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“Full steam ahead”: Senate Republicans aren’t slowing Supreme Court confirmation process in the wake of Trump’s diagnosis

Sen. Lindsey Graham is still planning to kick off a confirmation hearing on October 12.

Sens. Patrick Leahy and Lindsey Graham are seen before a Senate Judiciary Committee markup on judicial nominations on October 1.
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

In the wake of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis, Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham announced that he won’t be changing his plans for the Supreme Court confirmation process at this point.

The confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett was set to begin in a little over a week, on Monday, October 12. Friday’s news prompted questions about whether this schedule would shift, given concerns about senators’ exposure to coronavirus and their ability to fully participate in the process.

Barrett — as well as several senators — attended a Rose Garden event with the president this past weekend, and multiple lawmakers have been in contact with White House aides as well. Barrett tested negative for the coronavirus Friday morning, according to a White House spokesperson.

Graham made clear Friday that the news about Trump wouldn’t affect the original timing he had in mind.

“We’re on track ... we’re going to work hard to get this wonderful, conservative young lady, talented beyond belief, Amy Barrett, on the Supreme Court,” he said during an event in South Carolina.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed this sentiment in a radio interview on Friday, while acknowledging that it will be important to limit coronavirus exposure at the Capitol. “Our biggest enemy obviously is the coronavirus, keeping everybody healthy and well and in place to do our job,” he said. “We don’t anticipate any kind of unanticipated event that could throw us off schedule.” In a tweet the same day, McConnell reiterated plans to move “full steam ahead.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Judiciary ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), meanwhile, urged lawmakers to wait on more contact tracing information before determining next steps. “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,” they said in a statement.

Schumer has also pushed for the Capitol to establish a more coordinated testing and contact tracing protocol. As Politico reported, the Senate doesn’t currently have a comprehensive system for lawmakers and staffers to get tested, and many are routinely working with other members as well as the White House.

Senate Judiciary member Mike Lee (R-UT) on Friday announced that he had tested positive and intended to engage with Barrett’s confirmation process to the extent that he could.

There have been questions raised about how the coronavirus could affect the confirmation process

Given renewed concerns about coronavirus exposure, the hearings for Barrett could end up being remote, McConnell noted. He added that he expects a vote on her nomination to be wrapped up by October 22, though he has yet to specify a final day for a floor vote. Thus far, there are no plans to change up timing on the nomination. Schumer and Feinstein have argued, too, that a virtual hearing is not sufficient because of the seriousness of the process.

That argument is unlikely to deter Republicans, who have been determined to approve a new Supreme Court nominee before the election, a reversal of the positions they took on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland in 2016.

There aren’t yet any signs that Trump’s and Lee’s diagnosis will affect that push.