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Democrats cite COVID to delay Supreme Court hearings

Updated October 5, 2020 - 10:35 pm

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats cited the growing number of coronavirus infections among White House personnel and senators to call Monday for a delay in the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

Republicans, though, showed no signs of delay in the hearings in order to bring the confirmation for a full Senate vote before the Nov. 3 election.

“We are going ahead with the full, thorough, and timely confirmation process that Judge Barrett and the court deserve,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on the Senate floor.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said President Donald Trump’s infection and coronavirus spread to the Senate should serve as “a reality check,” and that virtual hearings for such a nomination to a lifetime appointment would be unacceptable.

Hearings are expected to begin as early as next week. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, one of two GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who have tested positive for the virus, said he plans to vote for confirmation when it is held.

Lee, and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., were in the White House Rose Garden for the president’s official nomination of Barrett to fill the Supreme Court seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Both are on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and both have tested positive for COVID-19.

Since that Rose Garden gathering, the president, first lady, White House and campaign staffers, senators and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, among others, have tested positive for the virus and are in quarantine.

Trump was treated over the weekend at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

Virtual hearings

The Senate is in recess for two weeks. McConnell said the Judiciary Committee could continue with virtual confirmation hearings, as has been done by the panel 20 times since the pandemic struck. He said the Senate could be called back for a vote when the committee votes on sending the nomination to the full Senate.

Schumer said, “Leader McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham’s drive to confirm Judge Barrett at all costs needlessly threatens the health and safety of senators, staff, and all those who work in the Capitol complex.”

Still, Democrats lack the votes to stop the confirmation without GOP help. Republicans hold a majority on the Judiciary Committee, 12-10. Committee rules can be changed to allow lawmakers to vote by proxy on sending the nomination to the full Senate.

But senators would have to vote in person if the full chamber on Barrett’s confirmation.

The GOP has a 53-47 majority, but Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine said they would not vote for confirmation of a nominee before the Nov. 3 election.

Another senator, Ron Johnson, R-Wis., also has been diagnosed with the virus.

Senate Republicans can only afford to lose three votes. If they do, they would lose the opportunity to confirm Barrett to the Supreme Court. Democrats are united in their opposition to the Barrett nomination.

Nevadans opposed

Nevada’s two Democratic senators, Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, have both said they would vote to oppose confirmation of Barrett, citing her record on reproductive rights and health care.

“Judge Barrett’s confirmation would lead to the end of the Affordable Care Act, during a pandemic, while tens of thousands of Americans are being diagnosed with COVID-19 each day,” Schumer said.

Cortez Masto and Rosen said the elimination of the ACA, also known as Obamacare, would strip coverage from thousands of Nevadans who need care.

The controversial law passed without a single Republican vote in 2010 and has been the subject of scores of repeal votes in the decade since. A lawsuit that seeks to invalidate the law is headed for the Supreme Court.

Trump has vowed to protect people with pre-existing health conditions, but has not offered a plan to do so.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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