Senate Republicans pledged to plow ahead with the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court despite President Trump’s diagnosis of COVID-19 and the potential for an outbreak among their ranks.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the virus the “biggest enemy” standing in the way of confirming Barrett, given the close margin of votes he is working with.
With two Republicans already opposed to confirming a nominee so close to the November election, McConnell can afford to lose only one more vote on the Senate floor and still confirm Barrett. Because senators must be in the chamber to cast a vote, any absence of a Republican because of illness or necessary quarantine could put the vote tally at risk.
Republicans are “keeping everybody healthy and well and in place to do our jobs,” McConnell said on the Hugh Hewitt radio show. “Every precaution needs to be taken. We don’t anticipate any Democratic support at all … and therefore everybody needs to be in an all-hands-on-deck mind-set.”
Republicans view Barrett’s confirmation as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pull the Supreme Court to the right, one that they are unlikely to allow anything to derail. But it was Barrett’s nomination that could have put lawmakers at risk.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced Friday that he had tested positive for the virus. He attended the announcement of Barrett’s nomination at the White House Rose Garden Saturday along with Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, the president of the University of Notre Dame, where Barrett used to teach, and White House aide Hope Hicks, all of whom have tested positive.
More than dozen other Senate Republicans attended the packed event. Like most of the crowd, many of the elected officials at the event did not wear a mask.
On Thursday, Lee attended a Judiciary Committee meeting, potentially exposing other members of the panel to the virus. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee, was expected to get a test, an aide said Friday.
Amid the looming threat, Republicans on the committee are preparing for a pandemic-style, largely virtual confirmation hearing, which is scheduled to get underway Oct. 12.
“We’re on track,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the committee chairman, told reporters in South Carolina on Friday. “We’re in a good spot. She’s going to get confirmed.”
Senate committees have been meeting remotely and members of the Judiciary panel are expected to be able to do so also. Barrett and Graham are expected to be in the committee room, and senators will have the option of questioning remotely, according to a committee aide.
Sanitizing stations will be at every senator’s desk. Seating for staff and press — who typically jam into the room for such high-profile hearings alongside the public — will