McConnell declares ‘full steam ahead’ on Supreme Court nominee after Trump diagnosis

Greg Nash

Top Senate Republicans said on Friday that President Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis would not impact their timeline for Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), in separate events on Friday, both indicated that they expect Barrett’s nomination to proceed as scheduled, with a days-long high-profile hearing set to start on Oct. 12.

“We can move forward. Our biggest enemy obviously is … the coronavirus, keeping everybody healthy and well and in place to do our job,” McConnell told radio Hugh Hewitt. “We don’t anticipate any kind of unanticipated event that could throw us off schedule.”

McConnell was more direct in a tweet on Friday, saying that he had spoken with Trump and it was “full steam ahead” on Barrett’s nomination.

Graham, speaking in South Carolina on Friday, said Barrett’s nomination was “on track.” A GOP aide confirmed that there is no change to the Judiciary Committee timeline, where a hearing will start on Oct. 12. The committee will then vote on sending her nomination to the full Senate on Oct. 22. 

Judd Deere, a spokesperson for the White House, said on Friday that Barrett had been tested, and her results came back negative. Barrett was with Trump at the White House on Saturday, and met with approximately 30 senators in the Capitol this week as part of one-on-one sitdowns about her nomination.

McConnell did float that Trump’s diagnosis could renew discussions about taking part in the Judiciary Committee hearings remotely. Committee hearings have already been scaled down, with limited staff and press, due to the coronavirus.

“The members have, some of them, done their interviews in previous hearings remotely. This sort of underscores the need to do that. I think every precaution needs to be taken because we don’t anticipate any Democratic support at all … and therefore everybody needs to be in an all-hands-on-deck mindset,” McConnell added.

McConnell reiterated on Friday that he expects the Judiciary Committee hearings to start on Oct. 12 and the committee to vote on Oct. 22.

“We will be voting on the nominee, you know, very soon. I haven’t picked an exact point to bring the nomination up, but it’s front and center for the American people and as we move ahead I’ll be more specific” about the timeline, McConnell said.

McConnell’s remarks came shortly before Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a member of the Judiciary Committee, disclosed that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. With a 12-10 majority on the panel, Republicans will need all of their members present to vote to send Barrett’s nomination to the floor later this month. 
Lee, in a statement, said he would quarantine for 10 days and be back in time for the committee’s work. 

“I have spoken with Leader McConnell and Chairman Graham and assured them I will be back to work in time to join my Judiciary Committee colleagues in advancing the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett in the committee and then to the full Senate,” Lee said.

But top Democrats argued on Friday that it was premature for Republicans to plow forward without first knowing the full extent of potential coronavirus exposure in the Capitol. Several senators were at the White House on Saturday for Barrett’s rollout, and Lee attended caucus lunches and Judiciary Committee meetings this week.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, called it “premature” for Graham to commit to his timeline.
“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,” they said in a joint statement.
They added that there was bipartisan support for not holding a virtual hearing.
“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,” they said. 
–Updated at 1:30 p.m.
Tags Amy Coney Barrett Charles Schumer Coronavirus COVID-19 Dianne Feinstein Donald Trump hearings Lindsey Graham Mike Lee Mitch McConnell

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