/Supreme Court hearings are moving forward, despite COVID-19 diagnoses for senators

Supreme Court hearings are moving forward, despite COVID-19 diagnoses for senators

WASHINGTON – Although the Senate will not return to session until Oct. 19, the Senate Judiciary Committee is pushing forward on the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court as scheduled next week.

The timeline of Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing was thrown into question Friday after two Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee tested positive for COVID-19: Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. Both attended a Rose Garden ceremony announcing President Donald Trump’s choice of Barrett to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the high court. Several people in attendance, including the president, have since tested positive for COVID-19. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement Saturday that he will obtain a consent agreement for the full Senate session to remain out for two more weeks. But  Republican leaders have maintained that the scheduled four days of hearings for Barrett will begin as planned Oct. 12. Democrats have been urging to delay the hearings until at least after Election Day.

McConnell said in his statement that “the important work of the Senate’s committees can and will continue as each committee sees fit.”

“Since May, the Judiciary Committee has operated flawlessly through a hybrid method that has seen some Senators appear physically at its hearings while other members have participated virtually,” McConnell said. “The Committee has utilized this format successfully for many months while protecting the health and safety of all involved. Certainly all Republican members of the committee will participate in these important hearings.”

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But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has called on McConnell to delay the hearings, saying in a news conference Sunday that “if it’s not safe for the Senate to meet in session, it’s not safe for the hearings to go forward.”

Schumer said holding the hearings puts senators and members of their staff in danger, and he doesn’t believe Barrett can be properly examined through a virtual hearing.

“There is no reason on God’s green earth why they shouldn’t be delayed, other than an effort to rush a witness through in an inadequate hearing, where people can’t even see the witness face to face,” Schumer said. 

Republicans united on the support for confirmation hearings

Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham said Saturday that Barrett is going to be confirmed “safely.”

“We’re going to have a hearing for Amy Barrett, the nominee to the Supreme Court. It will be done safely,” Graham said during a debate with his Democratic challenger, Jaime Harrison. “But I’ve got a job to do, and I’m pressing on.”

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who is not a member of the Judiciary Committee, said Sunday that the hearings could be done online, as 20 other committee hearings have been this year.

“The hearing is going forward, no doubt in my mind, starting a week from (Monday),” Cotton told Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.” “I think every senator who has tested positive or is in isolation will be back to work, under normal conditions, as other senators have been as well.”

Cotton also predicted Barrett would be confirmed by the end of October and noted that senators in past years have voted despite serious ailments.

“There is a long tradition of ill or medically infirm senators being wheeled in to cast critical votes on the Senate floor,” Cotton said. “Most recently, (late West Virginia Democratic Sen.) Robert Byrd in 2009 repeatedly rolled in, in a wheelchair, just months before his death to vote for Obamacare.”

“I’m confident that every senator will be in attendance when his or her vote is needed,” he continued.

Can Democrats do anything to delay?

When asked if there are now procedural options for Democrats to delay the hearings now with two senators diagnosed with COVID-19, Schumer said they don’t have options to delay the hearings, but “we will have many more procedural options when it comes to a vote in the Senate committee and a vote on the floor, and we will use every tool in the toolbox to delay and not have the votes occur.”

Schumer also called on the public to pressure senators who have COVID-19 and those who don’t to delay the hearings.

“We should be delaying these hearings so we can have a full and fair hearing, not something over Zoom,” Schumer said. “That doesn’t measure up when you have the most important appointment that the Senate makes for a lifetime.”

Other Democrats have joined the call for hearings to be delayed, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee, who said it should be postponed until after the Nov. 3 election.

“We should let the people decide,” Klobuchar told Fox News Sunday. “Decide who the president is after this election and let them pick the nominee.”

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Like Schumer, Klobuchar warned that it’s possible more senators will become sick, after Republicans have congregated with Trump and others who were later found to be infected.

“I don’t know why you would ram through this Supreme Court hearing, put people in danger because it would be within that two-week period,” Klobuchar said. “I just think it’s wrong. We are suggesting that we wait.”

Although the Judiciary Committee held other virtual hearings, Klobuchar said, that shouldn’t be the case for a Supreme Court vacancy. Klobuchar said she helped organize previous virtual hearings, but she said senators need an opportunity to have exchanges with the nominee in their questioning about the Affordable Care Act and other issues.

“Absolutely not. This is for the highest court of the land,” Klobuchar said. “Again, we believe you should have an in-person hearing.”

Contributing: Bart Jansen