Politico

McConnell vows 'full steam ahead' on Barrett as fears rise of virus outbreak


Senate Republicans insisted Friday they have no plans to delay Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation — but a key member of the Senate Judiciary Committee tested positive for the coronavirus and Washington was roiled by a possible outbreak at the White House.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Friday said the chamber intends to move “full steam ahead” on Barrett’s nomination. And the Judiciary Committee will proceed with hearings later this month, according to a GOP aide, though some portions of it may be conducted remotely.

But hours after President Donald Trump announced he had contracted the virus, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said he had tested positive, too. The Utah Republican is a critical member of the Judiciary panel and attended Barrett’s announcement on Saturday at the White House. He also met with Barrett on Tuesday and attended committee meetings and party lunches later in the week where he may have infected other senators.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is scheduled to begin hearings for Barrett on Oct. 12, and is planning to hold a committee vote on the nomination on Oct. 22. In his statement, Lee said he planned to quarantine for 10 days and expected to be able to provide support for Barrett in the committee.

“I have spoken with Leader McConnell and Chairman Graham, and assured them I will be back to work in time to join my Judiciary Committee colleagues in advancing the Supreme Court nomination,” Lee said.

Republican senators are eager to hold a confirmation vote on the floor before the Nov. 3 election, despite outrage from Democrats who say the winner of the upcoming election should fill the vacancy left by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

On Friday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called on McConnell and Graham to postpone Barrett’s hearings due to the possibility of an outbreak among senators.

“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,” Schumer and Feinstein said in a joint statement.

Barrett tested negative for Covid-19 on Friday morning, a White House official said. White House spokesperson Judd Deere said Barrett has not met with the president since she was unveiled as Trump’s nominee during a Rose Garden ceremony last Saturday, adding that Barrett has been following guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

McConnell told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt earlier Friday that he has yet to choose a date for the final floor vote but that Democrats will be unable to delay Barrett’s confirmation. But fallout from the pandemic is largely out of his control.

“Our biggest enemy, obviously, is what we were talking about at the beginning of the interview — the coronavirus, keeping everybody healthy and well and in place to do our job,” he said.

McConnell added that portions of Barrett’s confirmation hearings are likely to be conducted remotely, telling Hewitt that he was not yet sure whether senators who met with Barrett and the White House officials had contracted the virus.

“It can sneak up on you as it did with the president and the first lady. So we’re keeping an eye on everyone,” McConnell said.

Barrett met with 30 Republican senators from Tuesday to Thursday, and was in close proximity with top White House officials including chief of staff Mark Meadows, counsel Pat Cipollone and Vice President Mike Pence.

Pence and his wife, Karen, tested negative for the virus on Friday morning, the vice president’s spokesperson said.

Meadows on Friday said the president has “mild” symptoms but is “very energetic” and in good spirits.

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

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