Are we to believe that with two Judiciary Committee members — and perhaps other senators — infected yet not committed to following CDC guidelines, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) would force their colleagues to gather for hearings and potentially expose even more senators to the novel coronavirus? Apparently, Republicans have not learned anything from President Trump’s illness or the infection of first lady Melania Trump, Trump aides such as Kellyanne Conway, and reporters. The virus does not care if you are campaigning or trying to jam through a Supreme Court nominee. To ignore the risk is to endanger others’ lives.
Moreover, as a simple political matter, it’s foolish to give Democrats on the Judiciary Committee a platform to lambaste Republicans for their reckless behavior in front of a huge national audience. Democrats need not ask Trump’s nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, anything other than to confirm definitive statements she has previously made about Roe v. Wade, the Affordable Care Act and other hot-button issues. Democrats could then use their time explaining how Republican senators are endangering their colleagues and aides. By voting to confirm Barrett, Democrats would explain, Republicans are making a naked power grab that damages the Supreme Court’s reputation as a nonpartisan body (to the extent that the court still has any credibility). Democrats could also emphasize that Republicans voting for Barrett want to strike down the ACA and criminalize abortion, among other things. Senate Republicans want a vote before Election Day? They might get their wish — after Senate Democrats have advertised how extreme Republicans’ views are and how reckless they have been about potentially spreading the virus. Let’s hope it does not come to that.
In a joint statement released Friday before word of Tillis’s illness became public, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) practically pleaded with Graham not to endanger their colleagues and staff:
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.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.In addition, there is bipartisan agreement that a virtual confirmation hearing for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench is not an acceptable substitute. All circuit court nominees have appeared in person during the pandemic . . . 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.
Fortunately, both McConnell and Graham are on the ballot in November, so voters could register their disapproval for such reckless endangerment by kicking them both out of office.
Then again, surely Barrett has enough common sense and concern for the well-being of fellow Americans to insist that the hearing not go forward until everyone has been quarantined for a full 14 days. (Since she had the virus this summer and, thankfully, recovered, maybe she can share the precautions she took to avoid infecting her family.) No reasonable person, let alone someone who wants to be entrusted with a Supreme Court seat, would encourage such behavior. Susan Hennessey of Lawfare blog and the Brookings Institution tweeted her dismay:
If three Republicans are incapacitated, the Senate would lack a quorum to vote on the nomination. If only two are out, a single Republican senator nevertheless could put an end to this wantonly dangerous behavior. Two Republicans have already said they oppose holding a vote for the nominee before Election Day, given the principle that McConnell used to deny Obama nominee Merrick Garland a confirmation hearing in 2016. We need a single Republican to step forward and say, Enough! Don’t bother endangering each other, because I won’t show up to jam this through. That would definitively end the whole reckless exercise. We will not have to rely on the good judgment of characters like Johnson, Lee and Tillis to absent themselves for a full 14 days or longer if need be.
That is what any decent person would do, particularly one in a public position of power. That is what pro-life is supposed to mean, right? The prioritization of human life above more mundane concerns? Unfortunately, Republicans’ cavalier attitude toward the virus and their enabling of Trump did not prioritize the lives of ordinary Americans, more than 7 million of whom have have been infected. Republicans have not heeded the lesson of the more than 208,000 Americans who have died. Maybe when their own lives are on the line, and when the lives of their loved ones (who could be infected), colleagues and staff are at risk, they will act responsibly. If Graham and McConnell are too blinded by partisanship and their lust for power to heed the call, then one other Republican senator needs to step forward to save these people from themselves.