An aide to the vice president said midday Monday that he was not planning to attend the vote despite his original intent to be present for the likely confirmation of President Trump’s third Supreme Court justice.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the president pro tempore of the Senate, presided over the chamber during the vote.
In their letter, the Democratic senators argued Pence’s presence would not only violate guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but would “be a violation of common decency and courtesy” after five people who work for or advise Pence tested positive for the coronavirus.
“Your presence alone could be very dangerous to many people — not just to senators, but to all the truly essential staff — Democratic and Republican — who must be physically present inside the U.S. Capitol for it to function,” they wrote.
The senators said Pence will not be needed to break a tie and his presence would be purely “ceremonial.”
Republicans hold a 53-to-47 advantage in the Senate, and only one GOP senator — Susan Collins (Maine) — indicated she would oppose the nomination of the judge.
Pence had indicated this past weekend that he wanted to preside over the vote for Barrett, who comes from Pence’s home state of Indiana.
“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 coronavirus 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.”
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters Monday that plans for Pence to preside over the confirmation vote were “in flux.”
“The vice president obviously has great knowledge about the disease and the pandemic, and he knows the right protocols to follow, and I have every confidence that he’s following those protocols,” Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, said of Pence, who serves as chairman of the White House coronavirus task force.
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, did not include a trip to the Capitol, although his plans can be revised during the day. He was set to return to Washington shortly after 6 p.m. Monday after campaigning in Minnesota.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has been highly critical of how the White House has not abided by public health guidelines on its property, declined Sunday to answer multiple times whether he preferred that Pence stay away from the Capitol for the confirmation vote.
Although Pence has had close contact with his chief of staff, Marc Short, who tested positive for the virus, aides said the vice president will continue with his scheduled events because he is considered essential.
Pence’s office said Monday that he and his wife, Karen Pence, have tested negative for the coronavirus.
Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.