Amid rush to confirm Barrett to court, two key Republican senators test positive for COVID-19

David Knowles
·Editor
·5 mins read

Two Republican senators, Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, announced Friday that they had tested positive for COVID-19. Both are members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is scheduled to hold hearings to confirm President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett later this month.

Senator Lee said in a tweet that he would self-isolate for the next 10 days, but assured Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham that he would “be back to work in time to join my Judiciary Committee colleagues” in advancing the nomination.

Senator Tillis also said in a statement that he would begin self-isolating for 10 days.

Both Lee and Tillis attended last Saturday’s Rose Garden announcement of Barrett as Trump’s pick to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Since then Trump himself, first lady Melania Trump, Hope Hicks and University of Notre Dame president John Jenkins, all of whom attended the event, have tested positive for COVID-19. Other Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, including Sens. Mike Crapo of Idaho, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Josh Hawley of Missouri, also attended the Rose Garden event. As of Friday evening, the other members of the Judiciary Committee had not publicly disclosed information about their test status.

Video of the Rose Garden event showed Lee, who was not wearing a face mask, hugging fellow attendees.

The White House said Barrett herself is tested daily and that the results have come back negative. The Washington Post reported Friday that, based on three sources, Barrett had contracted the virus earlier this year and has since recovered.

There is some uncertainty about whether people who recover from COVID-19 can become infected again, and if so, how soon.

Republicans have little wiggle room in which to confirm Barrett’s nomination before a new Senate is sworn in on Jan. 1. Democrats are leading several key races and could take control of the body in next month’s elections. For now, Republicans control 53 seats. They need 51 votes (one of which could be supplied by Vice President Mike Pence if the Senate is tied) to confirm Barrett, and two GOP senators — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — have said they will not vote to confirm her. If more than one Republican — and no Democrats — are incapacitated and unable to vote, Barrett’s nomination could be stalled.

The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to begin confirmation hearings on Oct. 12, the same date that Lee has promised to return to Washington after self-isolating. On its website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that people who test positive for COVID-19 should avoid contact with others “at least 10 days since symptoms first appeared” and “for at least 24 hours with no fever without fever-reducing medication.” On a separate page on its website, the CDC also recommends that people exposed to the virus should “stay home until 14 days after last exposure and maintain social distance (at least 6 feet) from others at all times.”

Lee met with Barrett on Tuesday in his Senate office. The two posed for a picture standing less than 6 feet apart, neither wearing a face mask.

That same day, Crapo touched elbows with Barrett in his office.

One day later, Tillis also met with Barrett in his office.

Graham, the Judiciary Committee chairman, vowed to press ahead with hearings for Barrett. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the committee, put out a joint statement calling Graham’s commitment “premature.”

“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 two Democrats said, adding that holding the hearing remotely “is not an acceptable substitute.”

“All circuit court nominees have appeared in person during the pandemic,” they noted, “and there is far more at stake for the American people with this Supreme Court nomination, including the Affordable Care being struck down and more than 7 million COVID survivors being denied health coverage. 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.”

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