Senate’s Supreme Court Timeline Gets New Scrutiny on Virus Fears

Donald Trump’s fast-track timetable for confirming his Supreme Court nominee is under new pressure after the president’s Covid-19 diagnosis, particularly amid questions about whether the confirmation process might have helped spread the virus.

Republicans and Democrats quickly maneuvered Friday to establish positions on the outlook for Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation as Supreme Court justice in wake of the news of that Trump and one Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mike Lee of Utah, are infected with the coronavirus.

Republicans had been seeking to hold hearings starting the week of Oct. 12 and have a vote before the Nov. 3 election. Democrats argued against what they called a rush to approve Barrett, saying a vote shouldn’t take place until after the election or even the next president’s inauguration in January.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein, the top Democratic senator on the Judiciary Committee, said in a joint statement that it was premature “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.”

Past Infection

Barrett, an appellate court judge who is Trump’s pick to succeed the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, contracted the coronavirus earlier this year, according to a person familiar with the matter. But meetings with the president, top aides and senators in recent days to help advance her nomination spurred concerns about the process serving as a potential spreading channel.

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The Trump administration hasn’t released any estimated matrix of infections related to the president. But at least three have tested positive after attending the White House ceremony where Barrett’s nomination was announced on Sept. 26. Along with Trump and Lee, Notre Dame President John Jenkins has contracted the coronavirus. Lee and Jenkins were photographed at the ceremony without face masks.

Lee met with Barrett on Tuesday, and said Friday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Lee attended a lunch with all Senate Republicans on Wednesday, and on Thursday morning took part in a regularly scheduled Senate Judiciary meeting to discuss pending nominations; most members of the panel were present.

Subsequent to the Judiciary meeting, Lee skipped another Senate GOP luncheon and missed a full Senate vote. His spokesman, Conn Carroll, said it was during that time that Lee’s coronavirus test was administered.

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Feinstein, who was present at the Judiciary meeting, will be tested, her spokesman, Tom Mentzer, said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday morning there are no plans to delay the confirmation hearings still scheduled to begin on Oct. 12, and a spokeswoman for Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham affirmed they will go ahead.

“We don’t plan to delay the consideration,” McConnell said on conservative broadcaster Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. McConnell was asked in the interview whether he will schedule a full Senate vote before the elections, but continued to be noncommittal on timing.

He said they will vote on the nominee “very soon. I haven’t picked an exact point to bring the nomination up but it’s front and center for the American people.”

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Speaking after Trump’s positive diagnosis but before he knew about Lee’s, McConnell said he didn’t know whether any senators had been exposed to the virus in recent days.

Even so, a Republican congressional aide said that some party members are urging McConnell to consider abandoning next week’s planned Senate session — a move that might help reduce risks before the Barrett hearing. Democrats, however, would have to agree in order to change the Senate schedule and they have given no hint they would do so.

With the Senate confirmation vote expected to be close, Republicans cannot afford to lose more than three of their caucus to assure Barrett ascends and secures a rebalancing of the top court in favor of conservatives.

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