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Senators test positive for COVID-19, potentially delaying Supreme Court nominee’s hearings

Confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett are scheduled to start October 12, but Judiciary Committee members Mike Lee and Thom Tillis will be in quarantine until then.
Sat Oct 3, 2020 - 12:38 pm EST
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U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 3, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – After two Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee tested positive for COVID-19, the plan to start confirmation hearings on October 12 for Judge Amy Coney Barrett to become the next Supreme Court justice might be derailed.

Before the tests, “Democrats were openly discussing a boycott of a committee vote on Barrett in order to deny a quorum, so Republicans were already thinking through their options to overcome such unprecedented obstruction,” National Review pointed out.

Republican Senator Mike Lee of announced Friday that he started experiencing “symptoms consisted with longtime allergies” on Thursday morning. “Out of an abundance of caution, I sought medical advice and was tested for COVID-19. Unlike the test I took just a few days ago while visiting the White House, yesterday’s test came back positive.”

Lee said he was quarantining “for the next 10 days” until October 12.

In his brief statement, he made sure to emphasize that he had spoken with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, “and assured them I will be back to work in time to join my Judiciary Committee colleagues in advancing the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett in the Committee and then to the full Senate.”

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Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina said just a few hours after Lee that he tested positive for COVID-19, as well. Like Lee, Tillis is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He also will be “self-isolating at home for 10 days,” but he didn’t comment on any implications his diagnosis might have on confirming Barrett as a Supreme Court justice.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Judiciary Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein released a statement on Friday urging Graham not to commit to a hearing schedule in the face of two members of the committee diagnosed with COVID-19.

“It is premature for Chairman Graham to commit to a hearing schedule when we do not know the full extent of potential exposure stemming from the president’s infection and before the White House puts in place a contact tracing plan to prevent further spread of the disease,” they wrote. “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.”

The statement was released after both President Donald Trump and Lee tested positive, but before Tillis had his test results.

“In addition,” the Democrats’ statement continuned, “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.”

As pointed out by National Review’s John McCormack, Schumer and Feinstein “didn’t actually cite any Republican objections to allowing senators to question Barrett via video,” raising questions if there in fact is “bipartisan agreement” on not having virtual hearings.

“Despite the newfound objections to remote hearings from Senate Democrats, many Senate committees have been holding remote or hybrid hearings since the coronavirus hit the United States this spring,” McCormack stated. “That includes Judiciary Committee hearings for lifetime appointment(s) to the federal bench.”

One Twitter user demonstrated in a lengthy thread that a significant number of senators have attended hearings remotely during the coronavirus crisis. Some of the nominees for various courts also attended remotely. “Of the 22 senators on the Judiciary Committee, 4 Democrats and 2 Republicans have attended at least one nominations hearing over the past 5 months remotely,” the user summarized. “A good number of the other 16 … didn’t show up remotely or in person.”

Nevertheless, Schumer and Feinstein emphasized in their statement that it’s “critical that Chairman Graham put the health of senators, the nominee, and staff first — and ensure a full and fair hearing that is not rushed, not truncated, and not virtual. Otherwise this already illegitimate process will become a dangerous one.”

Democrats have criticized the president for wanting to confirm his nominee for the Supreme Court mere weeks before the election, arguing he should let the people decide who gets to nominate the replacement for the late pro-abortion Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Trump said during the first presidential debate last Tuesday, “We won the election. Elections have consequences. We have the Senate, we have the White House, and we have a phenomenal nominee.”

“And we just, we won the election, and therefore we have the right to choose her and very few people knowingly would say otherwise — and by the way the Democrats, they wouldn’t even think about that, doing it,” he added. “If they had — the only difference is they’d try and do it faster. There’s no way they would give it up. They had Merrick Garland, but the problem is they didn’t have the elections so they were stopped, and probably that would happen in reversal.”

President Barack Obama had nominated Judge Merrick Garland to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016, almost 10 months before the election. At the time, the Republican majority in the Senate blocked his confirmation. After Trump was elected, the Senate confirmed his nominee, now-Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Graham announced a tentative schedule for confirming Barrett shortly after Trump nominated her. October 12 would be a day of introductions, followed by two days of questioning by members of the committee.

The review of the committee’s recommendation would start October 15 and conclude possibly October 22. Then the full Senate is expected to vote on Barrett’s confirmation.

Republicans currently have 53 seats in the Senate. They can accommodate for three defections, given that at 50 votes in favor of Barrett, Vice President Mike Pence would cast the tiebreaking vote. Pence is expected to fully support the nominee.


  amy coney barrett, chuck schumer, covid-19, democrats, dianne feinstein, donald trump, hearings, lindsey graham, mike lee, mike pence, mitch mcconnell, national review, quarantine, republicans, senate judiciary committee, thom tillis, u.s. supreme court

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