Republican senators, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham, are trying to rush through the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett in near-record time, hoping to confirm her as the court’s ninth justice by Election Day, now just a month away.
But the coronavirus may end up thwarting those plans.
It’s looking more and more like the Rose Garden ceremony held on Sept. 26 to announce Barrett’s nomination to the seat left vacant by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg will turn out to be a super-spreader event. A number of attendees, including two key senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee—Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Mike Lee of Utah—and, of course, President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump, have since tested positive for coronavirus and have entered quarantine. Among the other attendees who have announced that they too have tested positive: former presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway (disclosed by her daughter on TikTok); former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was one of Trump’s debate coaches before Tuesday’s face-off with Joe Biden; Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien and Rev. John Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame University, where Barrett taught for 15 years before being elevated to the Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019.
From the beginning, the timeline to confirm Barrett before Election Day was going to be a tight one. Sen. Graham had announced that hearings would begin on Oct. 12, saying he expected to send the judge’s nomination to the full Senate by Oct. 22 and then confirm her as soon as Oct. 26, eight days before Election Day
Top Senate Democrats have, from the beginning of the process, complained bitterly about its speed, arguing that no hearings should take place until the voters have a chance to choose a president on Nov. 3. The coronavirus developments have only amplified those objections.
“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,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said in a joint statement issued Friday. “Otherwise this already illegitimate process will become a dangerous one.” Schumer followed up with a tweet after the news of Lee’s and Tillis’s positive tests became public:
Sen. Elizabeth Warren also tweeted out her concerns about the confirmation hearings going forward:
The Republicans have a 53–47 majority in the Senate, but two of their members, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have already said they oppose holding a vote to confirm a Supreme Court justice before the election. With all Democrats going on the record to say that they will oppose the nomination, McConnell will need every remaining vote of his party’s senators (and possibly the tie-breaker of Vice President Mike Pence) to confirm Barrett.