The event that conservatives hoped would reshape the 2020 election is upon us: The Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett begin Monday at 9 a.m. Eastern and promise to last most of the week. Republicans have regarded her nomination as an opportunity to reinvigorate voters on the right and refocus the broader electorate on matters other than the coronavirus pandemic.
So far, Judge Barrett’s appointment has not worked out that way. The White House event at which President Trump announced her election became a major transmission point for the coronavirus — Dr. Anthony S. Fauci called it a “super-spreader event” — and at least two Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have been infected. Mr. Trump’s bout with the disease, and rising case counts across most of the country, have relegated the Supreme Court fight to the political background for most of the last few weeks.
There is still hope within the G.O.P. that Democrats might fumble the hearings in a way that could be politically useful to them — a concern some Democrats share, given the apparently diminished capacities of Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the panel that will screen the nomination. And at the very least, the hearings give Republicans something to talk about besides Mr. Trump and the virus, even if that is where most voters remain focused. That could be no small favor in red states where Senate seats are at stake.
It is unlikely, however, that Mr. Trump will cooperate with efforts to shift the spotlight this week. He is due on Monday to campaign in Florida, making his first in-person appearance outside Washington since he tested positive for the coronavirus. The president’s insistence on returning to the campaign trail while there are still huge unanswered questions about his medical condition, including about the continued presence of the coronavirus in his body and his ability to transmit it to others, has the potential to become a bigger story than the opening stages of the judicial confirmation process.
That may be doubly the case if Mr. Trump and his supporters continue their practice of flouting basic public-health guidelines for large events, as has been their tendency up to this point.
The question for Democrats — not just Joseph R. Biden Jr. but the party’s whole ticket — may be how much time and political capital they will put into making a strenuous public case against Judge Barrett, at a moment when Mr. Trump continues to serve up generous quantities of easier political fodder for the election that is only weeks away.
As the Senate dives into the confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Republicans and Democrats are offering two starkly divergent portraits of a nominee who would tilt the court decisively to the right.
Just 22 days before a bitterly contested election, Republicans who are behind in the polls are racing to confirm Judge Barrett and cement a 6-to-3 conservative majority on the nation’s highest court that would long outlast President Trump’s tenure, even if he were re-elected. In need of a last-ditch campaign reset, they plan to largely eschew the implications of the court’s rightward tilt, instead portraying Judge Barrett as an apolitical and accomplished working mother of seven in an appeal to moderate voters, especially women.
Democrats are planning the opposite approach. They will brush past Judge Barrett’s biography and qualifications and focus instead on legal writings that suggest she is an ideologue with a far-right political agenda, arguing that she would overturn the Affordable Care Act, roll back abortion rights and favor Mr. Trump in any election-related legal challenge that might arise from the balloting on Nov. 3.
The emerging strategies promise to turn four days of nationally televised proceedings into a bruising affair, even by the modern standards of recent bitter Supreme Court confirmation battles. They also reflect a reality that both parties have accepted: With Republicans largely united in her favor, Democrats are powerless to prevent Judge Barrett, an appeals court judge in Chicago and Notre Dame law professor, from ascending to the Supreme Court. The real fight is to influence Election Day.
“What the American people need to know right now is the Republican Party is much more interested in putting this person on the court so she can take away health care from millions of people than actually helping them,” said Senator Mazie K. Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii. Democrats’ goal, she added, was for voters to “take that understanding to the polls.”
The political implications of the proceeding will be hard to miss. Less than a week after the vice-presidential debate, Senator Kamala Harris of California, the running mate of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic candidate, plans to step off the campaign trail to reclaim her place on the Senate Judiciary Committee. She will appear at the hearings remotely as a pandemic precaution. Four endangered Republicans on the committee, including the chairman, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, will be jockeying for the attention of cable news and voters.
“It is energizing voters in Iowa,” Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, one of the vulnerable Republicans, told reporters on Sunday in Sioux City, where she was campaigning at Harley-Davidson stores on a motorcycle trip across the state. “They really do want to see someone that will uphold our Constitution, and that’s the only litmus test I have.”
Tommy Tuberville, the Republican candidate for Senate in Alabama, is running in large measure on his experience in college football’s Southeastern Conference, known as the S.E.C., where he coached Auburn University.
But he has had experience with another S.E.C., the Securities and Exchange Commission, and other financial regulators.
A review by The New York Times found that Mr. Tuberville, who is leading Senator Doug Jones in the polls, has a history of involvement with at least three people who were later convicted of financial fraud in what were described as Ponzi schemes. Mr. Tuberville was largely seen as a victim and was never charged with a crime.
In two episodes, Mr. Tuberville lost millions of dollars. A third was more minor, when Mr. Tuberville and his wife, Suzanne, bought a home through a company created by a lawyer who was later convicted of running a real estate-related Ponzi scheme.
The Times review included a small charitable foundation created by Mr. Tuberville, finding that its tax records indicated that less than a third of its proceeds went to the veterans’ causes it was set up to advance. The foundation also had bookkeeping issues.
The review raised questions about Mr. Tuberville’s judgment and financial acumen. While he has said on the campaign trail that he hoped to serve on the “banking finance” committee — the Senate has separate, and prestigious, banking and finance committees — he has at times undercut his own qualifications. In regards to an ill-fated hedge fund venture, he once told a reporter, “I’m not smart enough to understand all the numbers.”
In a statement, Paul Shashy, Mr. Tuberville’s campaign manager, largely deflected questions about Mr. Tuberville’s financial dealings. “Doug Jones, Chuck Schumer, and other liberal, Swamp Democrats are spreading lies in an attempt to smear Coach Tuberville’s career, accomplishments, and charitable service,” Mr. Shashy said, adding, “Coach is focused solely upon serving his fellow Alabamians and faithfully representing their conservative values, beliefs, and desires.”
The Times previously reported on one fraudulent scheme in which Mr. Tuberville was an investor and a 50/50 owner of a financial firm, TS Capital, that was shut down by state and federal regulators. A 2012 complaint from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission said that Mr. Tuberville’s partner, John David Stroud, had trading losses of nearly $1.2 million and misappropriated nearly $2.3 million for “car payments, travel expenses, entertainment and retail purchases.” As one of Mr. Stroud’s lieutenants put it, according to court filings, the firm had “the optics of a Ponzi scheme.”
With just over three weeks left until Election Day, hundreds of supporters of President Trump took to Michigan’s highways on Sunday afternoon for a loud and visible display of devotion to their candidate.
It was similar to the Trump boat parades that took over waterways this summer, only on wheels. Festooning their cars with Trump banners and American flags, cardboard cutouts of the president and hand-painted slogans, hundreds of people gathered at rest stops along I-75 and U.S.-31, the main freeways that run north and south along the eastern and western sides of the state. At noon, with horns honking, all headed north, driving for an hour or more as they passed people heading home from fall foliage tours.
“The American people have two choices: Either vote socialism, or you vote for capitalism,” said Vern Mueller, 77, of Reese, who worked in the agriculture industry and met up with more than 60 cars at a Bay County rest stop. “Trump is a capitalist. That’s the way America should be. That’s how it was founded.”
The Trump campaign has reveled in public displays of support from boat parades and road rallies in Michigan and other states since the coronavirus took hold of the country in March. The president regularly tweets glowingly about the flotillas, and his son Donald Trump Jr. even invited boaters to join him in a parade off the Hamptons on Long Island in August.
It’s a way for the president’s fans to rally for re-election without having to worry about social distancing.
“We’re all ready to get out and bust out, and we can do whatever we want in our cars, right?” said Debra Ell, 64, of Frankenmuth, an organizer of the rally who also helped sign people up to work the polls on Election Day.
Not everyone was a fan, Krystie Linton, 44, a special-education teacher from Ann Arbor who supports Joseph R. Biden Jr., looked on with a mix of horror and curiosity at a Trump group at a rest stop who had arrived in cars and trucks covered in pro-Trump symbols and set up tables with Trump merchandise.
“I just don’t get it,” Ms. Linton said on her way home from a fall weekend up north. “Trump has brought out the worst in America. It’s a scary place for our country to be.”
The rally, called “The Cannonball Run,” also served as an opportunity to recruit Republican poll workers to help count absentee ballots and watch polling places in Flint, a predominantly Black city and Democratic stronghold.
“We thought about where we can have the biggest impact,” Ms. Ell said. “You have to have an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, and we think the city of Flint needs the help most.”
Both Republicans and Democrats have recruited workers to watch polling places and the sites where absentee votes are counted. Under state law, paid workers at the polls must be evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. But there have been complaints over the years from elections officials in urban areas, who have said that volunteers at the polls have tried to intimidate voters as they wait in line to vote.
Here are the daily schedules of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates for Monday, Oct. 12. All times are Eastern time.
President Donald J. Trump
7 p.m.: Holds a rally in Sanford, Fla.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
1:15 p.m.: Speaks to union members in Toledo, Ohio.
5:45 p.m.: Takes part in a voter mobilization event in Cincinnati.
Vice President Pence
12:30 p.m.: Holds a rally in Columbus, Ohio.
Senator Kamala Harris
9 a.m.: Takes part in the Amy Coney Barrett confirmation hearing remotely from the Hart Senate Office Building.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, took issue Sunday with a decision by the Trump campaign to feature him in an advertisement without his consent and said it had misrepresented his comments.
“I was totally surprised,” Dr. Fauci said. “The use of my name and my words by the G.O.P. campaign was done without my permission, and the actual words themselves were taken out of context, based on something that I said months ago regarding the entire effort of the task force.”
CNN first reported Dr. Fauci’s displeasure with the campaign ad.
The spot seeks to use Mr. Trump’s illness with Covid-19 and apparent recovery to improve the negative image many Americans have of his handling of the coronavirus.
“I can’t imagine that anybody could be doing more,” the ad shows Dr. Fauci saying — though in fact he was talking about the broader government effort.
Dr. Fauci, who said he had never publicly endorsed a political candidate in decades of public work, has long had an uneasy relationship with President Trump. Just a little over a week ago, he clashed with his boss over his position on mask-wearing.
In his debate with former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Trump claimed that Dr. Fauci had initially said “masks are not good — then he changed his mind.” When Mr. Biden said wearing masks could save tens of thousands of lives, Mr. Trump contended that “Dr. Fauci said the opposite.”
In fact, in the early days of the pandemic, Dr. Fauci and other health experts discouraged the general public from rushing out to buy masks because they were worried about shortages for health workers. Their position changed when it became clear that asymptomatic transmission was spreading the virus.
Dr. Fauci may favor measured language, but his criticisms of the White House — and, implicitly, the man in the Oval Office — over the handling of the pandemic have not gone unnoticed — including by hard-core Trump supporters who claim he is part of a “deep state” conspiracy to undermine the president.
On Friday, Dr. Fauci called the White House ceremony announcing Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court a “superspreader event.”
“It was in a situation where people were crowded together and not wearing masks,” he said. “The data speak for themselves.”
Judge Barrett’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee begins on Monday. The proceedings will play out partially by video to allow senators who may be sick or worried about infection to participate remotely. No members of the public will be allowed in the hearing room, which will be sparsely populated with senators and spectators.