WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans began a furious sprint on Sunday to install President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, before an election just 37 days away, laying the groundwork for an extraordinarily swift and politically divisive confirmation battle.
Their confidence mounting that they could hold together a narrow majority over the objections of outraged Democrats, Republicans were planning one of the fastest confirmation processes in recent decades. It could play out in little more than half the time of the average recent nomination to the court and set a new precedent: In 244 years, no justice has ever been confirmed so close to an election.
White House officials were already arranging for Judge Barrett to begin making the rounds on Capitol Hill beginning on Tuesday, and Republicans planned to hold four days of nationally televised public hearings the week of Oct. 12. They are aiming for a vote on the Senate floor by late October, just days before the election on Nov. 3, and in time for her to be seated before any postelection legal challenges to the vote and a consequential hearing on the looming challenge to the Affordable Care Act.
Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, had not yet publicly committed to a pre-election vote, out of concern that with such a compressed timeline and slim voting majority, any contingency could make it impossible. But with the possibility of a 6-to-3 conservative majority in reach — which could reshape abortion rights, immigration law and much more — Republicans were quickly uniting with near monolithic support.
Their ambitious timetable began in earnest on Saturday, when Mr. Trump presented Judge Barrett, a federal appeals court judge in Chicago and favorite of conservative Christians and anti-abortion activists, as his choice to succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died this month at 87.
Republicans heaped praise on Judge Barrett, 48, comparing her, somewhat incongruently, both to Justice Ginsburg, a pioneering advocate of women’s rights, and Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative legal icon for whom Judge Barrett once clerked.
“We have been really clear as Republicans throughout that we think the biggest impact a president can have long term, over many, many decades, is who they put on the Supreme Court and other federal courts,” Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the No. 3 Senate Republican, said in an interview.
In moving so quickly, Mr. Trump and Senate Republicans were taking on significant political risk at a time when they were already lagging behind their Democratic challengers. A group of new polls released on Sunday, including by The New York Times and Siena College, found a clear majority of voters believed the winner of the presidential election should fill the seat. Judge Barrett’s near-uniform support for conservative positions, many of them unpopular, will stoke heated debates over abortion rights, health care and gay rights that could alienate swing voters, even if it rallies the Republican base.
Democrats, resigned to their inability to stop Judge Barrett, focused instead on extracting the maximum political benefit from the fight over her confirmation, zeroing in on the nominee’s dim view of the Affordable Care Act in an effort they believe could win them control of the Senate and the White House.
“A vote for Amy Coney Barrett is a dagger aimed at the heart of the health care protections Americans so desperately need and want,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, told reporters in his home state on Saturday night.
Mr. Schumer was even more explicit in a letter circulated to Senate colleagues, arguing that “the best strategy for fighting back” was “health care, health care, health care” — an issue on which Democrats already have voters’ trust and a track record of winning congressional seats.
The party has made similar arguments about previous nominees to the court. But Judge Barrett’s views on the Affordable Care Act are unusually clear, and their effects could be immediate: The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a challenge to the legislation by the Trump administration and Republican attorneys general in November, days after the election.
Democrats pointed to a 2017 law review article in which Judge Barrett, who was not yet on the bench, criticized Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s 2012 opinion upholding one of the health care law’s central provisions. “Chief Justice Roberts pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute,” she wrote.
“It’s very clear from her writing, multiple writings, that she will be the vote that takes away health care for millions of Americans,” Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “The No. 1 priority for the president of the United States, Donald Trump, has been to take away people’s health care.”
Senate Republicans have largely tried to steer clear of an issue they see as a political liability, but not Mr. Trump, who said on Twitter on Sunday that if the court “terminated” the law, it would be “a big WIN for the USA.” He promised to replace it with “a MUCH better, and FAR cheaper, alternative,” but so far the president has offered only a vague and symbolic plan.
Both sides will have plenty of help amplifying their messages from outside groups, with the conservative Judicial Crisis Network and the liberal Demand Justice pledging tens of millions of dollars in spending on television ads in politically competitive states across the country.
If the political effect of the hearings remained uncertain, though, few in either party doubted the ultimate outcome in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 53-to-47 majority.
Mindful of their own political risks, Republicans tried to set political traps for Democrats, predicting that they would seek to vilify Judge Barrett, a mother of seven whose Catholic faith shapes her life, as they did with Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh in 2018.
“The nominee will be challenged, and that is appropriate to challenge the nominee,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said on Fox News on Saturday. “But if they treat Judge Barrett like they did Justice Kavanaugh, it will blow up in their face big time.”
Specifically, Republicans want to re-create a 2017 Judiciary Committee hearing on Judge Barrett’s nomination to the appeals court, when Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the panel’s top Democrat, told Judge Barrett that “the dogma lives loudly within you” and raised concerns about her impartiality as a judge given her staunch Catholic faith. Conservatives charged that Democrats were attacking religion and had the phrase emblazoned on T-shirts.
“There is a long history of anti-Catholic hatred by some in this country, and a growing tide of anti-religious animus on the left now, and I hope you and your colleagues will not play any further part in it,” Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, a Republican member of the committee, wrote on Saturday in a letter to Mr. Schumer.
Democrats say they do not intend to give Republicans what they want. Democratic senators involved in the confirmation process see little upside in dwelling on Judge Barrett’s personal views or her fervent religious beliefs, even though many of them consider her opinions to be extreme and fear they would influence her decisions on the bench.
“My challenge to her is not going to be personal,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut. “It is about breaking the norms in this sham, rushed, illegitimate process, and about her advocacy of breaking with established precedent and views that are extreme right-wing.”
But Democrats, furious about what they said was a hypocritical reversal by Republicans who refused to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee in 2016 on the grounds that it was an election year, were still debating how to approach the confirmation process itself. Members of the Judiciary Committee discussed boycotting the hearings to try to starve them of legitimacy, but ultimately decided it was better not to cede Republicans an uninterrupted platform.
Progressive activists, not content to merely cede the Supreme Court seat and pivot to the elections, are pushing for an even bigger fight. They are pressuring Mr. Schumer to use Senate procedure to try to detain Republicans fighting for re-election in Washington for much of October, when they hoped to be in their home states, and discredit the proceedings to the public.
In a memo circulating on Capitol Hill, liberal strategists suggested that Democrats use parliamentary tactics to essentially grind the Senate’s daily business to a halt, forcing repeated roll call votes that would require Republicans to attend in person. They also suggested that Democrats could make special, privileged motions that require Republicans to give up some control of the chamber’s proceedings, and that the House consider impeaching someone to force a Senate trial. (Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday rejected that approach.)
“Mere capitulation to what Washington insiders see as the inevitable will be viewed by many as abandonment of the Democratic base and could undermine enthusiasm,” they wrote.
Chris Cameron contributed reporting.