In addition to President Donald Trump, the first lady and several White House aides, three GOP senators, including two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, have tested positive for the virus and are in quarantine.
“If this were a baseball team or a football team and three of the players came down with COVID-19, we would have canceled the game and postponed it to a future date,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), another member of the committee, told MSNBC on Monday.
The hearings on Barrett’s nomination to the high court are scheduled to begin the week of Oct. 12, and a final vote on her confirmation is expected prior to Nov. 3, Election Day. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed there would be no delays in the process, declaring “full steam ahead” despite the positive coronavirus diagnoses among his members. GOP Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Mike Lee of Utah, both Judiciary Committee members, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin have all tested positive.
McConnell did, however, cancel planned votes this week in the Senate following news of the outbreak. The chamber now stands in recess until Oct. 19.
While Democrats have few procedural tools available to block Barrett’s confirmation outright, the alarming rise in cases among Washington officials ― which appears to have stemmed at least in part from a Rose Garden ceremony in honor of Barrett’s nomination ― has given Democrats a new line of attack.
At a press conference in New York City on Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for a delay in the hearings and for the establishment of a robust testing regimen for members of Congress and staff.
“If it’s not safe for the Senate to meet in session, it’s not safe for the hearing to go forward,” Schumer said after slamming Trump for holding that tightly packed ceremony at the White House with few masks and no social distancing.
In a statement on Monday, Schumer added that if Republicans push forward with the hearings, “every Senator and relevant staff must have negative tests on two consecutive days and have completed the appropriate quarantining period, and there should be mandatory testing every day of the hearing.”
Democrats are also insisting that Supreme Court confirmation hearings ought to take place in person rather than virtually. They argue that in-person hearings are more important for nominees to the highest court in the land than for those picked for lower courts. Amid the pandemic, Democrats have been participating virtually in most committee hearings on Capitol Hill out of an abundance of caution.
Republicans are unlikely to accede to those demands, however, dismissing them as stalling tactics designed to thwart Barrett’s nomination rather than legitimate concerns about the health of senators and staff on the Hill.
“When a military member gets infected, you don’t shut down the whole unit,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, during a weekend debate with his Democratic challenger Jamie Harrison.
“I’ve got a job to do and I’m pressing on,” Graham added of the hearings.