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'What A Mom Can Do': Sen. Ernst Focuses On Barrett's Gender In Hearing

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks during a confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)
Iowa GOP Senator Joni Ernst highlighted the moment in history for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett in her opening statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst zeroed in on the issue of gender at Monday's confirmation hearing for Amy Coney Barrett. She used her opening statement to link herself to Barrett "as a fellow mom, a fellow Midwesterner" and accused Democrats of launching attacks on the judge's religious beliefs — even though Republicans were the only ones bringing up the issue at the hearing.

Ernst noted on Monday that this was her first time on the Judiciary committee to be involved in a confirmation hearing for a Supreme Court nominee. She was one of two female GOP senators added to the panel in 2019, after a contentious confirmation process for Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 highlighted the then-all male lineup on the Republican side of the committee.

Ernst noted the historic moment for women with Barrett's nomination to add another female justice to the high court, noting that 100 years ago women received the right to vote.

But she quickly pivoted to try and paint Democrats of piling on — saying to Barrett, they were "attacking your faith and your precious family... attacking you as a mom and a woman of faith."

Ernst and other Republican members of the panel have pointed to comments from the 2017 confirmation process for Barrett's current position on the 7th circuit, when California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein did pose questions that implied that Barrett's Catholic faith's was a driving factor in her judicial rulings.

Democrats recognized that any discussions about religion would be controversial during these nationally televised hearings and have instead focused on using the hearings to focus on Barrett's positions on the Affordable Care Act, and the possibility she would be a vote on the court to overturn it, and not on her religious views.

When asked during a break about the GOP comments and if any Democrats on the panel planned to ask Barrett about the her religion, Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin said he "can't think of a single one" who would.

Still Ernst referred to a "series of tactics to undermine, coerce and confused the American people" by Democrats. She is one of four Senate Republicans on the Judiciary committee who is up for re-election this year (Chairman Lindsey Graham, Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas are the other three). In recent days, both the presidential race and the Senate race in Ernst's home state have tightened.

Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn, the other GOP woman on the committee, also attacked Democrats on the committee, saying "their rhetoric is unsettling" and saying "you would think they would jump" to support a qualified nominee who is also a working mom.

Ernst, noted proudly about Barrett's career: "This, folks, is what a mom can do." Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.