“We made an important contribution to the future of this country,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Sunday, praising Barrett as a “stellar nominee” in every respect. “A lot of what we’ve done over the last four years will be undone sooner or later by the next election. They won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.”
Barrett is President Trump’s third nominee to the Supreme Court and if confirmed, the 48-year-old jurist would solidify a 6-to-3 conservative majority on the court for years to come.
Democrats, powerless to stop her confirmation, have cast the process as a power grab by Republicans eager to rush the nomination days ahead of the election. They repeatedly warned that Barrett is a threat to health care for millions of Americans, abortion rights and gay rights.
The specter of the coronavirus pandemic loomed again over Barrett’s nomination as several aides close to Vice President Pence, including his top staffer, tested positive for the novel coronavirus even as Pence made clear his intention to attend the Monday evening confirmation vote.
“As vice president, I’m president of the Senate. And I’m going to be in the chair because I wouldn’t miss that vote for the world,” Pence said Saturday night at a campaign rally in Tallahassee, shortly before the disclosure of the fresh covid-19 outbreak within his staff. “Come this Monday night, Judge Amy Coney Barrett is going to be Justice Amy Coney Barrett. We’re going to fill that seat.”
A spokesman for the vice president’s office did not respond to inquiries Sunday as to whether Pence planned to attend the vote for Barrett, who hails from Pence’s home state of Indiana. Pence is regularly summoned to the Capitol to preside over major votes for the administration, or if he needs to break a tie.
Pence’s public schedule for Monday, released Sunday night, does not include a trip to the Capitol, although his plans can be revised during the day. He plans to return to Washington shortly after 6 p.m. Monday after campaigning in Minnesota.
McConnell, who has been highly critical of how the White House has not abided by public health guidelines on its property, on Sunday declined to answer multiple times whether he preferred that Pence stay away from the Capitol for the confirmation vote.
While Pence has had close contact with Marc Short — his chief of staff who tested positive for the virus — aides said the vice president will not quarantine and will instead continue with his scheduled events because he is considered essential personnel.
That decision had some immediate repercussions at the Capitol on Sunday, while handing Democrats another opportunity to criticize the White House’s handling of the pandemic and the Republicans’ determination to confirm Barrett above seemingly all else.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned his ranks to limit their time in the Senate chamber amid news of the fresh outbreak on Pence’s staff, as well as some reports of infections in the offices of Republican senators. The Democratic side of the Senate chamber remained mostly empty during the key procedural vote Sunday, as Democrats voted from doorways or quickly flashed a thumbs-down toward the floor staff before leaving.
In a floor speech, Schumer blasted the White House, noting that the coronavirus task force — which Pence officially leads — not only “failed to keep the American people safe, it has even failed to keep the White House safe.”
“The vice president, who’s been exposed to five people with covid-19, will ignore CDC guidelines to be here tomorrow, putting the health of everyone who works in this building at risk,” Schumer said. “It sets a terrible, terrible example for the American people and nothing could be more a metaphor for what’s going on here.”
Various senators have announced sporadically that they either tested positive or were exposed to someone who was, or have had aides who have been diagnosed with the deadly virus. The most recent example was Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), whose office said Saturday that two of her aides tested positive but that the senator herself had been negative for the coronavirus.
Asked Sunday whether she had close contact with those aides — which, under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, would require a 14-day quarantine — the senator said, “Not at all.”
Republican senators played down any potential risk that Pence’s physical presence may pose in the Capitol on Monday, and none publicly advised the vice president to rethink his decision to attend the proceedings.
“I mean, we don’t need his vote,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said. “But if he wants to come, I assume they’re coordinating closely with all the medical professionals, and I assume he tests daily.”
Pence is indeed tested regularly, and his office said Saturday night and Sunday morning that both he and his wife, Karen Pence, were negative for the coronavirus.
“Mike’s responsibility is to be here to preside over the Senate. I think the vice president will think he’ll do that safely,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). “Most certainly, I think he’s a very responsible individual and I think he will do it according to the best practices as recommended by the physician.”
A vast majority of senators wear masks, have ordered most of their staff members to work remotely and at least try to social distance in the Capitol.
But several steps of Barrett’s confirmation process have been undeniably tied to the pandemic. A Sept. 26 Rose Garden event to announce her nomination to the Supreme Court has been deemed a superspreader event, as several attendees tested positive for the coronavirus in its immediate aftermath.
That included Trump, first lady Melania Trump and at least two Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee, who were forced into quarantine until the start of Barrett’s confirmation hearings. Some senators participated in at least part of Barrett’s hearings remotely as they either recovered from the virus or had been exposed to people who were diagnosed.
And Democrats repeatedly tied the pandemic to their overall strategy to fight Barrett’s confirmation, which was a health-care-centric message as she prepares to sit on the bench ahead of Nov. 10 oral arguments on the fate of the Affordable Care Act.
“You wonder why we’re coming to the floor with these speeches late on a Sunday afternoon?” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). Referring to people who have benefited from the 2010 health-care law, he added: “Because these people asked us to. They asked us to come and stand up for them and say what they can’t say on the floor of the Senate. That’s why we’re here in the midst of a pandemic.”
Two GOP senators — Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — voted with Democrats on Sunday to oppose Barrett’s nomination from advancing, although Murkowski plans to support the federal appeals court judge on the confirmation vote on Barrett’s merits.