Virus Outbreak Congress

In this image from video, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks on the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Saturday, March 21, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)

ALBANY —The debate over the timing for replacing the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has injected a new polarizing element into a New York election season already fraught with partisan acrimony.

The state's Democrats with the highest national profiles — Sen. Chuck Schumer, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Gov. Andrew Cuomo — are all urging that choosing a replacement for Ginsburg, should not be rushed through before the Nov. 3 election.

But Republicans in Washington hold a narrow three-seat majority in the U.S. Senate. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already signaled he is prepared to allow a vote on President Donald Trump's nominee to fill the vacancy created by Ginsburg's death.

Sparring has already broken out in upstate House races over the Supreme Court appointment.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-North Country, signaled over the weekend that she supports the constitutional power of the Senate to review and confirm the nominee, who is expected to be identified as early as Friday by Trump.

That triggered a retort from her Democratic challenger, Tedra Cobb of St. Lawrence County, who argued Stefanik's only goal is pleasing Trump.

Former Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-Oneida County, who is challenging Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica, for her old job, accused the incumbent "parroting the hypocritical lines" of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in advocating for delaying the nomination until after the November election.

Brindisi had told the Syracuse Post-Standard the Senate should not act on a nomination until after the election.

"We can’t keep changing the rules based on who has power. We have to just do what’s right for this country — that’s what I try and focus on,” he told the newspaper.

Speaking to reporters on a conference call, Cuomo also weighed in on the controversy.

"Obviously, I think the attempt to fill the vacancy in this rushed, highly political, highly partisan manner is the exact worst thing that this nation can be doing now," Cuomo, a Democrat in his third term, said.

"It stresses the division; it further polarizes; it further politicizes," he added. "You’re talking about just destroying credibility of fundamental democratic institutions, which is the last thing this nation needs at this precarious time."

The risk for Democrats in the debate is that an overly aggressive push to scuttle the nomination process before the election could be perceived by many voters as a partisan scheme to stack the high court with their nominees, said Grant Reeher, director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University.

Reeher said a "more prudent strategy' would be for Democrats to work behind the scenes to pressure a handful of GOP senators to breaks rank with McConnell and oppose a rapid nomination process.

"Then they would be on the higher ground of not subverting the process," he added.

On the Senate floor Monday, Schumer castigated McConnell for pushing for a pre-election confirmation of Trump's nominee after blocking a confirmation hearing in 2016 for Merrick Garland, a Supreme Court choice offered by then President Barack Obama.

"Consistency be damned," Schumer said. "Reason be damned. Democracy be damned. Just admit it: There is no shaping the cravenness of this position.”

At a Brooklyn rally over the weekend, Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive Democrat from Queens, said McConnell is "playing with fire" by backing Trump's plan for a pre-election vote on a nominee.

The fight over the high court vacancy could occupy the Senate for weeks at a time when New York's state and local governments are urging Congress to include a multi-billion bailout package for them as part of the next stimulus bill.

But some analysts suggest the stimulus legislation may get sidelined until 2021 due to the political polarization exacerbated by the judicial selection process.

"The fight over replacing Justice Ginsburg is negative for financials and housing as it likely derails a Phase 4 stimulus until after the inauguration,” Jaret Seiberg, financial services and housing policy analyst for Cowen Washington Research Group, wrote in a note to investors.

Cuomo has said state support for health care, schools, police and other public services will face significant cuts if New York does not receive a second major infusion of relief funds from the federal government.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com

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