The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination is stained by the GOP’s recklessness on covid-19

Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie hugs Maureen Ferguson, senior fellow at the Catholic Association, following the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court at the White House on Sept. 26. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

It is impossible to separate the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court from the Republican refusal to put the health and safety of others first during covid-19 pandemic. They will always be intertwined.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) let the cat out of the bag when he admitted on Thursday that he had not been to the White House since August. “I haven’t actually been to the White House since August the 6th because my impression was their approach to how to handle this is different from mine and what I insisted that we do in the Senate, which is to wear a mask and practice social distancing,” he said. This is a damning indictment not only of the president’s reckless disregard for others, but also of McConnell’s own policies on covid-19. While McConnell might wear a mask, there is no mandatory rule for all senators and staff to do the same. At least three senators have been infected recently; some Republican senators including two on the Judiciary Committee (Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa) refuse to be tested.

In other words, Senate Republican seem just as reckless as President Trump. They are knowingly willing to put others (senators, staff and families of both) in danger in seeking political advantage. Graham’s Democratic opponent for Senate, Jaime Harrison, wisely called Graham out for ducking a coronavirus test. “The debate moderators and I have agreed to take a COVID test prior to debating. I’ve scheduled my test, and I am calling on Sen. Graham to do the same,” Harrison tweeted. If Graham refuses a test, it will be powerful ammunition for Harrison and Senate Democrats that Graham is recklessly indifferent to others’ health.

Such charges could be levied against Barrett, too. She attended both the outdoor ceremony and the indoor reception at the White House on Sept. 26 that were likely a superspreader event. Almost everyone there was unmasked — including Barrett. Social distancing was not observed. As someone who reportedly contracted the coronavirus in the summer, how could she allow such a reckless and dangerous event to proceed? Perhaps she was too anxious to please the White House and not concerned enough about exerting her independent judgment — a problematic mind-set for a judge.

Barrett, too, is responsible if her confirmation hearings proceed next week without full covid-19 guidelines in place, including testing for all participants. She can bring a halt to a public health hazard in the making. Once again, her judicial temperament and judgment are at issue. Is there no pro-life Republican who will declare this recklessness unacceptable and demand the hearings be delayed until safe protocols are in place?

Aside from the covid-19 issues, two other points are worth making regarding Barrett’s nomination. One concerns process, the other substance.

The first is that former vice president Joe Biden should give a straight answer on whether he would add justices to the Supreme Court. Biden should explain why doing so would be entirely appropriate rather than offering his campaign talking point that he does not want his answer to serve as a “distraction.” First, he is not conceding Barrett will be on the court, and second, he does not know which party will control the Senate. Third, it could be dependent on Barrett’s conduct: If she is on the court but, for example, rebuffs Trump’s attempts to invalidate the election or recuses herself from such a case, that would be one thing; if she is eager to capitulate to Trump and try to delegitimize his defeat, that is quite another. Biden needs to give a better answer to a legitimate question.

The second point is that Republicans have a dead-bang loser in trying to push through another conservative onto the court during an election. Polls increasingly show that overturning Roe v. Wade is hugely unpopular. That is why Vice President Pence, when asked during the debate on Wednesday if his home state of Indiana should outlaw or restrict abortion, declined to say. His answer almost certainly would be yes, but he is afraid to scare off voters. Republicans used to complain that Roe was a judicial infringement on a political issue best left to the political branches; now Republicans want to use the court to block majority opinion. (It is of a piece with Republicans’ embrace of authoritarianism and contempt for democracy.) Likewise, Barrett’s expressed animosity toward Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act is proving to be yet another stake in the heart of the GOP Senate majority.

It is long past time — for political, moral and now health reasons — for Republicans to put decency and concern for others first. If they do not, they may spend a long time in the political wilderness.

The briefings on President Trump's health are a deliberate exercise in obfuscation, says physician and Post contributing columnist Leana S. Wen. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Micheal Reynolds/Bloomberg, Alex Edelman/Getty/The Washington Post)

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The Post’s View: Covid-19 is a fearsome killer. Trump’s magical thinking will not change that.

Jim Obergefell and Alphonso David: Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation would be an LGBTQ rights emergency

Michael Gerson: Pence can’t do anything to justify Trump’s deadly choice