“We’re going to have a hearing for Amy Barrett, the nominee to the Supreme Court,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said over the weekend about the first, major step in the process. “It will be done safely — but I’ve got a job to do, and I’m pressing on.”
It’s obvious why Republicans want to plow through: They have a legacy-defining chance to tilt the Supreme Court for years to come, and their ability to do that gets more uncertain after the election. What if they lose the White House and Senate majority?
But there are also significant risks — both to their health and political fortunes — for Senate Republicans in holding this hearing now. Here are some of the big ones:
They underscore their political aim
Republicans are already making a partisan, unpopular decision by considering Barrett’s nomination now. A majority of Americans in polls already say they think the person elected to be president in November should get to choose the nominee to fill the seat left vacant by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death.
Now Republicans will be holding this hearing when the rest of the Senate won’t be in session because of a coronavirus outbreak.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has halted Senate votes until Oct. 19. As Democrats point out, if it’s not safe to be in the Capitol voting, why is it safe to be in a hearing room? Some of it could be done virtually, but Democrats are objecting to that for such an important hearing, and The Washington Post’s Seung Min Kim reports that Barrett plans to be there in person.
They risk not having enough votes to get it out of committee
Republicans control 12 of the 22 seats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Many of those Republicans attended Barrett’s nomination announcement at the White House, and two of those who did — Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) — now have the coronavirus. Two other Republican senators on the committee, Ted Cruz of Texas and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, are in quarantine because of direct contact with an infected person. There’s a chance they will be healthy in time to vote.
There’s a chance that they will not and that the committee doesn’t even have a quorum to hold votes. Or that more senators get sick right before the hearings and Republicans have to cancel it anyway.
Or what if Republicans hold the hearing and their slim margin to vote Barrett out of committee gets slimmer because of the virus? That could open the door for one Republican on the committee to join Democrats and halt proceedings.
We’re not sure who that might be or for what reason, given how aligned Republicans have been on her nomination. But it happened in 2018 when then-GOP Sen. Jeff Flake paused Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to allow for an FBI investigation into the sexual assault allegations against him.
As they did for Kavanaugh, Republicans are pushing through Barrett’s nomination without expecting any Democratic votes in committee or on the full Senate floor. That means they have little room for error within their own party. Two Republican senators who will vote on the final confirmation on the Senate floor, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have already indicated they wouldn’t cast a vote for Barrett before the election.
They hold the hearing, and more people get sick because of it
Top Republicans’ cavalier and sometimes even hostile attitude to public-health advice on the virus is already on display with the White House becoming a hot spot after a mostly maskless Barrett nomination event that featured several tightly packed, indoor gatherings. Trump and other Republicans had been traveling and meeting with people even after they knew people in their close orbit got sick, which is against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s own advice.
The party risks looking “stupid” in how it handles the coronavirus for all of that, a Republican told The Post over the weekend.
Republicans are again planning to hold an indoor event (though with more precautions than the White House took) in the middle of a coronavirus outbreak in their party. Trump’s poor handling of the coronavirus is dragging down his polling numbers and some vulnerable Senate Republicans with him. Now, Republicans risk being the source of another virus-spreading event that endangers some of the nation’s leaders.