the law firm eventually both denied that any such conversation occurred.

Any such exchanges between Harris and Barrett will likely be endlessly dissected and depending on if they reflect positively or negatively on the senator, cut into ads for the Trump or Biden campaigns. So Harris will have to balance two competing priorities — pressure to channel her inner prosecutor and pick Barrett apart and pressure not to make any significant missteps that could harm the Biden campaign. All while keeping in mind that she and Biden are ahead in the polls and that even if she puts in a brilliant performance in the committee hearing, it's not likely to change any minds of any GOP senators on whether to confirm Barrett.

Fox News' Brooke Singman and Andrew O'Reilly contributed to this report. 

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