Trump earns Supreme Court boost in election final week

US President Donald Trump applauds Judge Amy Coney Barrett on the Truman Balcony after she was sworn in as a US Supreme Court Associate Justice during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House October 26, 2020, in Washington, DC. Brendan Smialowski / AFP
  • Agence France-Presse
  • October 27, 2020 2:41 AM

Washington, United States | President Donald Trump's struggling reelection campaign received a boost Monday with the confirmation of his latest Supreme Court nominee, tilting the top body to the right and clinching his judicial legacy in a landmark victory for American conservatives.

The Republican-controlled Senate elevated judge Amy Coney Barrett to the lifelong position, capping a rapid and deeply contentious process that now makes her the sixth conservative, and third Trump appointee, on the nine-member bench.

With eight days until the November 3 election, the appointment marks an undeniable victory for the president to trumpet as he barnstorms battleground states in a final bid to claw back ground against Democrat Joe Biden.

Barrett, 48, is "going to be great. She's going to be there for a long time," Trump told a cheering crowd in Lititz, at one of three back-to-back rallies in the key swing state of Pennsylvania.

It remains to be seen whether it can be a game-changer for the Republican president, accused by his rival of abandoning the fight against Covid-19 with polls showing voters overwhelmingly disapprove of his pandemic response.

Trump denied any surrender as he landed in Pennsylvania -- his fifth trip there in a month -- and insisted, despite a new surge in infections, that the pandemic is in retreat.

"We're absolutely rounding the corner," he told reporters in Allentown.

But the president betrayed his frustration at the health crisis dragging on his reelection hopes, with a tweet complaining about US media coverage of "COVID, COVID, COVID, all the way to the Election."

Barrett's confirmation provides him with a happy distraction, and the president was to attend a White House swearing-in ceremony on the south lawn upon his return from campaigning in Pennsylvania.

- 'Doom and gloom' -

But the virus is ever-present. More than 225,000 Americans have died, cases are spiking in several states and hopes have dimmed that a trillion-dollar coronavirus relief package could pass Congress before Election Day.

Jitters over the resurgent pandemic and fading hopes of a stimulus deal have weighed on markets, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing 2.3 percent down, the worst session in weeks.

Trump kept his game face on as he touted his economic record, saying voters had "a choice between a Trump super-recovery and a Biden depression."

"His agenda is one of doom and gloom and depression and despair," Trump said, claiming Biden would "destroy your economy" by rapidly transitioning away from fossil fuels.

Complicating Trump's argument that America has the upper hand against the virus, his chief of staff Mark Meadows conceded Sunday that "we are not going to control the pandemic," and that the focus was now on mitigation.

Meadows' comments drew a rebuke from the head of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who warned it was "dangerous" to give up on attempts to stamp out the virus.

Biden meanwhile, in a surprise campaign stop Monday at a polling station in Chester, Pennsylvania, seized on the "deadly admission" from the White House.

"The bottom line is, Donald Trump is the worst possible president -- the worst possible person -- to try to lead us through this pandemic," Biden said.

Earlier Biden said Trump was waiving "the white flag of defeat" and hoping the virus -- which has set records for new cases in recent days, with nearly 90,000 on Saturday -- would just go away.

- Historic early voting -

Biden, 77, has mounted a far more cautious in-person campaign than Trump due to coronavirus concerns. 

But he said he will hit the trail in coming days beginning Tuesday in Georgia, a reliably red state that is suddenly in play, followed by battlegrounds Florida, Iowa and Wisconsin.

"In 8 days, we're going to take our democracy back," tweeted the former vice president, who leads Trump in the polls both nationally and in half a dozen key battlegrounds including Pennsylvania.

As of Monday, 63 million Americans -- wary of the health dangers of crowded polling booths, and energized by a race framed as critical -- had cast early ballots, far surpassing the total of 58 million pre-election ballots cast in 2016.

And with data showing Democrats have an edge in terms of early ballots cast, even Republican leaders have begun to recognize that Trump's presidency may be imperiled.

"A lot of what we've done over the last four years will be undone, sooner or later, by the next election," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday.

But on Monday, while Democrats were stewing over Barrett's confirmation, calling it an "unjustifiable" move that will shatter Republicans' credibility, McConnell was energized. 

"You can't win 'em all," the Republican leader said in a floor speech, "and elections have consequences."

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