Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) announced Friday that he has tested positive for COVID-19 and said he first began feeling symptoms Thursday morning ― right around the time he attended a nearly 90-minute Senate Judiciary Committee hearing without a mask on for at least part of the time.
Lee’s positive COVID-19 test raises serious questions not just about which other senators he may have infected, but what it means for the committee’s plan to begin Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing in 10 days.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), also a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, tested positive for the coronavirus late Friday, his office said.
Most members of the committee attended the Thursday hearing. Those in attendance included Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Lee.
Lee was there for the entire hearing. He spoke for more than 10 minutes straight when it was his turn to talk, at times shouting into the room. He sat feet away from Cruz. He did not have a mask on when talking, and at times did not have it on when not talking.
Here’s Lee talking during Thursday’s hearing:
It is hard to confirm when, exactly, a senator may have taken off or put on a mask during the hearing given the C-SPAN camera angles. It’s also hard to gauge when a senator may have left or returned. But based on video footage of the hearing, it appears that neither Graham, the chairman, nor Feinstein, the ranking Democrat, wore a mask at all. Leahy wasn’t wearing a mask when on camera, and neither were Ernst, Cornyn, Cruz, Booker, Blumenthal or Hirono.
Grassley appeared to be the only committee member who wore a mask for the duration of the hearing, even when talking.
Every member of the committee will need to be tested now, and they would need to test again in five days to confirm they are in the clear from a COVID-19 infection. If more of them turn out to test positive, that means they won’t be able to attend Barrett’s hearing, which raises new questions about whether the Senate is prepared to move forward with a first-of-its-kind virtual Supreme Court confirmation hearing.
Barrett herself was diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this year, The Washington Post reported Friday, but has since recovered.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Feinstein said Friday morning that it is “premature” to commit to a Supreme Court hearing schedule without knowing the full extent of COVID-19 exposure in the Senate.
“The unfortunate news about the infection of our colleague Senator Mike Lee makes even more clear that health and safety must guide the schedule for all Senate activities, including hearings,” Schumer and Feinstein said in a statement. “In addition, there is bipartisan agreement that a virtual confirmation hearing for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench is not an acceptable substitute. All circuit court nominees have appeared in person during the pandemic, and there is far more at stake for the American people with this Supreme Court nomination, including the Affordable Care [Act] being struck down and more than 7 million COVID survivors being denied health coverage.”
But Barrett’s hearings are staying on schedule for now. Graham tweeted Friday that he is sticking with his originally planned Oct. 12 start date.
A Graham spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on whether he would consider postponing the hearing if more committee members test positive for COVID-19, or if he is prepared to hold a virtual confirmation hearing for Barrett.
This article has been updated to include that Sen. Thom Tillis has tested positive for the coronavirus.